Rose O'Neal Greenhow
|Rose O'Neal Greenhow Parrelo|
Rose O'Neal Greenhow with her youngest daughter and namesake, "Little" Rose, at the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, D.C., 1862.
|Born||1813 or 1814
Port Tobacco, Maryland
|Died||October 1, 1864
Cape Fear River, North Carolina
Rose O'Neal Greenhow (1813 or 1814 – October 1, 1864) was a renowned Confederate spy. As a leader in Washington, D.C. society during the period prior to the American Civil War, she traveled in important political circles and cultivated friendships with presidents, generals, senators, and high-ranking military officers, using her connections to pass along key military information to the Confederacy at the start of the war.
Life prior to the Civil War 
Rose Greenhow was born in 1813 or 1814 in Port Tobacco, Maryland, as Maria Rosetta O'Neal. Her father, John O'Neal, was murdered by his slaves in 1817. His widow, Eliza O'Neal, was left with four daughters and a cash-poor farm to manage. Orphaned as a child, Greenhow was invited to live with her aunt in Washington, D.C. as a teenager. Her aunt, Maria Ann Hill, ran a stylish boarding house at the Old Capitol building, and Greenhow was introduced to important figures in the Washington area. When she was a young woman, Greenhow was considered beautiful, educated, loyal, compassionate, and refined. Her olive skin and complexion earned her the nickname "Wild Rose."hi In the 1830s, she met Dr. Robert Greenhow. Their courtship was well received by the society of Washington, especially by famed society matron Dolley Madison. In 1833, Rose's sister Ellen married Dolley's nephew James Madison Cutts, and their daughter Adele would later marry Stephen A. Douglas. In 1835, Rose married Dr. Greenhow with Dolley's blessing. Greenhow's husband taught her history and gave her access to government documents through his work in the U.S. Department of State. Her nickname was Wild Rose.
Espionage during the Civil War 
The Greenhows had eight children, but only four of them lived past infancy. Her youngest child, Rose's constant companion and namesake, was named Rose O'Neal Greenhow (her middle name being her mother's maiden). She would become known as "Little Rose".
Tragedy struck the family when Greenhow's husband died soon after little Rose's birth. After his death, their oldest child Florence married and move west, and then, just before the Civil War began, another child, Gertrude, died.
Greenhow's sympathy for the Confederate cause grew after her husband's death. She was strongly influenced in her commitment to the right to secession by her friendship with U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun. Greenhow's loyalty to the Confederacy was noted by those with similar sympathies in Washington, and she was soon recruited as a spy. Her recruiter was U.S. Army officer Thomas Jordan, who supplied her with a 26-symbol cipher for encoding messages.
On July 9, 1861, and July 16, 1861, Greenhow passed secret messages to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard containing critical information regarding military movements for what would be the First Battle of Bull Run, including the plans of Union General Irvin McDowell. Assisting in her conspiracy were pro-Confederate members of Congress, Union officers, and her dentist, Aaron Van Camp. Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited Greenhow's information with securing victory at Manassas for the Confederate Army over the Union Army.
Greenhow's spying appears to have occurred during the formative phase of the Confederate Secret Service.
Knowing that many in Washington suspected her of spying for the Confederacy, Greenhow feared for her remaining family's safety and sent her daughter Leila west to live with her daughter Florence and her husband, Seymour Treadwell Moore. Moore was a captain in the Union Army.
On August 23, 1861, Allan Pinkerton, head of the recently-formed Secret Service, apprehended Greenhow and placed her under house arrest. Other leaked information was traced back to Greenhow's home, and upon searching her home for further evidence, Pinkerton and his men found maps of Washington fortifications and notes on military movements.
On January 18, 1862, Greenhow was transferred to Old Capitol Prison. Her daughter, "Little Rose", then eight years old, was permitted to remain with her. Greenhow continued to pass along messages while imprisoned. For example, she was said to have sent one message concealed within a woman visitor's bun of hair. Passers-by could see Rose's window from the street. The position of the blinds and number of candles burning in the window had special meaning to the "little birdies" passing by. Greenhow also on one occasion flew the Confederate Flag from her prison window.
International acclaim 
On May 31, 1862, Greenhow and her daughter were released from prison. Deported to Richmond, Virginia, Greenhow was hailed as a heroine by Southerners. Jefferson Davis welcomed her home and enlisted her as a courier to Europe. From 1863 to 1864, Greenhow traveled through France and Britain on a diplomatic mission for the Confederacy.
There was much sympathy for the South among European aristocrats. While in France, Greenhow was received in the court of Napoleon III at the Tuileries. In Britain, she had an audience with Queen Victoria and became engaged to Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville. The details of her mission to Europe are recorded in her personal diaries, dated August 5, 1863, to August 10, 1864. Two months after arriving in London, Greenhow wrote her memoirs, titled My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, which sold well in Britain.
In September 1864, Greenhow left Europe to return to the Confederate States, carrying dispatches. She traveled on the Condor, a British blockade runner. On October 1, 1864, the Condor ran aground at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina, while begin pursued by a Union gunboat, USS Niphon. Fearing capture and reimprisonment, Greenhow fled the grounded ship by rowboat. A wave capsized the rowboat, and Greenhow, weighed down with $2,000 worth of gold in a bag around her neck from her memoir royalties intended for the Confederate treasury, drowned.
When Greenhow's body was recovered from the water near Wilmington, North Carolina, searchers found a copy of her book "Imprisonment" hidden on her person. Inside the book was a note meant for her daughter, Little Rose, which read:
London, Nov 1st 1863 You have shared the hardships and indignity of my prison life, my darling; And suffered all that evil which a vulgar despotism could inflict. Let the memory of that period never pass from your mind; Else you may be inclined to forget how merciful Providence has been in seizing us from such a people. Rose O'Neal Greenhow.
Her exploits were the basis for the 1992 television film The Rose and the Jackal in which she was played by Madolyn Smith Osborne. The Order of the Confederate Rose, the women's auxiliary of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was named for her character in the film.
- Greehow, Rose O'Neal. The National Archives – People Description. 1817-1864. http://arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/AdvancedSearchForm (accessed February 5, 2013).
- Greenhow, Rose O'Neal, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, London: Richard Bentley, 1863.
- "How we got started", Order of the Confederate Rose
Further reading 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Rose O'Neal Greenhow|
- Blackman, Ann, Wild Rose: Rose O'Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6118-0.
- Fishel, Edwin C., The Secret War For The Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. ISBN 0-395-74281-1.
- Ross, Ishbel, Rebel Rose: Life of Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy. 1954, ISBN 0345236300
- Rose O'Neal Greenhow records in the Archival Research Catalog of the National Archives and Records Administration
- The Official Rebel Rose Website
- Rose O'Neal Greenhow letters
- Her gravemarker and some additional biography