'Cleopatra of Secession' as a Spy

Maria Isabella "Belle" Boyd was one of the Confederacy's most notorious spies. She was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) to a prosperous family with strong Southern ties. During the Civil War, her father was a soldier in the Stonewall Brigade, and at least three other members of her family were convicted of being Confederate spies.

 

Following a skirmish at nearby Falling Waters on July 2, 1861, Federal troops occupied Martinsburg. On July 4, Belle Boyd shot and killed a drunken Union soldier who, as she wrote in her post-war memoirs, "addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive. I could stand it no longer...we ladies were obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage." She did not suffer any reprisal for this action, "the commanding officer...inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality, and finally said I had 'done perfectly right.'" Thus began her career as "the Rebel Spy" at age 17.

 

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." In fact, the New York Tribune described her whole attire, "…a gold palmetto tree [pin] beneath her beautiful chin, a Rebel soldier's belt around her waist, and a velvet band across her forehead with the seven stars of the Confederacy shedding their pale light therefrom…the only additional ornamen

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