iOS app Android app More

The Civil War's Fearless Female Spies (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 08/26/11 12:15 PM ET Updated: 10/24/11 06:12 AM ET - On August 23, 1861, the infamous Confederate spy Rose Greenhow was placed under arrest in Washington, D.C. One of hundreds of women who served as spies for either side during the Civil War, Greenhow is believed to have contributed to the South’s victory at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). Find out more about “Wild Rose” and three other female informants who played a significant role in America’s bloodiest conflict.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Rose Greenhow

    Known from a young age as "Wild Rose," Rose O'Neal Greenhow ascended the ranks of Washington, D.C., society as the wife of a wealthy and prominent doctor. Her charmed life took a tragic turn in the 1850s, when her husband and five of their eight children died. In the months before the Civil War broke out, Greenhow, a fervent supporter of the Confederate cause, became the ringleader of a growing network of anti-Union spies. Renowned as a charming hostess and engaging conversationalist, she gleaned critical information from politicians and diplomats, passing along their secrets to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and other contacts.

  • Harriet Tubman

    One of the most celebrated heroines in American history, Harriet Tubman is perhaps best known for ushering slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. But not everyone knows that the courageous Tubman, who escaped slavery in 1849, set up a vast espionage ring for the Union during the Civil War.

  • Belle Boyd

    Born into a Virginia family with strong Southern loyalties, the celebrated beauty Isabelle "Belle" Boyd became one of the Confederacy's most notorious spies after a skirmish with a drunk Union soldier in July 1861. According to her own account, the man invaded her home, tore down a Confederate flag and spoke offensively to her mother; enraged, 17-year-old Belle shot and killed him. Acquitted of the crime but closely watched by Union troops, she beguiled her enemies into revealing military secrets, which she then transmitted to Confederate commanders.

  • Elizabeth Van Lew

    Raised in a wealthy slave-holding family in Richmond, Virginia, Elizabeth Van Lew developed strong abolitionist sympathies as a young adult, particularly after attending a Quaker school in Philadelphia. After her father's death in 1843, Van Lew convinced her brother to free their slaves, many of whom stayed on as paid servants. When war broke out, Van Lew and her mother began visiting Union soldiers held in Richmond's brutal Libby Prison, bringing them clothing, food and medicine. She helped men escape, smuggled out letters for them and gathered valuable information about Confederate strategy from both prisoners and guards.

This article originally appeared on


Filed by Danielle Sinay  |  Report Corrections