The Most Effective Female Spies of the American Civil War

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H/T War History OnLine.

A story of brave women that history has forgotten.

Rose Greenhow

Just before Virginia’s secession, the governor of that state John Letcher wanted to set up a spy network while he was still able to move easily in Washington. He brilliantly chose one of the most ardent and intellectual spies of the war, Washington’s favorite widow, Rose O’Neal Greenhow. She was an intelligent, politically minded socialite who was well-connected with the men of D.C. and often their confidante. Through her handler, Thomas Jordan, she was able during the war to pass ciphers to Letcher resulting in successes in Bull Run and in gaining the credit, given by Jefferson Davis himself, of winning Manassas.

Allan Pinkerton, the famous detective and head of intelligence for the Union, took notice of her and arrested her himself in front of her home. There he set up a prison for female spies known formally as “The House of Detention for Female Rebels” and informally as “Fort Greenhow.”

Rose was not cowed, even by imprisonment, and still continued espionage activities, so much so that she had to be moved to a filthy, infested, dangerous military prison. When they finally let her out, on the condition that she stay in the South, she rebelled again. Jefferson Davis sent her on a tour of Europe where she lobbied the Confederate cause, wrote a book, and continued in relaying dispatches. When she neared home, a Union gun-runner collided with her ship, and Rose tried to escape. Even within yards of life, Rose died holding onto dispatches while drowning near the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

Rose Greenhow
Rose Greenhow


Belle Boyd

Isabelle Marie Boyd, known by a bevy of nicknames including Cleopatra of the Secesh, was a young girl of 16 when fate barged into her life.

Belle and her mother were at their home in what is now West Virginia when a drunk Union soldier entered their home and began cursing at her mother “…in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive. I could stand it no longer.” Belle shot the man. When interviewed by his commanding officer, he “inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality, and finally said I had ‘done perfectly right.’”

Isabelle Boyd
Isabelle Boyd


That happened in 1861, and by 1862 she was already so well known as a Confederate spy to be talked about in Northern newspapers – even to the details of her looks and dress as though she were a fashion icon. Though they shot veiled insults at her facial features, they did wax on about her seductive nature and attractiveness. While it may seem – and is – a chauvinist analysis, Belle did use her charms from time to time to get a foothold where she needed one. She also, however, used other covert means to steal secrets and report back to Confederate officers. She never shirked danger, listening through walls to Union officers and even riding through rifle fire to the side of Stonewall Jackson to deliver news on the battlefield.

She flirted with danger in witty barbs. To a Northern soldier whom she’d pried secrets from with flirtation, she wrote “I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and last, but not least, for a great deal of very important information . . . I must avow the flowers and the poetry were comparatively valueless in my eyes.”

Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary Bowser

Elizabeth Van Lew
Elizabeth Van Lew
There are no pictures of Mary Bowser. She served in this house, the Confederate White House, spying on Jefferson Davis
There are no pictures of Mary Bowser. She served in this house, the Confederate White House, spying on Jefferson Davis.

Elizabeth Van Lew’s house was home to three noble women who stood up for what they believed in despite great risk. Elizabeth, her aged mother, and a freed former slave, Mary Bowser, shared the home and used it and their wits to help the Union cause.

Elizabeth was a Richmond socialite living in that Confederate capital as a known Union sympathizer and abolitionist. She took it entirely upon herself (with the help of her mother) to help the Union cause by caring for, passing information to, and helping Union soldiers escape from the nearby military prison.

Elizabeth had to come up with a way to keep those who knew of her political leanings and intelligence from thinking they had anything to suspect from her. She started to take on attributes of the insane, like muttering to no one under her breath and pretending to have a vacant and distant mind. She became known around town as “Crazy Bett.”

When Union soldiers she had helped returned to the battlefield and told their superior officers about all she had done, the Union officially enlisted her as a spy. Years earlier, when Elizabeth had freed her father’s slaves and their relatives, she freed and sent Mary to a Quaker school for higher education in the North. Mary had married and was living outside of town when Elizabeth convinced her to come back and pose as a slave so that she could help her in the cause.

Elizabeth built a small network of couriers and spies within Richmond, including Mary who gained access as a servant in Jefferson Davis’s household. Elizabeth sent coded messages North and even dispatches written in invisible ink.

Mary bravely served in the riskiest of circumstances and was said by a courier in the network to “be the best as she was working right in Davis’ home and had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel President’s desk she could repeat word for word.”

Even though Van Lew was considered by Ulysses S. Grant to be the most valuable source of information during the war, she herself did not like to be called a spy. When the war was over, she said “I do not know how they can call me a spy serving my own country within its recognized borders . . . am I now to be branded as a spy—by my own country, for which I was willing to lay down my life? Is that honorable or honest? God knows.”

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman woodcut showing her at the time of the Civil War in what she would have worn while scouting.
Harriet Tubman woodcut showing her at the time of the Civil War in what she would have worn while scouting.

There are very few that are not familiar with Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad. Her activities during the Civil War were equally heroic.

She started out the war as a nurse and cook. While slavery was still in effect, she could not serve as an enlisted person. Until then, she became renown in her work as a nurse as a person of great herbal knowledge and success in healing. When Emancipation came, she was able to enlist. She was quickly recruited to spy, scout, and lead covert missions.

She became a leader of a group of scouts engaged in espionage in South Carolina with the mission of freeing slaves and giving them routes to safety. In the Combahee River Raid, the efforts of her spies and 150 black Union troops led to the freeing of over 750 slaves.



Women of The Civil War: Wives and Sisters Who Went Onto the Battlefield Dressed As Men

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H/T War History OnLine.

A bit of our history the liberals are wanting to erase The Civil War.

The Civil War is famed for its brutal battles, its men slain on fields throughout the eastern half of the United States. It’s also a war remembered for bringing destruction into families, too, pitting brothers against each other as they fought for opposing armies.

What hides within the stories of the Civil War, however, are the women who hid amongst the ranks of men — women who enlisted, fighting alongside their husbands, brothers, and the men of their regiment.

As many as 1,000 women took to the battlefield during the Civil War, enlisting in both the Confederate and Union armies throughout the war’s duration. They were clandestine soldiers, women who were not, according to military law and rule, allowed to sign up and fight for the nation of their choice.

Not a single citizen of the time held a driver’s license, a Social Security card, or any other identification. Only an alias was needed if one wanted to join the war efforts. As many citizens do during times of war, these women of the late 1800s wanted nothing more than to protect their homes, to fight alongside the brothers and husbands they loved, and to fight for what they believed was right.

Both the Union and Confederate armies featured fighters of both sexes, whether they realized it or not during the actual time of conflict.

To fool the men they were serving with — and the commanders who oversaw them — women donned disguises to mask their feminine features. No physical examinations were required to enlist; the women interested merely had to, of course, cut their hair short and wore traditional male clothing; they also went to lengths to conceal their womanhood by binding their chests and adopting the behaviors of their fellow soldiers.

Frances Clalin, a mother of multiple children who posed as Union cavalryman Jack Williams. She fought in 18 battles under his disguise and was wounded three times and taken prisoner once.


While it was easy and simple to dress the part, the women in hiding often took up chewing tobacco, the gaits of their brethren, and the accents and attitudes of those in their regiment. The more a woman could assimilate, both appearance and attitude wise, the less their chance of being discovered.

If she could throw a solid, deadly punch like Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, a woman who enlisted as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, she could win over her fellow men with her strength. Others, like Loreta Velazquez, donned disguises like a fake mustache to make their femininity increasingly believable.

How, exactly, was it that these brave female soldiers of the late 1800s were discovered? Some were found out by their superiors; their gender brought to the forefront when they fell victim to injury by the enemy.

Upon discovery, some were imprisoned; others, however, were simply sympathized with. For example, France Louisa Clayton enlisted into the Union army as Jack Williams alongside her husband as 1861. Although her husband died nearby her position on a Civil War battlefield, Clayton moved past his body and stepped even further into the battle to ensure she carried on the Confederate cause.

War also proved financially beneficial, as a woman disguised as a man in the army could make almost double that of the average housemaid of the time.

Sarah Edmonds
Sarah Edmonds

So, how many women served under the cover of falsified manhood during the war? Additionally, an important clue to understanding just how many women enlisted during the years of the Civil War appeared in 1863, right in the midst of the conflict, when a burial site for Union soldiers was uncovered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

This historic site revealed that women lay among the men preserved at the site, the bodies of women clothed in Confederate uniforms. This early discovery upon the battlefield itself indicated that the number of women hidden within Civil War army ranks was greater than anticipated. Unfortunately, because so many women had to enter the military in a clandestine manner, the exact number who served is unknown.

Many historians believe the number lies over 1000 female soldiers, all of whom made a difference within American history — ensconced in disguises and motivated to save their city or state, these women truly made an impact on the battles, whether remembered or not.


‘An aged distinction’ Missouri farmer spent many years as area’s sole surviving Civil War veteran

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H/T War History OnLine.

With an estimated 2.75 millions soldiers fighting in the Civil War, there was little that could have distinguished Jefferson City, Mo., veteran Charles Gustav “Gus” Loesch from his brothers in arms. However, his mere endurance to nearly 101 years of age would ensure that his story of service in the Union Army would be preserved for generations to come.

Charles Gustav “Gus” Loesch was raised on a farm near Jefferson City, Mo., and lived to be the oldest surviving veteran of the Civil War from the Mid-Missouri area. Courtesy of Phyllis Erhart

A first-generation American, Loesch’s father, Gustav Wilhelm, immigrated to the United States in 1838 after having served six years in a cavalry regiment of the German military under Prince John VIII. He later chose to lay down roots in Cole County, Mo., and embarked upon a career as a farmer.

“Gustav was especially anxious (to immigrate) as he did not wish to be called into the military services again,” wrote Alvina Erhardt Gottschamer in the book “The Loesch Family in America: 1838-1910.” As troubles continued to develop in their home country, the recently married Gustav Wilhelm also sought a better life in America for his children yet to be born.

Born March 26, 1843, Charles “Gus” Loesch was raised on a farm south of Jefferson City near the Zion community and soon followed in the military tradition of his father. Family records show he became a member of the Union Army on August 12, 1862, while the March 26, 1933 edition of the Daily Capital News noted he “joined up under Major W.H. Lusk, also a Jefferson City man.”

In later years, as Loesch reached the age of ninety years and beyond, several Mid-Missouri newspapers began to chronicle his military service as one of the few, if only, surviving veterans of the Civil War in the community.

Loesch, left, is pictured during his 100th birthday celebration in March 1943 with one of his many relatives, Joe Erhart. Courtesy of Phyllis Erhart

Loesch, left, is pictured during his 100th birthday celebration in March 1943 with one of his many relatives, Joe Erhart. Courtesy of Phyllis Erhart

His military career began with training in St. Louis and assignment to Company G, 10th Missouri Cavalry under the command of Captain Henry G. Bruns of Jefferson City. (Bruns was later wounded during the Battle of Iuka, Miss., and died from his injuries on July 9, 1863, thus earning him the unfortunate distinction as being the first Jefferson City resident killed in the war.)

Private Loesch remained with the regiment and preceded General William T. Sherman in his drive through the South during the war, participating in several major campaigns that he modestly described in the March 21, 1943 edition of Jefferson City Post-Tribune as, “We just started things and let the infantry finish them up.”

“(On) February 26, 1864, Rebels captured Gus in Canton, Mississippi and imprisoned him in Andersonville, Georgia,” wrote Gottschamer, describing the service of her great uncle. “He was released one year, to the day, later, February 26, 1965, and admitted to Hospital Division One in Maryland,” she added.

Mustered out of the service on June 24, 1865, Loesch married Sophia Kingery three years later and the couple went on to raise six children while living on a farm near the rural Cole County community of Hickory Hill.

On his 90th birthday on March 26, 1933, the Daily Capital News printed an interview with Loesch in which he described walking as his “life and health.” In the same article, he also noted that in the previous month he had traveled more than 137 miles by foot and that he “would pine away in a week” if he were unable to continue with his beloved exercise.

The Civil War veteran remained a prominent fixture in Cole County for many years following his 90th birthday, participating in Memorial Day services at the National Cemetery and frequently a distinguished guest at local events in the community.

During a meeting of the Brazito Republicans in the summer of 1940, when Loesch was 97 years old, he told candidate Forrest Donnell that if were elected as the state’s governor in the upcoming election, he wished to be present for his inauguration. Early the next year, Governor Donnell followed through on his promise by reserving a special spot for the Civil War veteran in his inaugural parade.

Weeks later, Loesch’s family held a birthday party for the 98-year-old veteran near the community of Brazito with 300 guests in attendance, including the new governor.

The Sedalia Democrat reported on November 3, 1942, that the 99-year-old Loesch, “perhaps Missouri’s oldest voter,” had traveled “to the polls at nearby Brazito early this morning to keep intact his record of voting in every election since he cast his first ballot for U.S. Grant for President in 1868.”

The veteran clarified his voting history by explaining that he “would have voted for Lincoln when he ran for re-election, but I was in a Confederate war prison at the time.”

With all the accolades and notoriety afforded a local hero, Loesch lived to witness more than 800 persons in attendance at his 100th birthday party held in Brazito on March 29, 1943. Sadly, on March 22, 1944, just four days before his 101st birthday, the veteran passed away, two weeks following the death of his son-in-law, Ira Mulvaney.

Maintaining a vivid recollection of the man she enjoyed visiting as a young girl, Loesch’s great niece stated, “While my grandmother was still living (Loesch’s sister), she would take me to go and visit Uncle Gus,” recalled Gottschamer. “I can remember, as a little girl, attending his 100th birthday party when the governor came.”

Softly, she added, “He was always such a gentle person who never got too worked up about anything … which I always attributed to everything he saw and experienced during the war.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.


When East Meets West: The Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad

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This is from Mental Floss.



It was 146 years ago today—on May 10, 1869—that “The Last Spike” was driven into America’s first transcontinental railroad. This Last Spike was made of gold, so anyone could tell it was important, but there was plenty more to get excited about.


Before the transcontinental railroad, travel from the East to the West Coast took many moons and at least $1,000. If you journeyed overland, bandits and belligerent natives might ravage your wagons, foul weather or unexpected hazards might strand you in mountains, and for any number of reasons—up to and including Divine Wrath—your party might drop from thirst, hunger, or pestilence, leaving bones for strange rodents to gnaw and scatter. If you went by water, the trip would be long and you might get bored, which is a drag.

After the nation-spanning railroad was completed in 1869, a ride from New York to San Francisco could be over in a week, for less than $100.

You would be free to spend the whole trip eating and sleeping in comfort, writing love letters to your mistress, and reading, instead of living harrowing tales of privation and danger. Trade benefited as much as passengers. (Think of all that freight!) Even fresh food could be transported over the rail lines. At last, the coasts were tied together.

So if the transcontinental railroad was such a great idea, why didn’t they build one earlier?

First, the railroad and steam locomotive had to be invented, which didn’t happen until a little into the 19th century. Then, by the time such a project was technologically and logistically feasible, the States were beginning their Great Schism, which would lead to the Civil War; and various North-South debates about the fate of the West, the future of slavery, and the routes of the rails paralyzed negotiations.


The Civil War actually advanced the transcontinental railroad project, since it freed up the Union to build whatever it wanted without a care for what the Southern grumblers thought. In 1862, then, Congress managed to forge the Pacific Railroad Act, which granted money and land for every mile of rail constructed towards the goal of an East-West connection.

The two companies involved were the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, racing from Omaha and Sacramento, respectively, for as many subsidized miles as they could build before the rails met. (It was a “race” because the total mileage between two points is finite, so an extra mile earned by Union meant one less for Central, and the other way too.) The Union Pacific crews were composed of Irish and German immigrants, Civil War vets, freed blacks, and some Native Americans. The Central Pacific utilized over 10,000 Chinese willing to work for less and in perilous conditions—which was important for Central, since they had to climb and blast their way through the Sierras almost as soon as they left Sacramento.


utah-coin.gifCongress made the fool’s mistake of assuming some motivating rationality on the part of the railroad companies, and not just base greed, so they didn’t dictate just how, when, or where the rails must meet. When Central and Union crews ran into each other in northern Utah, instead of merging the lines right away, they set off building miles of parallel grading, with each company hoping to acquire more mileage and thus more of the reward money. With a kind of paternal exasperation, then, Congress had to set a junction point; and they chose Promontory, Utah—a little tent town of railroad workers and prostitutes just north of the Great Salt Lake.


Since the meeting of the rails was such a meaningful (and publicized) national event, everyone considered it fit to celebrate with extravagant ceremony. Of course, extravagance ought to involve precious metals whenever it can, so four precious spikes were donated to adorn the last tie. There was an iron, silver, and gold spike from Arizona; a silver spike from Nevada; one gold spike from the San Francisco News Letter; and the crowning spike of gold from David Hewes, a friend of Central Pacific magnate Leland Stanford (who was also founder of the University).

Hewes’ spike was the first to be made, and it inspired the rest. Hearing of the grand event, Hewes was initially disappointed at a lack of symbolic (and precious metal) objects donated for the ceremony, so he got the ball rolling himself. Hewes ended up having $400 worth of his own gold, from his own hoard, cast into a spike, each side of which was engraved: two with names, one with dates, one with the motto “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world,” and the head with a simple statement: “The Last Spike.”

It was not, in fact, the last spike. The precious ceremonial spikes were carefully tapped into a ceremonial tie with a ceremonial silver hammer.

When the dignitaries (Stanford of Central Pacific and Thomas Durant of Union Pacific) tried real hammer swings to seal the deal, they both missed.

One spike was rigged with telegraph wires, so the whole nation could hear the blows of the hammer—something like a “live” broadcast, but with telegraph instead of television, and no commercials—and the publicists made sure to give this one a few good dings. Adding to those taps, a single-word telegram was sent out around the States: “Done.” And the nation rejoiced, from coast to coast. But after all the pomp was accomplished, the special spikes and tie were torn up and some unknown railroad workers drove regular iron spikes into a regular tie to complete the transcontinental railroad.


The San Francisco News Letter reported, “Never before in our history as a nation has occurred an event in the celebration of which all could participate so heartily, and with so little of mental reservation.” Most spokesmen shared the sentiment. Trouble was, the Chinese laborers had just rioted, other workers had held Durant hostage in his palatial train car while demanding unpaid wages, and of course that last telegraph spelled little but “Doom” to the Native Americans, who were further compressed by the States’ new belt and surely had one or two mental reservations about that.

All in all, it was a strange and potent spectacle, with the golden spike at its center—a scene that might symbolize much more about the many-sided America than those simple and straightforward ideals of Industry and Progress.

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