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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

Belle Boyd, The Spy

Title:     Belle Boyd, The Spy
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

"In a pretty storied house, the walls completely covered by roses and honeysuckle in luxuriant bloom" according to Belle Boyd herself, lived one of the most beautiful women and one of the most famous spies in all history.

Martinsburg, her home in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, was only a village then and she tells us about her neighbors and her childhood--"It was all golden and I was surrounded by devoted and beloved parents and brothers and sisters ... our neighbors are some of the best families of the Old Dominion descended from such ancestors as the Fairfaxes and Washingtons."

When Belle was only twelve she was sent to Mount Washington Seminary in Washington. At sixteen her education was finished and she made her debut. She wrote how brilliant were the Congressional and Senate balls where both Northern and Southern belles met and learned to love each other as sisters.

Then came the dark days of Secession. Belle's own father was among the first to enlist in the defense of Virginia. Belle returned home where with other ladies she helped raise funds with which to equip the Confederate soldiers. The colors were raised and on them one read these words, "Our God, Our Country and Our Women."

Things were dull for Belle after her father and the boys marched away to Harper's Ferry. Soon she went to visit them where she enjoyed the social life until messages came saying the Federal troops were approaching. She was sent home and scarcely had she arrived before the Southern troops withdrew to Falling Waters, near her home. She heard the distant boom of cannon and quickly there followed the battle of Martinsburg. After a skirmish of five hours, Belle saw General Jackson's troops retreat.

Hard upon them were the Federals entering the village with flags flying and the fifes playing the now despised "Yankee Doodle."

Dawned the Fourth of July and Belle woke to see the Yankee flags flying from many homes. She heard the drunken soldiers as they planned to force their way into homes whose doors and blinds were shut tight. Blows began to batter down doors and those of the Boyd home were splintered as well as those of their neighbors.

Some one had told the Federals that the walls of Belle's room were covered with rebel flags. But though they searched none were found. Belle's Negro maid had taken them down and carefully hidden them. The soldiers were furious and began to break furniture, glass ornaments, and abuse the Virginia sympathizers. Then they went out and began to raise the United States flag over the Boyd home. This was more than Mrs. Boyd could stand, so she spoke: "Men, every member of my household will die before that flag shall be raised over us." Let us read Belle's account of what followed:

"Upon this, one of the soldiers, thrusting himself forward addressed my mother in language so offensive as it is impossible to conceive. I could stand it no longer, my indignation was aroused beyond control, my blood was literally boiling in my veins, I drew out my pistol and shot him. He was carried away mortally wounded and soon after he expired."

Then the Boyd home was set on fire, but it was hastily put out. The Northern commander quickly arrived and an investigation followed. After a long and lengthy trial, during which time the Boyd home was guarded by sentries, the officer declared Belle had acted as any normal person would have under similar circumstances.

From this time on, Belle gave herself to the Confederate Cause. She met and charmed the Federal officers. She remembered their names and got them to tell her their plans. These Belle carefully wrote down and sent to General J. E. B. Stuart. Soon she was under suspicion and one of her letters was seized by the enemy. She was sent for, arrested and asked if she had written the letter. She acknowledged it, was rebuked and the Articles of War regarding such deeds were read to her. Again a trial--and a dismissal.

Belle was undaunted. She not only continued to pick up valuable information, but she picked up small side arms and pistols and these, along with the information, found their way into the Southern lines.

While on a visit to Front Royal the first battle of Manassas was fought. The wounded were rushed into Front Royal and Belle found herself the matron of the large hospital. Soldiers told how she worked night and day, tirelessly giving of herself to comfort and help "the boys." After eight weeks of such a strenuous life, Belle had to go home for a much needed rest.

Before her mother thought she was strong enough, Belle left to visit her father who was stationed at Manassas. Soon she was riding as a courier back and forth for General Jackson and General Beauregard.

On one occasion Belle was in Front Royal waiting for an opportunity to go to Richmond where her family had gone. She had secured passes from some of her Federal friends and she was staying in the same house in which General Shields was stopping. Belle's room was over the living-room where the officers were making plans. A small hole in the closet floor gave her a good view of the men--and served to let her hear every word of their next maneuvers. Belle listened until one o'clock, writing down in cypher each plan. Then she carefully stole down the back steps, saddled a horse in the backyard and was off, fifteen miles, to carry the message.

Twice she was held up by Federal sentinels and twice she showed them Federal passes. She arrived safely back in Front Royal before day, as fresh as a "morning flower."

We cannot give all of her escapades or her narrow escapes. Once she sped through Front Royal with a message for General Jackson, her white sun bonnet and white apron against a blue dress making her a target for the Federals. Several times she felt bullets tear her wide billowing skirt, but she kept on until she had reached the General--giving him the position of the enemy: General Banks, at Strasburg with 4,000 troops, General White marching to Winchester and General Fremont approaching the Valley--all planning to "bottle up" Jackson's force.

Quickly the Confederates made plans which resulted in victory and General Jackson wrote her, "Miss Belle Boyd--I thank you for myself and for the Army for the immense service that you have rendered your country this day. Hastily your friend, T. J. Jackson, C. S. A."

Romance like danger courted her wherever she was. Finally in 1864 she decided to go to England. President Davis gave her important papers for Southern sympathizers there. She sailed from Wilmington, North Carolina, aboard the "Greyhound." Vivid pictures are given of the crew throwing overboard bales of cotton, but even this did not enable the ship to outrun the fast Union vessels. Captain Bier also dropped a keg of money, over thirty thousand dollars in gold, in order to lighten the cargo. When Belle saw they could not avoid capture she destroyed her dispatch and managed to put into a belt many gold dollars which belonged to her and the captain of the boat. Let us read her description of the Federal officer who said he must take over command of the "Greyhound":

"I confess my attention was riveted by a gentleman--the first whom I had met in my hour of distress. His dark brown hair hung down on his shoulders, his eyes were large and bright. Those who judge beauty by regularity of feature would not only have pronounced him strictly handsome, but the fascination of his manner was such that my heart yielded." He begged Belle to consider herself still a passenger, rather than a prisoner, which evidently she did.

There was a moon, a soft breeze "which swept the surface of the ocean until it was like a vast bed of sparkling diamonds." Lieutenant Hardinge, the Federal officer, quoted poetry from Shakespeare and Byron and before the vessel reached Boston, Belle had given her heart and her promise to marry the lieutenant.

While their own course of true love seemed to run smoothly enough various forces concentrated to keep them apart.

First of all, soon after arriving in Boston Captain Bier escaped. And while Belle took the credit for that, Lieutenant Hardinge was under suspicion. Besides, while Belle was being treated courteously in Boston her betrothed had gone to Washington in her behalf. The newspapers of the day flaunted the stories of the beautiful Rebel Spy and everywhere she went great crowds pushed themselves upon her.

When Hardinge reached Washington he begged Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, permission for Miss Boyd to visit Canada. This was granted and a telegram ordered an escort for her and her maid. However, notice was given her that if she were caught again in the United States she would be shot.

Her lover was captured next and arrested for aiding Captain Bier in escaping. Finally, he went to Paris in search of the beautiful woman who had promised to marry him. After some time Belle, who was in Liverpool, learned where he was. She wrote to him and they met in London; they were married in St. James' Church. There was a large and brilliant breakfast at which a huge wedding cake was cut. Lieutenant Hardinge promised to run the blockade and carry pieces of wedding cake to his wife's friends. This he did when he arrived in Wilmington. Later he was arrested in Baltimore, charged with being a deserter and was sent to prison.

Belle interested herself in his behalf and we are told that her charms and the termination of the war secured his release. And so they lived happily ever after!

* * * * *

In the foregoing account of the fearless work done by Belle Boyd and of her visit to Front Royal during the Battle of Manassas we are reminded of an inhabitant of the latter place, a Mr. McLean. Rumor has it that the gentleman resided so close to the scene of battle--and it was a bloody encounter--he resolved to quit the place for a quieter section of Virginia. He had a distinct distaste for battles and bloodshed. So he moved his family to Appomattox County in Virginia and watched the scene of war with a feeling of comparative safety. The reader has guessed the rest of the story.

A little previous to April 9th, 1865 the Union and Confederate forces met at a spot not far from the courthouse and negotiations were started for the surrender of General Lee, in command of the Confederates. And on the ninth the surrender was made at the McLean house which marked the cessation of war in Virginia. Poor Mr. McLean was present at the beginning and conclusion of the fighting!

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Belle Boyd, The Spy