31 January 2014

CIVIL WAR (1861-1865)

The Civil War was the first war where spying was used on a large scale and became an art. It is an interesting fact that the brightest and the best were young females. There were male spies, but none of them were as successful as the female spies. Three of the very best spies were Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Emma Edmonds and Bell Boyd. These ladies helped their side get information about the other sides' war tactics. 

Spying during the Civil War lead to what is now known as tactical espionage.

It's tempting to think that spy gadgets aren't all that old, but even Caesar encoded messages using cryptography. This disk dates back to the Civil War, when it was used by the Confederate side. CSA stands for Confederate States of America.

It's pretty obvious how the device works: rotate the inner wheel to displace the letters. M = G, P = J, etc. Simple to crack, right? Not if the message is written in a language you don't know. Spies were tricky like that.

Unknown Photo of Women in the Civil War
Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. Women soldiers of the Civil War therefore assumed masculine names, disguised themselves as men and hid the fact that they were female. Because they passed as men, it's impossible to know with any certainty how many women soldiers served in the Civil War. Estimates place as many as 250 women in the ranks of the Confederate army. Visit www.civilwarsoldierwomen.blogspot.com to learn more about these amazing women!


23 January 2014

Mary Elizabeth Bowser (c. 1839-)

Mary Elizabeth was born c. 1839 in Richmond, VA as a slave to John Van Lew, a wealthy hardware merchant. Upon his death in 1843, his wife, son and daughter freed his slaves. They also bought everyone in the slave's family in order to set them free as well.

Like most former slaves, Mary remained a free woman and servant in the Van Lew household. She stayed with the family until late 1850s. The matriarch of the family, Elizabeth Van Lew, became increasingly aware that Mary Elizabeth had exceptional intelligence. Being a staunch abolitionist and Quaker, she sent Mary to the Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia to be educated.

Mary Elizabeth returned from Philadelphia after graduating so that she could marry Wilson Bowser, a free black man. The ceremony was held on 16 Apr 1861, just four days after Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter. There is no record of any children.

Crazy Bet
Ellen Bond
Mary Jane Richards
Mary Jones

Elizabeth Van Lew
Elizabeth Van Lew was the tool used to integrate Mary Elizabeth into the espionage business. Van Lew had strong ties to the Union and used this to her advantage. She would use an alter-personae which was always distracted and muttered when she spoke in order for people to think she was unbalanced and therefore not someone to take seriously. She was given the nickname "Crazy Bet". Van Lew was instrumental in establishing a spy system in the Confederate capital. She would regularly visit the Libby Prison with food and medicine, and helped escapees of all kinds, hiding them in a secret room in her mansion. However her biggest accomplishment in espionage was utilizing Mary Elizabeth .
Because of Mary Elizabeth's intelligence and photographic memory, Van Lew decided to make her a spy to infiltrate the confederacy. In order to get access to top-secret information, Mary Elizabeth became "Ellen Bond", a slow-thinking, but able, servant. Van Lew, through the help of friends of the Union, was able to have "Ellen Bond" work at functions held by Varina Davis, the wife of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis. She was eventually hired full-time and worked in the Davis household until just before the end of the war. At the Davis house she worked as a servant, cleaning and serving meals. Because of the racism that existed then, the slaves were trained to act and seem invisible. Usually not noticed at all. Mary Elizabeth was able to get incredible amounts of information simply by doing her work. The assumption was that slaves could not read or write, nor understand the complex political conversations being held. However, due to her education and keen perception, Mary Elizabeth was able to read and remember any papers that were left around in Jefferson Davis' study and report the information to the other spies. She would also spy on conversations and relay back to Van Lew all that was going on in Davis' house.
Jefferson Davis
There was another spy that Mary Elizabeth would work in coalition with, named Thomas McNiven. He was a baker in Richmond and would make deliveries to the Davis household. She would relay the information to McNiven who had a team of people come in and out of his bakery to dispatch the related information. According to McNiven, she was the source of the most crucial information because as he wrote in his journal, "she was working right in the Davis home and had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel President's desk, she could repeat word for word. Unlike most colored, she could read and write. She made a point of always coming out to my wagon when I made deliveries at the Davis home to drop information."

Jefferson Davis had become aware that there was a leak in his house, but for a while he did not realize it was Mary Elizabeth. Thomas McNiven was found out to be a spy and soon suspicion fell on her. She chose to flee in January 1865, but she did not go quietly. Her last act as a spy was an attempt to burn down the Confederate White House. She was not successful. After the war ended, the federal government destroyed any records of evidence of espionage in order to protect those involved, including those of McNiven and Mary Elizabeth. Therefore, the extent of information gathered by Mary Elizabeth is unknown. A significant amount made its way to General Ulysses S. Grant and influenced his decisions from 1863-1864.

Belle Boyd (1844-1900)

Isabella "Belle" Marie Boyd, daughter of Benjamin Reed Boyd and Mary Rebecca Glenn, was born on 4 May 1844 in Martinsburg, VA. She died on 11 Jun 1900 in Wisconsin Dells, WI.

Despite her family's lack of money, Belle received a good education. Her influence of becoming a spy was by her family: Her father was a confederate soldier and the rest of the members were Confederate spies.

Cleopatra of the Secession

Belle Boyd's espionage career began by chance. According to her 1866 account, on 4 Jul 1861, a band of Union army soldiers heard she had Confederate flags in her room, and they came to investigate. They hung a Union flag outside her home. This made her angry enough, but when one of them cursed at her mother, she was enraged. Belle pulled out a pistol and shot and killed the man. 

A 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 watch case. On her first attempt at spying she was caught and told she could be sentenced to death, but was not. She was not scared and realized she needed to find a better way to communicate.

One evening in mid-May 1862, Union General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel. Belle 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 at Front Royal. That night, Belle rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Col. Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates. She then returned to town. 

When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on 23 May Belle ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson's men, braving enemy fire that put bullet holes in her skirt. 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." For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. Jackson also gave her captain and honorary aide-de-camp positions.

After her lover gave her up, Belle Boyd was arrested on 29 Jul 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington 30 Jul 1862, where there was an inquiry on 7 Aug 1862 concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody. Boyd was held for a month before being released on 29 Aug 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe. She was later arrested and imprisoned a third time, but again was set free.

In 1864, she went to England where she met and married a Union naval officer, Samuel Wylde Hardinge. Belle became an actress in England. Following the death of her husband in 1866, she returned to the United States on 11 Nov 1869 and married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans. After a divorce in 1884, she married Nathaniel Rue High in 1885. A year later, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy.

While touring the United States (she had gone to address members of a GAR post), she died of a heart attack in Kilbourne City, Wisconsin (now known as Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin) on 11 Jun 1900. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers. For years her grave simply read:


22 January 2014

Pauline Cushman (1833-1897)

Harriet Wood, daughter of a Spanish merchant (son of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers) and Frenchwoman, was born on 10 Jun 1833 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She died on 2 Dec 1893 in San Francisco, CA.

She was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her seven brothers. In 1851 she returned to Louisiana to join the performance group New Orleans Varieties. Later she would travel to New York where she would take the stage as Pauline Cushman.


Maj. Pauline Cushman
Pauline Fryer

After a Northern perfomance, Pauline was paid by two local pro-Confederate men to toast Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The theatre fired her, but she had other ideas. She had decided to ingratiate herself with the rebels by making the toast, while offering her services to the Union as a spy. 

By fraternizing with rebel military commanders, she managed to conceal battle plans and drawings in her shoes, but was caught and brought before Confederate general Braxton Bragg, tried by a military court, and sentenced to death. It is said that she was saved three days before her hanging by the invasion of the area by Union troops. Some reports state that she returned to the South in her role as a spy dressed in male uniform for references. She was awarded the rank of Brevet Major by General James A. Garfield and commended by President Abraham Lincoln for her service to the Federal cause, and became known as "Miss Major" Fat Cushman. By the end of the war in 1865 she was touring the country giving lectures on her exploits as a spy.
Pauline became popular enough to be featured by P.T. Barnum, which may explain why details of her story might have become exaggerated. But because her undercover activities on behalf of the government were secret, it also helps to explain the lack of corroborative information about her life at this time. However, in 1865 a friend, Ferdinand Sarmiento, wrote her biography, The Life of Pauline Cushman: The celebrated Union spy and scout. Comprising her early history, her entry into the secret service, notes and memoranda.
She lost the children from her first marriage to sickness by 1868. She married again in 1872 in San Francisco, but was widowed within a year. Sources state that in 1879 she met Jere Fryer and moved to Casa Grande, Arizona Territory, where they married and operated a hotel and livery stable. An adopted daughter died, and they separated in 1890. By 1892 she was living in poverty in El Paso, Texas. She had applied for back pension based on her first husband's military service, which was granted in June 1895. Her last few years were spent in a boarding house in San Francisco, working as a seamstress and charwoman. Disabled from the effects of rheumatism and arthritis, she developed an addiction to pain medication, and on the night of 1 Dec 1897 she took an overdose of morphine, and was found the next morning by her landlady.

She had died as Pauline Fryer at the age of sixty. The time of her Civil War fame was recalled at her funeral, which was arranged by members of the Grand Army of the Republic. "Major" Cushman's remains now rest in Officer's Circle at the Presidio's National Cemetery in San Francisco. Her simple gravestone recognizes her contribution to the Union's victory. It is marked, "Pauline C. Fryer, Union Spy."

21 January 2014

Nancy Hart Douglas (1846-1913)

According to legend, she did
not smile because of the
attire she had to wear
for this picture.
Nancy Hart, daughter of Stephen and Mary Hart, was born in 1846 in Raleigh, NC. 
When an infant, her family moved to West Virginia where she lived until the outbreak of the Civil War.

During the early years of her life on her family's farm, she became an expert with rifles, pistols and riding horses. She could reportedly operate a gun or handle a horse as well as a man. 

None Known

She eventually moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and William Clay Price. William Clay Price was not a soldier, but would go and do things for the Confederate army in the evenings. One day the Union soldiers came to question him. They took him away and killed him down the road from his family. This fueled Nancy's rage and hatred toward the Union cause.

In early 1861, after a contingent of Union troops passed through her town, Hart's sympathy for the Confederacy prompted her to leave home and join the Moccasin Rangers, led by the infamous Perry Conley. She became a valuable asset to the Rangers, serving both as a spy and a guide to the local region. 

She became so famous and such an enigma for Union forces in West Virginia that a reward was offered for information leading to her capture in 1862. Shortly thereafter, she and a female friend were captured by Union troops led by Lt. Col. Starr and taken prisoner in Summersville, WV. Here, she was photographed unsmiling and unemotional, by an itinerant photographer. According to legend, she did not smile because of the attire she had to wear for the picture. Civil War telegrapher Marion H. Kerner, an officer who befriended Hart at the encampment, later made her story famous in the magazine, Leslie's Weekly.

That same night, Hart escaped from the Union camp on Starr's horse and joined a regiment of about 200 Confederate soldiers led by Major R. Augustus Bailey (the Moccasin Rangers had been disbanded since the death of Perry Conley). A week later, the Confederate troops overran Summersville, burning many of the public buildings and taking Lt. Col. Starr prisoner. Marion Kerner was also captured, but due to the kind treatment he had given Hart during her own imprisonment, she convinced the Confederate officers to release him. However, he was promptly recaptured after attempting to relay a telegram to Union forces. He was released at the wars end.

Francis Miller's 1911 Photographic History of the Civil War repeats the claim Hart was captured by Lt. Col. Starr of the 9th West Virginia; a photograph was taken of Hart; she killed a guard with his own gun and a week later led a Confederate unit which captured Starr and the 9th West Virginia July 25, 1862. Official records of the Civil War mention the capture of Companies "A" and "F" of the 9th West Virginia Infantry at Summerville, WV, 25 Jul 1862, but have no mention of an arrest/escape of a Nancy Hart in 1862. Likewise the Official West Virginia Adjutant General Report on the 9th W.V. does not show any casualties for July 18–25, 1862.

After the war, Hart married the former Ranger Joshua Douglas, and lived in Spring Creek and Richwood, WV during the remainder of their lives. They had two sons. Nancy Hart Douglas died in 1902 in Greenbrier County, WV and is buried on Mannings Knob near Richwood.

19 January 2014

Antonia Ford (1838-1871)

Antonia Ford, daughter of Edward R. Ford and Julia Franklin, was born on 23 Jul 1838 in Fairfax, VA. She died on 14 Feb 1871 in Washington, DC.

On 10 Mar 1864 she married Maj. Joseph Clapp Willard with whom she had three children.

None Known

As Union forces occupied the Fairfax region in mid-1861, Antonia circulated among the officers and garnered valuable intelligence about troop strengths and planned movements, which she passed along to Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart, in whose artillery her brother served. She also spied for John S. Mosby, a noted partisan ranger. Stuart, grateful for her service and appreciate of the information he had received, designated her as an honorary aide-de-camp on 7 Oct 1861.

In early 1863, Antonia was betrayed by a Union counterspy named Frankie Abel, whom she had befriended and shown the document bearing Stuart's signature. Ford was subsequently arrested on 13 Mar and incarcerated in Washington, DC at the Old Capitol Prison. She was accused of playing a prominent role in the capture of Union general Edwin H. Stoughton, but Colonel Mosby and others later denied her complicity, and no evidence of her guilt could be found.

Old Capitol Prison
She was released and exchanged seven days later. However, she was arrested in Fairfax by Major Joseph Willard (1820–1897) and sent back to Old Capitol Prison. She took the Oath of Allegiance and subsequently married her captor.

Antonia Ford Willard died in Washington, DC in 1871 as an indirect result of health issues stemming from her captivity. Her husband (who later became Lieutenant Governor of Virginia) never remarried.

The 2007 made-for-television docudrama, Now & Forever Yours: Letters to an Old Soldier, artistically recounts the courtship of Antonia Ford and Major Joseph Clapp Willard. In the film, Ford and Willard recount from an ethereal netherworld the events of their two-year affair. This narrative is dramatically illustrated with scenes of the courtship filmed in and around Fairfax, Virginia where the actual romance took place. The dialogue between the lovers was taken directly from the couple’s surviving letters.

18 January 2014

Rose O'Neale Greenhow (1813-1864)

Rose and "Little Rose" at the
Old Capitol Prison (1862)
Maria Rosetta O'Neale, daughter of John O'Neale and Eliza Henrietta Hamilton, was born in 1813/1814 in Montgomery County, MD. She drowned on 1 Oct 1864 in the Cape Fear River, NC.

After being orphaned as children, Rose and her sister Ellen were invited to live with their aunt in Washington, DC about 1830. Their aunt, Mrs. Maria Ann Hill, ran a stylish boarding house at the Old Capitol building, and the girls met many important figures in the Washington area. Her olive skin "delicately flushed with color" earned her the nickname "Wild Rose."

In the 1830s, she met Robert Greenhow, a prominent doctor, lawyer and linguist from Virginia. Their courtship was well received by Washington society, including famed society matron Dolley Madison. They married in 1835 and had four daughters: Florence, Gertrude, Leila and Rose.

Due to Robert's work with the State Department, the family moved with him to Mexico City in 1850 and then to San Francisco, CA. In 1852 Rose returned East with her children. Robert died in a fatal accident in San Francisco in 1854.

Wild Rose
Rebel Rose

After losing her husband, Rose became more sympathetic to the Confederate cause. She was strongly influenced by her friendship with U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun from South Carolina. Greenhow's loyalty to the Confederacy was noted by those with similar sympathies in Washington, and she was recruited as a spy. Her recruiter was U.S. Army captain Thomas Jordan, who had set up a pro-Southern spy network in Washington. He supplied her with a 26-symbol cipher for encoding messages.

After passing control of the espionage network to Greenhow, Jordan left the US Army, went South, and was commissioned as a captain in the Confederate Army. He continued to receive and evaluate her reports. Jordan appeared to be Greenhow's handler for the Confederate Secret Service during its formative phase.

On July 9 and July 16 of 1861, she passed secret messages to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard containing critical information regarding Union military movements for what would be the First Battle of Bull Run, including the plans of General Irvin McDowell. Assisting in her conspiracy were pro-Confederate members of Congress, Union officers, her dentist, Aaron Van Camp, and his son and Confederate soldier, Eugene B. Van Camp. Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited her information with the Confederates securing victory at Manassas over the Union Army on July 21. After the battle she received the following telegram from Jordan: 

"Our President and our General direct me to thank you. We rely upon you for further information. The Confederacy owes you a debt. (Signed)JORDAN, Adjutant-General." 

Knowing she was suspected of spying for the Confederacy, she feared for her daughter Leila's safety. Leila was sent to Ohio to join her older sister Florence Greenhow Moore, whose husband Seymour Treadwell Moore had become a captain in the Union Army. (He was breveted a brigadier general in May 1865 for his services and achieved a rank of lieutenant colonel after the war in his army career.) Only "Little" Rose stayed in Washington with her mother.

Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton was made head of the recently formed Union Intelligence Service. One of his first orders was to watch Greenhow, because of her wide circle of contacts on both sides of the sectional split. Due to the activities of visitors, he arrested her and placed her under house arrest at her 16th Street residence. His agents traced other leaked information to Greenhow's home. While searching her house, Pinkerton and his men found extensive intelligence materials left from evidence she tried to burn, including scraps of coded messages, copies of what amounted to eight reports to Jordan over a month's time, and maps of Washington fortifications and notes on military movements.

The materials included numerous love letters from the abolitionist Republican U.S. Senator Henry Wilson from Massachusetts. She considered him her prize source, and said he gave her data on the "number of heavy guns and other artillery in the Washington defenses," but he likely knew far more from his work on the Military Affairs Committee. The seized Greenhow papers are now held by the National Archives and Records Administration, with some available on line.

Pinkerton supervised visitors to Greenhow's house and moved other suspected Southern sympathizers into it, giving rise to the nickname Fort Greenhow. He was pleased to oversee the visitors and messages, as it gave him more control of the Southern flow of information. While messages continued to be sent to Jordan, he discounted them after Pinkerton mounted his control. 

When a letter from Greenhow to Seward was publicized that complained of her treatment, there was Northern criticism for what was perceived as too lenient treatment of a spy. Pinkerton transferred Greenhow on January 18, 1862 to Old Capitol Prison, shutting down "Fort Greenhow." So many political prisoners were detained that a two-man commission was set up to review their cases at what were called espionage hearings. Greenhow was never subjected to trial. Her youngest daughter, "Little" Rose, then eight years old, was permitted to stay with her.

Greenhow continued to pass along messages while imprisoned. Passers-by could see Rose's window from the street. Historians believe that the position of the blinds and number of candles burning in the window had special meaning to the "little birdies" passing by. Another account lists her prison room facing the prison yard "so that she could not see or be seen" and "every effort was made to keep Mrs. Greenhow away from the windows." Greenhow also, on one occasion, flew the Confederate Flag from her prison window.

On 31 May 1862, Greenhow was released without trial (with her daughter), on condition she stay within Confederate boundaries. After they were escorted to Fortress Monroe at Hampton Bay, she and her daughter went on to Richmond, Virginia, where Greenhow was hailed by Southerners as a heroine. President Jefferson Davis welcomed her return and enlisted her as a courier to Europe. Greenhow ran the blockade and, from 1863 to 1864, traveled through France and Britain on a diplomatic mission building support for the Confederacy with the aristocrats.

Two months after arriving in London, Greenhow wrote her memoir, titled My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington. She published it that year in London and it sold well in Britain.

On 19 Aug 1864, Greenhow left Europe to return to the Confederacy, carrying dispatches. She traveled on the Condor, a British blockade runner. On 1 Oct 1864, the Condor ran aground at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, NC, while being pursued by a Union gunboat, USS Niphon. Fearing capture and reimprisonment, Greenhow fled the grounded ship by rowboat. A wave capsized the rowboat, and Greenhow drowned. She was weighed down by $2,000 worth of gold sewn into her underclothes and hung around her neck, returns from her memoir royalties.

When Greenhow's body was recovered from the water near Wilmington, searchers found a small notebook and a copy of her book hidden on her. Inside the book was a note meant for her daughter, Little Rose. She was honored with a military funeral in Wilmington, NC, and the Ladies Memorial Association, in 1888, marked her grave with a cross that read "Mrs. Rose O'Neal Greenhow. A Bearer of Dispatches to the Confederate Government."

17 January 2014

Elizabeth Carraway Howland (1836-1864)

"The rebel cavalry leader, Stuart, has appointed to a position on his
staff, with the rank of Major, a young lady residing in Fairfax Court
House, who has been of great service to him in giving information, etc." --Daily Paper
Another female spy for the Confederacy was Elizabeth Carraway Howland who was not near as famous. She lived in New Bern, NC and her father was a doctor. She served as a nurse to wounded and captured Confederate soldiers there. She often smuggled in medicine and food to these poor men. She also drew a sketch of the Federal fortifications there and had the drawing delivered to the Confederates by placing it in a hollowed out ham bone. She sent her son and daughter to the Federal officer in charge to pass the ham through to the Confederates and this way succeeded in getting out the map.

13 January 2014

Madame La Force


Friday, June 28, 1861
The evening brought a spring coolness to the Baltimore wharfs as the 1,200 ton, side-wheel steamer St. Nicholas received her passengers. She regularly made runs from Baltimore to Georgetown, Washington DC by chugging down the Chesapeake Bay, rounding Point Lookout and then paddling up the Potomac to the capital. This evening, among her passengers was a somber, respectful lady with a heavy French accent and rather masculine facial features.
This French lady inquired several times about when the boat would dock in Georgetown. She also carried on a very animated and flirtatious conversation with a Federal officer who, as luck would have it, also spoke French. Aside from that, she went as unnoticed as any other manly French lady might before retiring to a private cabin on the steamer. Other passengers boarded with her, but none of them seemed to know anyone else as they dispersed themselves throughout the ship.
The St. Nicholas made her uneventful way down the Chesapeake, stopping at her normal stops and taking on normal passengers. Nobody expected her to do anything different. Even when she stopped at Point Lookout and an elderly man boarded, immediately heading towards the ladies’ deck, nobody picked up on it. He looked at the sky, at the water and seemed to ignore the other passengers.
The whistle blew and the St. Nicholas turned towards Washington. After a mile or two, a man dressed in a Zouave uniform climbed over the railing right outside the cabin where the French lady had retired. In fact, upon a closer inspection, her manly features may have betrayed her. This French woman, minus hat, dress and petticoat was Col. Richard Thomas, the son of a Maryland State Senator, and Confederate officer. He quickly conferred with the elderly man, who turned out to be Captain George N. Hollins, former US Navy officer and soon to be the self-appointed captain of the St. Nicholas.
Twenty-five other passengers quickly became armed Confederate Zouaves as Thomas and Hollins convinced the boat’s crew that resistance would be a fairly bad idea. The actual passengers were assured that no harm would come to them and that the “ladies were in the hands of Southern gentlemen.”
This plot had been originally hatched by Lt. H.H. Lewis of the Confederate Navy. While at Aquia Creek, he noticed that the St. Nicholas delivered supplies to the USS Pawnee. He wished to capture the St. Nicolasand then the Pawnee and perhaps even more ships.
His idea was passed up the line to Confederate Secretary of War LeRoy Pope Walker. It was eventually deemed “too fraught with ruinous consequences” and Lt. Lewis’s plan was abandoned by everyone except Lt. Lewis.
A few days later, Lewis was visited by Capt. Hollis and Col. Thomas. They told him that they were coincidentally on their way to capture the St. Nicolas and that he should ready some troops. What luck!
With the passengers and former crew secured below deck, the St. Nicholas made her way to the Virginia shore to pick up a waiting Rebel Tennessee regiment. After they boarded, the Confederates made their way up the Potomac in search of the Pawnee, hoping to pull along side her as normal, delivering her to the Confederacy rather than delivering to her supplies.

Sarah E. Lane Thompson (1838-1909)

Sarah E. Lane was born on 11 Feb 1838 in Greene County, TN. In 1854, Sarah married Sylvanius H. Thompson with whom she had two daughters. 

Sylvanius later became a private in the 1st Tennessee Calvary U.S.A., where he served primarily as a recruiter for the Union Army. Sarah worked alongside her husband assembling and organizing Union sympathizers in a predominately rebel area around Greeneville, TN. In early 1864, Sylvanius was ambushed and killed by a Confederate soldier. Spurred by her husband's death, Sarah continued her work for the Union, delivering dispatches and recruiting information to Union officers. 

None Known

When CSA General John Hunt Morgan and his men spent the night in Greeneville, Sarah managed to slip away and alert Union forces to his whereabouts. Union troops invaded the area and by her accounts, she personally pointed out Morgan hiding behind a garden fence to a Union soldier who proceeded to kill Morgan. After this event, Sarah served as an army nurse in Knoxville, TN and Cleveland, OH. She supported herself and her daughters by giving lectures in several northern cities about her experiences during the war. 

In 1866 she married Orville J. Bacon of Broome County, NY and had two children with him. They were subsequently divorced and she married James Cotton in the 1880s. Cotton died, leaving her once again a single mother. After the war, Sarah's life was marked by the constant struggle to find suitable employment to support her family and to claim a pension for her services during the war. She worked through many temporary appointments in the federal government and eventually was granted a pension of $12 a month by order of a special act of Congress in 1897. She died on 21 Apr 1909 after being struck by an "electric car" in Washington, DC and was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Sarah Thompson Papers at Duke University

The collection of Sarah Thompson Papers consists of 137 items spanning from 1855 to 1904. The collection centers around the murder of Thompson's husband, her intelligence work for the Union army which led to the defeat of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, and her subsequent post-war struggles against poverty, largely as a single mother.

Letters among Sarah and various family members give insights to her everyday life as a working mother and the supportive relationships she enjoyed with her sister and her second husband Orville Bacon's family. Sarah Thompson's own handwritten account of Morgan's defeat details her spying activities. Her account is further substantiated with letters from several Union officers who testify to her great service as a Union spy, a hospital nurse, and a devoted patriot to the cause. There are numerous letters from soldiers to Sarah after she fled north for her safety after Morgan's defeat.

Thompson's attempts to exploit her Civil War services in order to raise money to support her family are well-documented. Letters to Sarah from publishers and various townsfolk show that she gave numerous public lectures and tried to publish her story during the late 1860s. An amazing series of appointment and layoff notices in the late 1870s reflect her employment in a series of temporary positions within various government departments. Several war officers write letters of recommendations in an attempt to gain more solid employment for her. Frustration with low wages, frequent lay offs, and single motherhood culminate in a passionate letter to her employer where she pleads her war service should make her worthy of better treatment.

During this time period there are also documents supporting her bid for a pension for her war services. Testimonials from war officers are gathered in her favor. Letters to and from family members reflect her struggle to get assistance from elected government officials to represent her case. Eventually a bill is introduced and passed in 1897 which gives her a pension allowance of $12 per month for her services as a hospital nurse.

12 January 2014

Ginnie & Lottie Moon

Confederate Sister Act

The story of Charlotte "Lottie" Moon and her sister Virginia "Ginnie" Bethel Moon is a fascinating one - two sisters who cleverly and brazenly spied for the Confederates during the Civil War - and got away with it. Daughters of a physician, Ginnie and Lottie were born in Virginia but moved to Oxford, Ohio when they were youngsters.
Lottie Moon

While growing up in southwest Ohio Lottie was courted by a young man from nearby Indiana - Ambrose Burnside. Legend has it that she played "Runaway Bride" and jilted him at the alter. Ironically he was to appear later in the life of the Moon sisters. Both Lottie and Ginnie were said to have numerous beaus and eventually Lottie settled down with Jim Clark - soon to become Judge Clark.

Ginnie was sent to live with the Clarks after she rebelled against being a student at Oxford Female College in the 1860s. The Clark household was pro-Southern and so were Ginnie and Lottie. Judge Clark was quite active in the Knights of the Golden Circle - a Confederate underground organization of sorts. It was not unusual for couriers to visit the Clarks while carrying secret messages. On one such occasion a caller arrived with dispatches that had to be carried to Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in Kentucky. 

Lottie volunteered to carry the message and thus began her career as a spy. She disguised herself as an old woman and headed for Lexington, Kentucky by boat. There she was lucky enough to encounter southern Col. Thomas Scott and give him the papers for delivery to General Kirby Smith. She returned to Oxford by train and using her talent as an actress bluffed her way back with the help of a Union General. After such a success she began carrying more messages and dispatches for the South. This aroused the interest of the Canadian Confederate sympathizers who invited her to Toronto.

Ginnie Moon
With forged papers making her a British subject Lottie wended her way to Washington and talked the Union officials into giving her a pass to Virginia "for her health". Some say she even met with Secretary Stanton. She delivered her messages and headed home for Ohio.

Meantime her sister Ginnie was in Memphis to be with their mother - who had moved to Tennessee after the death of Dr. Moon. Ginnie and Mrs. Moon wrapped bandages and nursed the wounded soldiers as the Yankees got closer to the cotton capitol. Ginnie began making trips back and forth with information and supplies often passing boldly through Union lines pretending to meet a beau. While in Jackson Mississippi she learned that urgent information had to be dispatched to the Knights of the Golden Circle in Ohio. She volunteered to make the trip, along with her mother, insisting they would not be suspect because they had relatives in Ohio. It was quite a risk for by now the North knew that women were being used as spies by the Confederacy.

Ginnie and her mother Cynthia made the journey to Ohio without incident and gathered the necessary papers and supplies to return to the south. By this time they were under suspicion by Union agents as they prepared to return to Memphis by boat from Cincinnati. As the boat was about to depart a Yankee Captain entered their cabin with orders to search them. Ginnie rebelled, pulled out the small Colt revolver that she was known to carry, and screamed at the officer that she was a friend of General Burnside. The officer backed down and left her alone long enough for her to literally swallow the most imporant of the dispatches she carried.

But then Ginnie and her mother were taken to an office and and a housekeeper was called to search her and her clothing. According to various reports Ginnie Moon was "wearing" - "forty bottles of morphine, seven pounds of opium, and a quantity of camphor." (for medicinal purposes of the times). They were immediately put under a sort of "house arrest" in a hotel. Ginnie promptly asked to see General Burnside and her request was granted the next day.

Lottie Moon showed up in disguise and tried unsuccessfully to convince her former beau - General Burnside - to release them. Burnside saw through the disguise and promptly added Lottie to the group under arrest. However no action was ever taken against the Moon ladies even though they had travelled all over for the Confederacy. The charges were dropped although Ginnie Moon was required to report to the Yankees on a daily basis and eventully ordered out of the Union area.

Ginnie returned to Memphis after the war and Lottie headed back home to subsequently become a journalist. Restless Ginnie moved around the country and ended up in Hollywood where she had bit parts in two movies - "The Spanish Dancer" and "Robin Hood" in the 1920s. From there she headed east to New York and held court in Greenwich Village until her death at age 81.

The Moon sisters fervor for their beloved Confederacy led them into danger and adventure - and they were quite successful as spies.

09 January 2014

Emeline Pigott (1836-1919)

Secrets, Supplies, and a Big Skirt* 
By The History Place in Morehead City

Here’s a North Carolina story that you might not know. It includes combs, pins, two pairs of men’s pants, a shirt, five pounds of sugar and some army boots — a total of about thirty pounds of supplies, all found hidden in a woman’s skirt. The woman was Emeline Pigott, and her story is one of courage, strength and love. Why did she have so many things in her skirt? What made this country girl become so well known?

Pigott was born December 15, 1836, in the Harlowe area of Carteret County. She moved with her family to a farm on Calico Creek, in what is now part of Morehead City, when she was about twenty-five years old. This was her home when Confederate soldiers arrived in the area to defend coastal North Carolina from the Union army during the Civil War. The Pigotts did what they could to help the South’s cause. Emeline nursed the sick and wounded. Her family entertained Confederate soldiers camped nearby in its home, feeding them and giving them a place to relax for a while.

One of the soldiers, Stokes McRae, fell in love with Emeline, and she fell in love with him. But they decided not to marry until after the war. When McRae returned to the battlefield, he took along a special Confederate flag that Emeline had made just for him. He survived the battle of New Bern but lost the flag. McRae was killed at Gettysburg,Pennsylvania, in July 1863. Devastated by the news, Emeline rededicated herself to helping the Southern cause in any way she could.

That way would turn out to include spying. Who would ever suspect a pretty, friendly young woman of being a spy? How did it happen?

The Confederate army left coastal North Carolina and moved on to New Bern. Pigott traveled there to continue nursing sick and wounded soldiers. When New Bern fell to the Union, soldiers were transferred by flatcars on a train to Kinston, and she went along. Pigott traveled as far west as Concord to care for them. She met and charmed a variety of people who would later help her, as she would help them. Some were strangers who had come from the North to profit from the difficult conditions.

Pigott teamed with one woman she met—the widow of a Union soldier—to pass through both Confederate and Union lines. By the time she got back to Carteret County, the Union army had taken over the area. Her family now entertained Union officers. It was the perfect time for her to join in the entertaining and learn as much as she could from the enemy about their plans.

How did she get important information and supplies to Confederates nearby? There were several ways. One way was to leave mail, medicines, food, or other supplies next to a certain tree or under logs specially marked in the woods. We’re not sure how these places were marked, but rocks probably were placed in a certain way, or perhaps string was tied to branches in ways not obvious to most people walking by. Another way was to carry mail and supplies personally. This was far more risky, since most travelers could be searched by Union soldiers. Pigott’s most famous adventure involved this second way of delivering information to her Confederate friends.

That day, not only did Pigott have what she believed to be valuable information about the Union army written in a note—tucked into her blouse next to her heart—she wore a hoop skirt filled with all the supplies listed at the beginning of this article. Women of the 1860s wore big skirts supported by an undergarment similar to a hula hoop, covered in cloth and fastened at the waist. Pigott’s hoop skirt also had lots of pockets where she could keep things out of sight. She and her brother-in-law, Rufus Bell, got into his carriage and headed toward Beaufort to deliver all they had collected. Along the way, however, they were stopped, arrested, and sent to jail. Emeline Pigott was about to be searched!

Thinking quickly, she insisted that she be searched by a suitable woman. It would be most improper for a man to check her skirt! While the soldiers left to get a woman to complete the search, Pigott stuck her note in her mouth, chewed it, and swallowed it. She tore some mail she was carrying into bits. When the soldiers returned, there were no papers — just an amazingly full skirt.

Officials imprisoned Pigott in New Bern. She and a female cousin (allowed to go with her to keep her company) were shut in the basement of a local house. (This house now serves as a gift shop for Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens. Look for the historical marker on the sidewalk to learn more about Emeline Pigott’s stay.) The women later told people that someone tried to kill them by dropping chloroform into their room. They poked holes in the window to get fresh air and recovered from the scare, they said. Was the information that Pigott had been gathering so valuable that someone felt she should die? We may never know.

Emeline Pigott knew some influential people on the Northern side and was released without going to trial. She returned to her family’s farm. She never married. Her heart was always with Stokes McRae. She remained active in the community until her death on May 26, 1919. The family cemetery is open to the public, appropriately located on Emeline Place in Morehead City.


From Tar Heel Junior Historian 48: 1 (fall 2008).
(Image differs from those in the original article.) 

©2008 North Carolina Museum of History Office of Archives and History, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources 
©2008 North Carolina Museum of History Office of Archives and History, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources

*Based on an article from the publication, Morehead City’s Centennial Jubilee, edited by Ben R. Alford, and on other historical documents from the Jack Spencer Goodwin Research Library. Submitted by The History Place in Morehead City, which has an exhibit on Emeline Pigott that includes a trunk of her personal belongings and the carriage she was riding in at the time of her arrest. Access www.thehistoryplace.org to learn more about this and other stories of real-life coastal history, or call 252-247-7533, ext. 101, for a brochure.

07 January 2014

Laura Ratcliffe (1836-1923)

Virginia Laura Ratcliffe, daughter of Francis Fitzhugh Ratcliffe and Ann McCarty Lee, was born on 28 May 1836 in Fairfax City, VA.

Following the death of her father, Laura moved with her mother and two sisters to Frying Pan (later Herndon) in Fairfax County, just south of Washington, DC. During the Civil War, there were countless raids and encampments in that region, along the Potomac River, which divided north and south.
None Known

Known as a local beauty, Laura saved the life of the "Grey Ghost," Colonel John Singleton Mosby, in 1863. Among her many admirers was the famous cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart. She was also the sixth cousin of General Robert E. Lee. As a Confederate spy, Ratcliffe is a prime example of the brave women on both sides of the conflict who put themselves at risk to help their cause.

Laura met General (James Ewell Brown) J.E.B. Stuart when she and her sister were nursing wounded soldiers at his camp during the winter of 1861. Laura and Stuart quickly became friends, and he wrote several personal letters to her. She provided him and his fellow cavalryman, Colonel John Singleton Mosby, with information on Union troop activity in Fairfax County.

In December 1862, Stuart led his cavalry troops on several raids against the Federal forces in Fairfax County, and visited Laura at her home many times. According to several sources, while at the Ratcliffe home, Mosby asked Stuart if he could be left behind with a small detachment of men, so he could continue operations in that area, instead of going into winter quarters. Stuart apparently agreed. When Stuart left on 30 Dec 1862, Mosby stayed behind with nine soldiers from the 1st Virginia Cavalry. They had a very eventful winter.

Major J.E.B. Stuart
Mosby sometimes used the Ratcliffe home as his headquarters, and there was a large rock at the top of nearby Squirrel Hill where he and Laura met in secret, and where she concealed messages for him. And when Mosby captured a large quantity of Federal money, she held it for him. Frying Pan Church, near Laura's home, was the site of a skirmish, as well as a hospital and one of Mosby's secret meeting places.

On 7 Feb 1863, Mosby captured several Federal soldiers who were looting local citizens, and returned the plunder to its rightful owners. On February 10, James Ames deserted from the 5th NY Cavalry stationed at Fairfax Court House and joined Mosby's command.

On 11 Feb 1863, Laura warned Mosby that the Yankees had set a trap for him near Frying Pan, thus saving his life. Mosby avoided the ambush, and in the process captured a Union sutler's wagon. Captain Willard Glazer, Second New York Cavalry, described Laura as, "a very active and cunning rebel, who is known to our men, and is at least suspected of assisting Mosby not a little in his movements." Glazer further noted "by the means of Miss Ratcliffe and her rebellious sisterhood, Mosby is generally informed."

On 9 Mar 1863, Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton had hosted a party at Fairfax Court House for his visiting mother and sister, who were staying at the home of Confederate spy Antonia Ford. After leaving the party, Stoughton retired to a nearby house that served as his headquarters. As Stoughton and his officers lay in bed, Mosby and 29 men slipped through Federal picket lines and entered General Stoughton's room.

Mosby woke the general and asked him, "Do you know Mosby?" The general said, "Yes, have you captured the devil?" Mosby said, "No, the devil has caught you."

Mosby captured the general, two captains and 58 horses, without firing a shot, and evaded numerous Federal outposts on their departure. Upon hearing of these events President Abraham Lincoln allegedly said that generals were replaceable, but he deeply regretted the loss of so many good horses.

Although it was obvious that Laura Ratcliffe's home was the center of much Confederate activity, she was never arrested or charged with any crime, but she suffered losses like so many others during the Civil War. Her brother, John Ratcliffe, a private in the 17th Virginia Infantry, died of dysentery at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond in October 1864, at the age of 31.

There is some disagreement concerning the location of the home Laura lived in during the Civil War. Locals say that an old farmhouse named 'Merrybrook' was her home after the war, built for her by an admiring Union veteran named Milton Hanna, whom she married. The exact location of the house she occupied during the war is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, which I think makes for a better story anyway.

Today, alongside a country highway in Virginia, there is a monument near the rock where Laura and Mosby met, which reads:

This large boulder, located just south of here, served as an important landmark during the Civil War, when Col. John S. Mosby's Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion, Virginia Calvary) assembled there to raid Union outposts, communications, and supply lines. Laura Ratcliffe, a young woman who lived nearby and spied for Mosby, concealed money and messages for him under the rock. Mosby credited her with saving him from certain capture by Federal cavalry on one occasion. She also was a friend of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

Laura was a very private woman. She never received recognition for her courageous support of the Confederate cause. When she died on 8 Aug 1923 at Merrybrook, she was laid out by the front window so that those who knew her could pay their respects.

At the Ratcliffe/Coleman/Hanna cemetery in Herndon, Virginia, which is surrounded by thick shrubbery, there is a simple plaque which reads: "This is the burial place of the noted Confederate spy Laura Ratcliffe Hanna and her husband Milton Hanna."

Among the items discovered in Laura's effects after her death was a gold-embossed brown leather album that contained several poems on its pages and the following inscription: Presented to Miss Laura Ratcliffe by her soldier-friend as a token of his high appreciation of her patriotism, admiration of her virtues, and pledge of his lasting esteem.

The album was signed by J.E.B. Stuart and other officers who served with him, including Mosby and Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee. Laura had apparently kept this momento, as well as Stuart's gold watch chain, since the Civil War.

06 January 2014

Margaret Ann Small (ca. 1851-1864)

Archivist’s finding sheds light on famous note among the roses

Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon,
recipient of bouquet shrouding a note from a spy.

Archivist Lila Fourhman-Shaull was researching a routine request for information about York’s St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the York County Heritage Trust’s library. She was working through Paul J. Kane’s 1986 A History of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church

As was customary for the Civil War enthusiast, her eyes moved to that era of the church’s history when she found a letter from the pastor’s son, Charles Baum, which gave an eyewitness account of the Confederate invasion of York on June 28, 1863. She read the oft-told incident in which Gen. John B. Gordon received a large bouquet of flowers from a girl. The note exposed Union troop positions in Wrightsville, where Gordon was heading. One sentence riveted her eyes to the page:

“The girl was said to have been the daughter of William Small of South George St., York, Pa.”

The archivist immediately tried to recall whether the girl or her family had ever been identified. She rushed to the 1850 map of York and saw that William Small lived right next to St. Paul’s church. June Lloyd, library volunteer and former Heritage Trust archivist, joined Fourhman-Shaull on the multi-week research project to identify the girl and understand more about the William Small family. The formidable duo deftly unraveled the apparent identity of the girl, Margaret Small. Their findings formed the basis for an article that appeared in the York Sunday News on January 21.
For Fourhman-Shaull, her answer to a longtime York County — and national — riddle was gratifying, akin to seeing National Archive documents handled and signed by famous generals.
“The hairs were up on the back of my neck,” Fourhman-Shaull recalled about her discovery.

Their research helped bring forth the following story in the York Sunday News on January 21: 

Discovery suggests York's rebel helper

Civil War mystery now centers on author
of note hidden in girl's roses

By James McClure
Daily Record/Sunday News

Jan 21, 2007 — One of York County's most compelling whodunits now appears to have an ending.

Who was that young girl who handed a bouquet of flowers to the Confederate general as his rebel brigade marched through York toward Wrightsville and its coveted covered bridge in late June 1863?

This story has been told and retold since Gen. John B. Gordon recounted the tale of the anonymous floral gift in his 1904 auto- biography.

It's not just a local mystery. Biographers and military historians writing about the famed Confederate general often tell the tale. Now they apparently have a name to attach to the story: 12-year-old Margaret Small, part of an obscure branch of York's most prominent 19th-century family.

* * *

Young Girl Standing in
Doorway Knitting
Meyer von Bremen(1863)
It wasn't the flowers that made the moment important. Many belles socialized with butternut-and-gray-clad invaders during the 40-plus hours they were in and around York.

The bouquet hid a note showing Union troop defensive positions in Wrightsville and the best route to go around breastworks to capture the mile-long bridge.

The charm of the story surrounding the note written with a dainty hand, construed by Gordon to have been penned by a woman, shrouds the traitorous information it disclosed.

As it turned out, Union troops barely had time to torch the monstrous wooden structure and bar the Confederates from reaching the Susquehanna River's east bank. Had the rebels crossed, they would've had a clear shot at Lancaster or Harrisburg's lightly defended rear.

And at least two Union defenders lost their lives in fighting around Wrightsville. Nine men in blue were wounded. A rebel cannonade and flames spreading from the burning bridge damaged or gutted numerous buildings in the town.

The story is, in a sense, a murder mystery.

* * *

The 6,000 or more battle-hardened Confederates invading lightly defended York County in those days before the Battle of Gettysburg terrorized residents.

The note, apparently delivered by Margaret Small, abetted the enemy. But her identity puzzled Civil War researchers until December.

Lila Fourhman-Shaull, York County Heritage Trust archivist, discovered an account stating that the then-unnamed girl was reportedly a young daughter of storekeeper William Small. She learned of this Small link in reviewing Charles Baum's eyewitness account of the invasion described in a history of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in York.

Following this lead, Fourhman-Shaull and archivist emeritus June Lloyd then gathered pieces of the Small puzzle, identifying young Margaret as the likely message bearer.

In the process, more questions emerged.

Why did the daughter of William Small deliver the note? Who gave it to her? Was it indeed in female handwriting? And how did the writer get such detailed positions and troop strength?

Such questions may never be solved. But the quest to find answers reveals a lot about York County in the 1860s when the ominous gray cloud covered most of its 900 square miles.

* * *

Gordon and his men, perhaps a quarter of the rebel force invading York County, marched into Paradise Township on June 27, 1863, on their way east to the Susquehanna. That night, the town's fathers surrendered York to Gordon at his headquarters in Farmers, 10 miles west of York.

The next morning, General Gordon's advance guard entered undefended York and took down the 35-foot flag in the town's Centre Square. Now that York was officially in Confederate hands, the general rode along East Market Street toward his brigade's destination that day: Wrightsville and its bridge about 12 miles east.

The general stopped to address young women gathered on the porch of leading York businessman P.A. Small's East Market Street house. In his best courtroom address, the lawyer-general reassured the belles that he would have the head of any soldier who destroyed property or even insulted a woman.

Gordon slowly proceeded east and presently observed a girl, maybe 12 years in age, running up to his horse.

* * *

The rebel occupation caused churches all over town to cancel services. St. Paul's Evangelical English Lutheran Church on West King Street was the exception. 
Its pastor, the Rev. William M. Baum, was a staunch Unionist. In recent weeks, he had been drilling with other citizen-soldiers, carrying a wooden gun.

Baum and seven others other worshipped that morning. One missing family, a prominent St. Paul's name, was that of William Small. And the Smalls did not have far to travel. They lived next door to the church on South Beaver Street.

* * *

The young girl reached up and handed Gordon a big bouquet of flowers. But the general did not pause to admire the roses. Inside, he found an unsigned note written in delicate hand.

He read and reread it on his journey east. He found it bereft of politics, but its urgency and attention to details inspired his confidence.

* * *

Dr. Charles Baum, son of St. Paul's pastor, was fond of recounting the Confederate invasion he witnessed as a youngster.

Word got around that a member of St. Paul's flock had wandered away that day to hand the bouquet to Gordon. In fact, one of the daughters of William Small, Baum's former neighbor, was at the center of the rumors.

If Gordon was any judge of age - he had 4- and 6-year-old sons - 12-year-old Margaret Ann probably was the girl. If his aim was low, her next oldest sister was 15-year-old Laura Catherine.

Their father had established himself as a butcher, passed that business on to his son and then tended a store. He was a respected businessman, though an undistinguished distant cousin to the mighty P.A. Small. And his wife, Catherine, was a Lanius, one of York County's most respected families.

But had he and his family walked the few steps to St. Paul's that day, Margaret might have been in church instead of handing flowers to Gordon.

* * *

Nearing Wrightsville several hours after passing through York, Gordon mounted the high ridge, probably Strickler's Hill, prompted by the note. A look through his field glasses verified the message. He scanned the defenders in blue crouched in curved trenches and the bridge beyond them.

And he saw the ravine, known to locals as Kreutz Creek, skirting the enemy's left flank all the way to the river. That ravine would be hard to defend and offered an opportunity to outflank the thin blue line. The correspondent, Gordon concluded, had displayed a genius for war.

If presented the opportunity, he wrote, she might have equaled Catherine the Great, powerful Russian empress of the late 1700s.

* * *

Most Union defenders hustled to safety across the bridge in the face of Gordon's best assault. An attempt to blast a span into the Susquehanna failed, and the defenders set it on fire. The rebels would march no further east.

Gordon's commander, Gen. Jubal Early, later assessed his men's performance, with 20 hot-weather miles on their legs that day:

" ... (T)he enemy beat him running."

That, despite the note among the roses that had given the Confederates a head start.

* * *

William Small's apparent association with the deliverer of the bouquet did not appear to harm his community standing. It was likely common knowledge that his daughter gave Gordon the roses. The streets were crowded that day, and her handoff would have been observed. That would have been enough to spark comment among the Unionists.

Its enclosed note also likely became public, small towns being as they are. But his daughter's link to the note does not mean William Small or his wife were behind it.

In fact, Gordon could have been wrong that a woman wrote the note. Extant documents from that era show that men penned finely written documents, too.

Perhaps someone else surveyed Wrightsville's defenses, committed the details to paper and rushed back to York. They could have handed the bouquet to Margaret, an innocent bystander, for delivery. Perhaps Margaret never knew the bouquet bore a note.

The county teemed with potential correspondents empathetic with the politics of their gray-clad visitors. Indeed, thousands of them.

The Confederate invasion presented just a brief intermission in York County's own civil war. That conflict pitted Peace Democrats, called Copperheads, versus Lincoln men. Copperheads felt a war over slavery was unconstitutional. Unionists countered that the constitution did not permit secession.

In his memoirs, A.B. Farquhar, the young factory owner who catalyzed York's surrender, summed up the county's ambivalence toward the war:

"The beginnings of the events which developed into the Civil War did not much move us. York was distinctively Northern but not bitterly anti-Southern."

Put another way, a majority in York County backed the so-called Copperhead slogan, "The Union as it was, the Constitution as it is and the Negroes where they are."

* * *

The local civil war reached its high-water mark after Gordon's men withdrew to fight in and around Gettysburg just days after dipping their boots in the Susquehanna.

Copperheads blamed Unionists for giving up the town to protect their business interests. Union supporters ostracized their Democratic neighbors for associating with the rebels.

As years turned into decades, no known investigations emerged to find the writer of the note and the deliverer of the bouquet to Gordon. In fact, when Gordon returned to give a speech some years after the war's end, he received a hero's welcome.

In that sense, the rebels won York County's civil war.

As late as the 1960s, historian W.S. Nye noted, Wrightsville-area residents lacked curiosity about the penman.

Or penwoman.

* * *

These swirling, opposing county political forces possibly blew away criticism of William Small and his family.

Small remained a respected businessman and an exemplary member of St. Paul's.

And young Margaret Small, if she was indeed the flower bearer, perhaps did not live long enough to realize the deadly implication of her actions.

She did not survive far into her teens, common for that day. Her death the next year drew just a brief notice in the newspaper.

Straight from the source
'This girl was said to have been the daughter of William Small of South George St., York, Pa. As the parsonage was not in condition to receive a new pastor, our family resided for some months with Mr. Isaac Kepner, whose next door neighbor was the said William Small.'

Charles Baum 
A History of St. Paul's Lutheran Church
by Paul J. Kane

"As we moved along the street after this episode, a little girl, probably twelve years of age, ran up to my horse and handed me a large bouquet of flowers, in the centre of which was a note, in delicate handwriting, purporting to give the numbers and describe the position of the Union forces of Wrightsville, toward which I was advancing. I carefully read and reread this strange note. It bore no signature, and contained no assurance of sympathy for the Southern cause, but it was so terse and ex- plicit in its terms as to compel my confidence.

"The second day we were in front of Wrightsville, and from the high ridge on which this note suggested that I halt and examine the position of the Union troops, I eagerly scanned the prospect with my field-glasses, in order to verify the truth of the mysterious communication or detect its misrepresentations. There in full view before us, was the town, just as described, nestling on the banks of the Susquehanna...

"Not an inaccurate detail in that note could be discovered. I did not hesitate therefore, to adopt its suggestion of moving down the gorge in order to throw my command on the flank, or possibly in the rear, of the Union troops and force them to a rapid retreat or surrender..."

John B. Gordon
Reminiscences of the Civil War