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Belle Boyd
Chapter No. 2620

Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy

One of the most famous Confederate spies and undercover agents of the War Between the States was Marie Isabella "Belle" Boyd . Belle was born May 9, 1843, in Berkeley County, Virginia and spent most of her childhood and adolescent years in Martinsburg (now part of West Virginia). She was the daughter of Benjamin Reed Boyd and Mary Glenn Boyd, and was named after her two grandmothers.

The Boyd's and the Glenn's 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. The Boyd family were merchants and owned several general stores in the area. Their house was described as the finest Greek Revival house in Martinsburg.

Belle was known to have been a headstrong girl who rode her pony into the house after her father told her she was too young to attend a dinner party he planned for that evening. Belle went to Mt. Washington Female College in Baltimore, MD, where she graduated in 1861 a very well-educated women for her time. She was formally presented to Washington, DC society just before the Rebellion broke out but returned to Martinsburg taking part in fund raising events on behalf of the Confederacy.

It was from her home in Martinsburg that Belle would begin her military life as a spy for the South. A band of drunken Union soldiers busted into their home on July 4, 1861, and tried to raise the U. S. flag over the house. When one of the soldiers insulted her soft-spoken mother by spitting at her shoes, 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 tract of her activities.

She profited from this enforced familiarity, and mingled with the Union Officers, picking up bits of military secrets which she passed along of times through one of her closest friends, her servant, Eliza Hopewell. Messages were carried in a hollowed-out watch case back and forth across the lines without detection. Belle was quite inventive in her undercover exploits and even organized a spy ring using her young girl friends to secure information for her.

Belle gathered and passed military information to Generals Beauregard and "Stonewall" Jackson a number of times during his 1862 Valley campaign, and was appointed courier for Generals "Stonewall" Jackson and P. T. G. Beauregard.

Belle was visiting her aunt in Front Royal during the summer of 1862 when Union officers seized her aunt's boarding house to use as a meeting place. By eavesdropping through a knothole in the floor of an upstairs closet, she learned valuable information about Union troop strength, disposition, and intentions. To get this information to General Jackson, she had to ride 15 miles in the night, through the battle lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and into the woods to warn General Jackson's men.

The next day when General Jackson's men advanced on Front Royal Belle ran to greet them. She braved the fire of Federal skirmishers as their bullets tore 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 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." To show appreciation for the 17-year old Confederate spy for all her acts of bravery and service, General Jackson made her a Captain and Honorary Aid-de-Camp on his staff. In all, from 1861 to 1864, Belle Boyd was arrested six times and imprisoned twice for her loyal Confederate activities.

Belle Boyd's feminine charm and overwhelming personality was an asset that helped her all through her life. Under the ruse of traveling to London for her health, she delivered secret Confederate papers and correspondence for President Jefferson Davis to the Prime Minister.

While in England, she wrote her famous book published in 1865 "Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison" which gave a dramatic account of her life as a spy, and soon afterwards made her stage debut as an actress in 1866.

After the War, she returned to New York, toured the U.S. and made a living acting. She died while on tour on June 11, 1900 at age 56.

Note: The Belle Boyd House (and Museum) is located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and is the headquarters for the Berkeley County Historical Society and Berkeley County Landmarks Commission, and the Ben Boyd Book Store. The Belle Boyd Birthday Celebration is the third weekend in May each year and is a full weekend of Civil War activities.

2006 ~ 2008 Officers

President ~ Glyn Perkins
Vice President ~ Lou Ann Rigby
Recording Secretary ~ Odessa House
Treasurer ~ Lou Ann Rigby
Registrar ~ Bobbie Glisson
Historian ~ Odessa House
Recorder of Military Service Awards ~ Bobbie Glisson
Chaplain ~ Glyn Perkins

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