Isabella Marie Boyd
Maria Isabella Boyd, 1844-1900
One of the most famous of Confederate spies, Belle Boyd served the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Born in Martinsburg-now part of West Virginia Her education was in attending The Mount Washington Female College of Baltimore, from age 12 to 16.Belle was from a typical Southern family. Father Ben was a store merchant and grocer. Several brothers died before the Civil War. Belle's father joined the Virginia Cavalry. Belle was left with her sister Mary Jane, age 10, her brother Bill, age 4, her mother and grandmother
Belle Boyd's career in espionage began by chance. On the fourth of July 1861, a band of drunken Federal soldiers broke into her home in Martinsburg, intent on raising the U. S. Flag over the house. When one of them insulted her mother, Belle drew a pistol and killed him. A Federal board of inquiry exonerated her, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, Captain Daniel Keily, into revealing military secrets. "To him," she wrote later, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information." Belle conveyed those secrets to confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watchcase.
1861. Soon after the start of the Civil War, Belle was organizing parties to visit the troops.. Shortly thereafter, she became a courier for Generals Beauregarde and Jackson, carrying information, delivering medical supplies and confiscating weapons. Belle made a few heroic rides through battlefields in order to get her "secrets" across the lines to the South. She operated her spying operations from her fathers hotel in Front Royal, providing valuable information to Generals Turner Ashby and "Stonewall" Jackson during the spring 1862 campaign in the Valley.
The latter general then made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp on his staff. As such she was able to witness troops reviews. Betrayed by her lover, she was arrested on July 29, 1862, and held for a month in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Exchanged a month later, she was in exile with relatives for a time but was again arrested in June 1863 while on a visit to Martinsburg. When Stonewall Jackson led the attack on Front Royal in May 1862, he had the advantage of knowing that only about 1,000 Federal soldiers defended the town. That a 17-year-old Confederate spy had supplied fact to him named Belle Boyd.
When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Belle braved the fire of Federal skirmishers; as bullets tore holes in her skirt, she ran to greet Jackson's men. She urged an officer to inform Jackson "the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all." In scoring her coup at Front Royal, Belle Boyd showed considerable pluck. One evening in mid-May, as General James Shields and his staff conferred in the parlor of the local hotel, Belle hid upstairs, eavesdropping through a knothole in the floor.
She learned that Shields had been ordered east, a move that would sap the Federal strength in Front Royal. That night Belle rode through Federal lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Colonel Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates? She then returned to town. Jackson did so, speedily and successfully. That evening he penned a note of gratitude to Belle Boyd: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today."
On December 1, 1863, she was released, suffering from typhoid, and was then sent to Europe to regain her health. The blockade-runner she attempted to return on was captured and she fell in love with the prize master, Samuel Hardinge, who later married her in England after being dropped from the navy's rolls for neglect of duty in allowing her to proceed to Canada and then England. Hardinge attempted to reach Richmond, was detained in Union hands, but died soon after his release.
During the War she was imprisoned three times. In 1862 she was imprisoned in old Carroll Prison in Washington, D.C. for one month. In 1864 she went to England carrying information for the confederates. There she married a Union naval officer. While in England Belle Boyd Hardinge had a stage career and published Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. She died in Kilbourne, Wisconsin while touring the western United States.