Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy
Civil War story of Belle Boyd, female Confederate spy.
Belle Boyd (1844-1900), also known as “Le Belle Rebelle,” was one of the most beloved Confederate spies during the Civil War. A charming and crafty woman, she passed Union battle plans along to the Confederate army on numerous occasions, becoming a heroine to the South and a notorious criminal to the North. Belle’s exploits have become the stuff of legends, so accounts of her life vary. But the generally accepted story is this:
Belle was born in 1844 in Martinsburg, Virginia (now part of West Virginia) to Benjamin Reed Boyd, a prominent store and tobacco plantation owner, and Mary Rebecca Boyd. She eventually left Martinsburg to attend college in Baltimore, where she was formally presented to Washington, D.C. society. But she later returned home to help raise funds for the Confederate army.
In 1861, when Belle was 17, Union forces captured Martinsburg. Belle would frequently mingle with the Union officers, who were charmed by her wit and beauty. During conversation, she would pick up bits of military secrets and promptly deliver them to Confederate troops in the field. She was later appointed courier for Confederate Generals Beauregard and Thomas Jackson. When Union troops finally found out, they arrested Belle and sent her to prison in Baltimore, where she was released after a week.
Belle next moved to Front Royal, Virginia to live with relatives. While there, Belle learned of a Union plan to burn key bridges around Front Royal to prevent an attack by approaching Confederate forces, led by General Stonewall Jackson. Belle rode 15 miles at night through heavy Union gunfire to deliver these plans to Jackson. In turn, Jackson accelerated his attack to save the Front Royal bridges. Belle was now a heroine to the Confederacy.
Union troops captured Belle again and imprisoned her in the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. She was later released and headed south to Wilmington, N.C., where she boarded the Confederate ship “Greyhound” to deliver military dispatches to England. The ship was captured by the Union blockade, and once again, Belle was sent to prison.
It was during this third prison stint that Belle was rumored to have fallen in love with one of her captors, Union Lieutenant Samuel Harding, Jr. According to this story, Harding helped Belle escape to Canada, and later England, where he married her. Harding later returned to the United States where he was tried and imprisoned for treason. His health ruined, Harding died after his release.
Belle stayed in England and wrote her famous autobiography, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. She also started an acting career, making her stage debut in Manchester. She returned to the United States on a theatrical tour in 1869. She married twice more, but suffered numerous financial setbacks. She died while on tour in 1900 at age 56.
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9 Responses to “Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy”
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@me: Try finding her autobiography!
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