Belle Boyd was known as a writer, actress, and mother, but her biggest claim to fame is spying for the Confederacy during the Civil War. As a spy, Belle daringly flirted with Union soldiers to learn all she could to help further the Southern cause. Her life was filled with adventure, drama, and intrigue. If you have a moment, I’ll share with you a story of a childhood of privilege, a career as a spy, and a life after the Civil War.
Belle’s childhood was an idyllic time for the South until slavery was questioned, the South seceded, and war began. Belle Boyd was born on the ninth of May in 1844 in historic Martinsburg, Virginia, now part of West Virginia. Belle was the oldest of eight children born to Ben and Mary Boyd. From a young age, she always wanted to be in the middle of the action. When she was eleven, her parents told her was too young to attend their dinner party, so Belle rode her wonderful horse, Fleeter, into the dining room and asked, “Is my horse old enough?” It worked. She stayed. At age twelve, Belle was sent to Mount Washington Female College where she took classes in classic literature, European languages, music and social graces. Always wanting to leave her mark, Belle used a diamond to carve her name into a window in the campus’s octagon room. In 1860, she made her debut into society in Washington. Dutifully, when the war began, Belle and her mother raised money for Confederate soldiers and her father bravely enlisted in the Second Virginia Infantry, also known as the Stonewall Brigade. Though Belle’s childhood was carefree and peaceful, war would change the world she lived in forever.
As a Southerner, born and raised, Belle’s heart would always be with the Confederacy. While the young men of her time fought with guns and cannons, as a female, Belle chose to fight for her beloved Confederacy with her sharp wit and Southern charm. As a Confederate spy, she used every advantage she had to ascertain all the information she could from the Union soldiers and send it straight to General Stonewall Jackson and General Beauregard. Foolishly, Belle did not disguise or code her letters and toward the end of 1861, the Union found a letter in her handwriting with her signature. Taking her for a silly seventeen-year-old girl who couldn’t possibly be a threat, Belle got away with a mere warning not to do it again. Tensions continued to escalate when Belle and her mother denied entry to Union soldiers who wanted to raise a Union flag over their house. When one of the rowdy, disrespectful soldiers tried to force his way in, she shot and killed him, defending her family’s home. She was tried and was acquitted on a defense of justifiable homicide. In August of 1862, Belle had dinner with a couple of Confederate soldiers who were on leave. After dinner Belle asked one of then to take a letter to General Jackson for her. He agreed. Much to her horror, she later discovered that the young man was a Union soldier in disguise. The next day Belle was arrested and taken to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. While there, Belle contracted typhoid fever and became deathly ill. Fortunately, public opinion was so greatly in her favor that she was eventually released, however Belle was permanently banned from federal soil. After Her time in prison, Belle went to Richmond to offer her services to Jefferson Davis and rally the Confederate sympathizers in Europe. On May 8, 1864, she set sail for England on a blockade running ship named the Greyhound. The next day, they were captured by Federals, one of them being her future husband, Lieutenant Sam Hardinge. He proposed twice before we docked. Unable to be on federal soil, after being taken to the ship’s original destination of New York, Belle was banished to Canada. Sam and Belle were married on August 25, 1864 in England. After their wedding, Sam went back to America to visit family. He went to Martinsburg to visit her parents and was arrested for spying. He was taken to Fort Delaware, which held over thirty-thousand prisoners. Conditions were horrible and over three thousand men died. Belle’s husband, who was severely ill, was released in February of 1865 and, sadly died later that year. Federal agents cut off all her money from America and left her with no income. Belle wrote a two-volume memoir of her life entitled, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison, which afforded her a comfortable life. On April 9, 1865 the South lost. All of Belle’s spying and flirting was for nothing, as her beloved Confederacy had fallen.
After the war ended, everything She had worked for was gone. The Confederacy had lost but Belle had to move on and she did. In 1866, at the age of twenty-one, she returned to America as an actress, going by the stage name, Nina Benjamin. She married a British Union veteran named John Hammond. They had two beautiful girls, Marie and Isabell, and two sons, Byrd and John Edmund. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t last. Belle married once more, this time fellow actor, Nathaniel High, who was sixteen years her junior. In June of 1900, at the age of fifty-six, Belle died of a heart attack. Her heart, which had faltered in romance but remained true to her beloved Confederacy, had finally given out.
Belle Boyd, lived her life to the fullest. She spied, wrote books, reenacted her exploits on stage, loved and lost, and raised her children. Through the many highs and lows, adventures and heartbreaks, her unending allegiance to the South and her love of the spotlight always remained. Belle’s legend survives and her story continues to be told at the Belle Boyd House Museum in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The 4 things to remember:
1.Never threaten a southern girl and her mama.
2.Marriages between Union soldiers and Confederate spies is probably not a good idea.
3. People love sassy and funny women no matter what time period.
4.And war is bad.