October 1, 2007

October 1 | Rose O'Neal Greenhow

1817 - October 1, 1864: Age 47

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a passionate secessionist. She was also a spy for the Confederate cause. Her status in pre-war Washington as a popular hostess in society positioned her beautifully to gather information on government plans, troop movements, and even Washington city fortifications send them to the Confederate government. She was particularly good at this work because she lived in a society where women were assumed to be ineffective and unintelligent.

When the Union became aware of her activities (she is credited with winning the Battle of Manassas and helped the South win the Battle of Bull Run) she was placed under arrest and send to the the Old Capitol Prison, where her youngest daughter was allowed to stay with her. The picture at the bottom of this entry shows them in prison. However, even in prison she was able to pass messages, so the Union government deported her to Virginia.

There she was greeted as a heroine. President Jefferson Davis sent her to Europe on a diplomatic mission. There she met with various aristocrats, was received at the court of Napoleon III, met Queen Victoria, and became engaged to an English Earl. She also wrote and sold her memoirs, amassing a considerable sum for them. Returning home was dangerous: all the southern ports were blockaded by the Union Navy. The ship she sailed on was chased by a Union gunboat, and ran aground at the mouth of the Cape Fear river.

Greenhow took her money — $2,000 in gold, intended to aid the Confederate cause — and two companions into a rowboat and escaped. However a wave capsized the little boat and, weighed down by the gold, Greenhow drowned. Her body washed ashore a few days later and was found by a Confederate soldier, who stole the gold; but when he realized whom he had stolen it from he handed it over to the Confederate government. She received full military burial, and her grave is still decorated every year on Confederate Memorial Day, which is May 10 in North Carolina.

Sources: Wikipedia, americancivilwar.com

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