Belle BoydCredit: Pwarlick

Not only did women change the face of history, but so did the girls. Belle Boyd is one such girl whose story is a fascinating one. Maria Isabella Boyd served as a famous successful Confederate spy during the Civil War. In the spring of 1862, this intriguing southern bell aided the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and supplied Confederate Generals Turner Ashby and Stonewall Jackson with valuable information during the fight against the Union.

Maria Isabella Boyd was born in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley on May 9, 1844, in Martinsburg, Virginia. Martinsburg in now a part of West Virginia. Her father, Benjamin Reed was a local store merchant, grocer, and tobacco farmer who eventually joined the Virginia Calvary. Her mother, Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd named her Isabella which she later shortened to Belle. She had a sister named Mary Jane and a brother named Bill. Her childhood was carefree and blissful. Belle Boyd was described as a rambunctious tomboy who got her way because Belle’s mother never scolded her. Even though Belle’s family wasn’t rich by any means, she received a decent education. At the age of 12 she attend the Mount Washington Female College at Baltimore which she graduated from by the age of 16 and upon graduation Belle moved back home. She grew into a beautiful young lady and became quiet the debutante.

The year after Belle Boyd returned home, her father had joined the regiment. While he was there, Belle organized parties to visit the soldiers. She loved her father and the South dearly. Unfortunately, her town was the first to fall into Union hands. Belle was all to ready to help the wounded soldiers, and she mocked any enemy soldier that made an unsavory comment about them. Many knew that Belle Boyd had a collection of Confederate flags that she hung in her room, and one night in a drunken rage Union soldiers invaded her house. In search of these flags, one soldier pushed Belle’s mother after being scolded by her. He wanted to fly an American flag atop of her house and when she threaten to kill him, he pushed Mary. That was the first time that Belle had shot herself a Yankee. There was an inquiry into the killing, and using her captivating good looks and a few innocent smiles, not only did Belle get out of the incident, the Union soldiers placed guards outside of Belle’s home to make sure no other intrusions occurred.

Fraternizing with the enemy using her charms, innocence, and good looks enabled Belle to seize the opportunity to aid General Stonewall Jackson and her fellow countrymen. Belle had always had a crush on General Jackson, and there was nothing that she wouldn’t do for him. This teenager flirted with the Union soldiers and got one of them by the name of Captain Daniel Keily to share military secrets to her. In Belle’s attempt to inform General Jackson about the Unions up coming plans, a message in her handwriting was intercepted and sent to Union headquarters. After learning that she could be executed for espionage, Belle learn to be more cunning in her future attempts at passing information to the Confederate Army. After she got out of yet another incident, Belle rode horseback from town to town delivering information as she intercepted it to the troops.

In March of 1862, Belle heard that the war had migrated back to her hometown. In her attempt to return home, Belle Boyd was arrested in Winchester by apologetic officers and ordered to accompany them to Baltimore. After a week of using her charms, girl was released from prison which by the way was a rather nice hotel room. That incident did not deter Belle and by May of that year she hid out in a hotel closet, and through a knothole in the wood, Belle intercepted even more military secrets. After finding out that the Union army would be decreased, she rode horseback through the night to deliver the message to Colonel Turner Ashby, and returned home by daylight with none the wiser. Using this valuable information, the Confederates advanced on Fort Royal. During the siege, Belle ran through open gunfire to greet the soldiers. This brave young woman acquired bullet holes in her skirt, but that did not stop Belle Boyd. When she greeted them, Belle let them know that the enemy force was very small. For her bravery and contributions to the war effort General Jackson sent Belle Boyd a personal note of gratitude, made her captain and honorary aid-de-camp, and she also received the Southern Cross of Honor.

“I thank you, for myself and for the Army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.

                                                                                          Hastily, I am your friend,
                                                                                                   T.J. Jackson, C.S.A.”

During July of 1962, a lover betrayed Belle Boyd and on the 29th of the month the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued a warrant for her arrest. Belle was taken into custody and sentenced to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. This prison is now the site of the U.S. Supreme Court. Belle Boyd was release at the end of August and exchanged at Fort Monroe. Following her release, Belle was banished to the capital at Richmond. After Belle was discovered a year later living in Martinsburg, she was arrested again and Belle Boyd served six months, but was let out when she became sick with typhoid fever. Belle was sent to England to recover. She wasn’t suppose to travel there, but Belle Boyd used the name Lewis and boarded the schooner Greyhound. Unfortunately, while on the trip, the vessel was intercepted by the U.S.S. Connecticut, a Federal fleet, and Belle was taken prisoner. While in the custody of a Union naval office, she fell in love with ironically, the enemy. Finally, Belle married Sam Hardinge, but later Belle was exiled to Canada. Many events occurred and much time passed, but eventually he rejoined his bride in England.

While in England, Belle began an acting career. She also published a book called Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. After her husband died in 1866, Belle returned to the United States. She remarried two more times. Belle’s death was as captivating as her life for she died while on stage in Wisconsin. That is where she is buried.

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