Belle Boyd

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Isabella Maria Boyd ("Belle Boyd")
Portrait of Belle Boyd.jpg
Belle Boyd, Confederate spy, circa 1855–1865
Isabella Maria Boyd

(1844-05-09)May 9, 1844
DiedJune 11, 1900(1900-06-11) (aged 56)
Other namesBelle Boyd, Cleopatra of the Secession, Siren of the Shenandoah, La Belle Rebelle, Rebel Joan of Arc
OccupationConfederate Spy

Isabella Maria Boyd (May 9, 1844[1] – June 11, 1900[2]), best known as Belle Boyd, as well as Cleopatra of the Secession and Siren of the Shenandoah, was a Confederate spy in the American Civil War. She operated from her father's hotel in Front Royal, Virginia, and provided valuable information to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in 1862.

Early life[edit]

Isabella Maria Boyd was born on May 9, 1844, in Martinsburg, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). She was the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. Boyd would describe her childhood as idyllic, living a care-free life, of a reckless tomboy, who climbed trees, raced through the woods, and dominated brothers, sisters, and cousins. Despite her family's lack of money, Boyd received a good education. After some preliminary schooling, she attended the Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Southern spy[edit]

Boyd's espionage career began by chance. According to her highly fictionalised 1866 account, on July 4, 1861, a band of Union army soldiers heard she had Confederate flags in her room, and they came to investigate. They hung a Union flag outside her home. This made her angry enough, but when one of them cursed at her mother, she was enraged. Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot the man, who died some hours later as a result of the wound he sustained. A board of inquiry exonerated her of murder, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, whom she named in her memoir as Captain Daniel Keily,[3][4] "To him," she wrote later, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information."[5] Boyd conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. On Boyd’s first attempt at spying, she was caught and told she could be sentenced to death, but was not. She was not scared and realized she needed to find a better way to communicate.[6]

One evening in mid-May 1862, Union Army General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel. Boyd hid in the closet in the room, eavesdropping through a knothole she enlarged in the door. She learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia. That night, Boyd rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Colonel Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates. She then returned to town. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Boyd ran to greet Stonewall Jackson's men, avoiding enemy fire that put bullet 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 and that evening penned a note of gratitude to her: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. Jackson also gave her captain and honorary aide-de-camp positions.[7]

After her lover gave her up, Belle Boyd was arrested for the first time on July 29, 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., the next day.[8] An inquiry was held on August 7, 1862, concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody.[9] Boyd was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe.[10] She was arrested again in June 1863, but was released after contracting typhoid fever.[11]

In March 1864, she attempted to travel to England, where she was intercepted by a Union blockade and sent to Canada.[12] There she met Union naval officer, Samuel Wylde Hardinge. The two later married in England.[13] The two had one child, a daughter, and Boyd became an actress in England after her husband's death to support her daughter. Following the death of her husband in 1866, she returned to the United States on November 11, 1869. She married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans. After a divorce in 1884, Boyd married Nathaniel Rue High in 1885. A year later, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy.[citation needed]

Post-War years and death[edit]

Belle Boyd's grave

Boyd published a highly fictionalized narrative of her war experiences in a two volume book titled Bell Boyd in Camp and Prison.[14] While touring the United States (she had gone to address members of a GAR post), she died of a heart attack in Kilbourn City (now known as Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin, on June 11, 1900. She was 56 years old. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers.[15] For years, her grave simply read:


In popular culture[edit]

The Smiling Rebel is Harnett Kane's 1955 novel about Belle Boyd.[17]

The Shenandoah Spy by Francis Hamit is a 2008 fact-based novel about Belle Boyd's activities in 1861 and 1862 as a spy and scout for Stonewall Jackson

Belle Boyd is a main character in Cherie Priest's 2010 steampunk novel Clementine and its 2013 sequel Fiddlehead.

She Wouldn't Surrender by James Kendricks is a 1960 novel about Belle Boyd.

Boyd appears as a character in book 3 of the James Reasoner Civil War Series.

Boyd's bullet-riddled handbag was the featured artifact on an episode of the TV game show Legends of the Hidden Temple.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The date in the Boyd Family Bible is May 4, 1844. Scarbrough, Ruth (1997). Belle Boyd: Siren of the South. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-86554-555-7., but Boyd insisted it was 1844, and that the entry was in error. Sigaud, Louis A. (1944). Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Press. p. 224. OCLC 425072. See also, Hay 1975, p. 215. Despite Boyd's assertion, many reliable sources give the year of birth as 1844 and the date as May 10th. Barnhart, Clarence L.; et al., eds. (1954). "Boyd, Belle". The New Century Cyclopedia of Names. 1. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts., "Belle Boyd: Chapter No. 2620". Belle Boyd Chapter of the Louisiana Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy via RootsWeb of
  2. ^ Trust, Civil War (2014). "Maria "Belle" Boyd". Retrieved 2014-07-29. She died, in poverty, of a heart attack at age 56 on June 11, 1900 while on tour in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin. She is buried there, in Spring Grove Cemetery.
  3. ^ Bakeless, p. 155
  4. ^ Note:the only Daniel Keily in the Union Army was a Colonel of the 2nd Regiment/Louisiana Cavalry {US} which was formed in 1863! A 1900 account claims ed-1/seq- that the 1861 shooting incident occurred when Robert Patterson and George Cadwalader's troops invaded Virginia and that Boyd was exonerated by Patterson. Official reports regarding Patterson's 1861 occupation of Virginia do not have any references to Boyd in regard to any shooting incident or being exonerated into revealing military secrets.
  5. ^ Boyd, p. 102
  6. ^ However the Official Records of the Civil War only mention Boyd in 1862-see Notes# 7–9.
  7. ^ Smith, Vicki. "Civil War guide touts spy, life off battlefields". Associated Press. WTOP. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  8. ^ Official Records, p. 310, Series 2, Vol. 4
  9. ^ Official Records, p. 349, Series 2, Vol. 4
  10. ^ Official Records, p. 461, Series 2, Vol. 4
  11. ^ Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: Two Dot. p. 95. ISBN 9780762743841.
  12. ^ Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: Two Dot. p. 95. ISBN 9780762743841.
  13. ^ Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: Two Dot. p. 95. ISBN 9780762743841.
  14. ^ Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: Two Dot. p. 97. ISBN 9780762743841.
  15. ^ The GPS coordinates for Spring Grove Cemetery are 43.62560, −89.75280 and for the grave of Belle Boyd are 43.625695, −89.754068
  16. ^ Belle Boyd at Find a Grave
  17. ^ "Hartnett T. Kane (1910-1984)". Retrieved August 2, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Abbott, Karen (2014). Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062092892. OCLC 878667621.
  • Bakeless, John. Spies of the Confederacy. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1997.
  • Boyd, Belle. Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. New York: Blelock, 1867.
  • Harnett Thomas Kane, The Smiling Rebel (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1955).
  • Hay, Thomas Robson (1975). "Boyd, Belle". In James, Edward T.; et al. (eds.). Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. 1. Cambridge. Massachusetts: Belnlknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Sigaud, Louis A. (1944). Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Press. OCLC 425072.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sizer, Lyde Cullen. "Belle Boyd". American National Biography. Oxford University Press.