Thursday, May 9, 2013

Belle Boyd, born May 9, 1843

Isabella Marie Boyd was born in Berkeley County, Virginia, the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. The Boyds and the Glenns were well-known families of the area.  Belle's grandfather, James Glenn, served in the Revolutionary War and was presented several awards by General George Washington for outstanding service. Members of the Boyd family were merchants and owned several general stores in the area.

Belle described her childhood in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), as idyllic, living a care-free life of a reckless tomboy who climbed trees, raced through the woods, and dominated brothers, sisters, and cousins. Belle was said to have ridden her horse into a room full of dinner guests after her parents had told her she was too young to attend the party.

On February 25, 1853, Belle's father purchased part of Lot 50 in Martinsburg for 350.00. The lot fronted on Race Street along Spring Alley (now Spring Street). He soon began construction of the family's house mansion in the Greek Revival style. By the end of 1853 construction on the home was completed.  Shortly after the family moved in, Benjamin directed that construction begin on a storeroom on the west-side of the house. From that location, he operated a general merchandise store.  The Race Street property was sold out of the family in 1855.

Belle received a good education; after some preliminary schooling, she attended the Mount Washington Female College at Baltimore beginning in 1856. She completed her training four years later, and her family and friends arranged a debut in Washington, D.C., where she filled the role of a debutante.

She was 18 years old when the Civil War began.

Martinsburg, Virginia during the Civil War
After Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, Boyd's father joined the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment (part of what would become the Stonewall Brigade.)  Belle Boyd returned to Martinsburg, where she worked as a nurse. Union troops arrived to occupy the small town  (population 3,364) on July 3, 1861. 

According to the book she published after the war,  on July 4, a band of Union army soldiers heard she had Confederate flags in her room, and came to investigate. They hung a Union flag hung outside her home. This made her angry, but when one of them cursed at her mother, she was enraged. Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot and killed the man. 

Wax Museum Depiction of Boyd Shooting Union Soldier
A board of inquiry exonerated her, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. (Official reports regarding the 1861 occupation of Virginia do not have any references to Boyd in regard to any shooting incident or being exonerated)

Daniel Keily, Seated to the Right
She claimed to have charmed 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."  Boyd conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. She was evenutally caught and told that she could be sentenced to death.

By early 1862 her activities were well known to the Union Army and the press, who dubbed her "La Belle Rebelle," "the Siren of the Shenandoah," "the Rebel Joan of Arc," and "Amazon of Secessia." 

Her parents sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in even tinier Front Royal (population 417), forty miles to the south.  

Main Street, Front Royal, Virginia
One evening in mid-May 1862, Union General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the hotel in Front Royal, Virginia.  

James Shields
Boyd, who was living with her aunt and uncle in the hotel, hid in the closet in the room, eavesdropping through a knothole she enlarged in the door. She learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength there. 

Turner Ashby
That night, Boyd rode 15 miles through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Confederate Turner Ashby.  

She then returned to town. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Boyd ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson's men.  She urged an officer to inform Jackson that "the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all." 

Jackson did and that evening penned a note of gratitude to her: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." 

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor.   

Southern Cross of Honor
Boyd was arrested on July 29, 1862, and taken to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., where there was an inquiry on August 7, 1862 concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody.  Boyd was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe.

Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.
She was again arrested in June 1863 while on a visit to Martinsburg. On December 1, 1863, she was released, suffering from typhoid. 

Months later in 1864, she volunteered to carry Confederate papers to England aboard the blockade runner Greyhound. The ship was stopped on May 10, 1864 by the Union Navy.   Boyd eventually managed to escape, first to Canada, and then to London.

On August 25, 1864, in London she married one of the Union naval officers who had seized the GreyhoundLieutenant Samuel Wylde Hardinge.  When Hardinge returned to the United States to answer charges that he had aided and abetted an enemy spy, he was jailed.  Soon after his release, he apparently died. "The end of the Hardinge marriage and, indeed, the end of Hardinge himself are shrouded in mystery," the historian Drew Gilpin Faust has noted, "and some have doubted Boyd's assertion that he never rejoined her abroad."  Others, like Roger Austen, biographer of the writer Charles Warren Stoddard, argue that he neither died nor returned to England.  Austen has written that Hardinge instead traveled to San Francisco, where the "swarthily handsome" New Yorker had an affair with Stoddard that was immortalized in that writer's autobiographical novel, For the Pleasure of His Company (1903).

Belle Boyd Hardinge, 1865
Boyd's daughter Grace Hardinge was born in England. 

George Augustus Sala
Looking for a way to generate income, with the help of English journalist, George Augustus Sala, she wrote her two-volume memoir, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. She also began performing as an actress.

Cover Page of Boyd's Memoir,
Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison

She returned to the United States on November 11, 1869. She married John Swainston Hammond, an Englishman who had fought for the Union Army, in New Orleans.  She had three children by Hammond: two sons and a daughter.  They divorced in 1884.  Two months later, at the age of 41, she married Nathaniel Rue High, Jr., an actor seventeen years her junior. 

In 1886, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy.  
She billed her show as "The Perils of a Spy" and herself as "Cleopatra of the Secession."

While touring the United States, she died of a heart attack in Kilbourne City, Wisconsin (now known as Wisconsin Dells) on June 11, 1900.  She was 56 years old. She died in poverty.

She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers.

 Her tombstone inscription:



Boyd's Tombstone

Boyd's Gravesite

The Belle Boyd House and Museum is located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and is the headquarters for the Berkeley County Historical Society. The Belle Boyd Birthday Celebration is the third weekend in May each year.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, impressive. It’s quite different from other posts. Thanks for sharing.
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