CONFEDERATE WOMEN IN THE WAR FOR SOUTHERN INDEPENDENCE 

By Rodney Combs
rodbren@sbcglobal.net

When we think of heroes of the Confederacy, we automatically and rightly think of such figures as President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, Nathan B. Forrest, and the other officers and enlisted men who tried to repel Yankee invasion. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but in an attempt to be historically correct and to give credit where credit is due, I’d like to point out some other heroes – or I should say heroines – in the War for Southern Independence: the women who served the Confederacy.

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Rose O’Neal Greenhow was born in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1817. As a secessionist and spy for the Confederacy, one of her accomplishments was providing information to General P. G. T. Beauregard which ultimately brought about Confederate victory in the Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas.

While in a Yankee prison, Greenhow still managed to send cryptic messages to the Confederacy; one such method of getting out notes was to hide it inside the bun of a woman’s hair. She was later exiled to the Confederate States.

In 1864, after traveling in Europe to garner sympathy for the South, Rose was returning home aboard a British blockade-runner when tragedy struck. Shortly before reaching her destination, the ship ran aground while trying to avoid a Union gunboat. Rose left the ship in a rowboat, but her small boat capsized. The weight of the gold she was carrying pulled her below the surface where she drowned.

Rose was buried in October 1864 with full military honors in the Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina. A favorite quote by Rose O’Neal Greenhow is "Instead of friends, I see in those states of Washington only mortal enemies. Instead of loving the old flag of the stars and stripes, I see in it only the symbol of murder, plunder, oppression, and shame."

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Born in May 1844 at Martinsburg, Virginia (later West Virginia), Isabelle "Belle" Boyd was another noted spy for the Confederacy. Soon after the beginning of the war, Belle was organizing parties for the troops, and around that time she killed a Yankee soldier who had pushed her mother. After her acquittal, she became a courier for Generals Beauregard and Jackson. She carried information, delivered medical supplies, and confiscated weapons; a few of her rides, though dangerous, were through battle fields in an attempt to deliver information across the lines to the Confederacy.

Belle also served Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, providing information to Generals Turner Ashby and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the 1862 spring campaign. General Jackson made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp on his staff.

Belle died in 1900 while touring the western United States, and was buried in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. A favorite quote by Belle Boyd is "If it is a crime to love the South, its cause, and its President, then I am a criminal. I would rather lie down in this prison and die than leave it owing allegiance to a government such as yours."

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Varina Howell Davis was born on 7 May 1826 near Natchez, Mississippi. She was a well educated lady who spoke French and played piano, and was interested in politics and current affairs. Varina married Jefferson Davis against her parents’ wishes on 26 February 1845. Jefferson was 18 years her senior.

While her husband served as senator and secretary of war in Washington, DC, Varina was an excellent hostess and helped Mr. Davis write speeches and letters. Later, she was the first and only First Lady of the Confederate States of America in Richmond, Virginia.

While traveling through Richmond one day, Mrs. Davis rescued from an abusive black man serving as guardian a black child he was beating. Young Jim Limber was taken to the Confederate White House for care and was adopted into the family. The next day she had papers drawn up to designate Jim’s status as a free person of color. After the fall of Richmond, the Davis family tried to escape and was captured in Georgia by Yankees soldiers who kidnapped young Jim from his adopted family. They never saw him again.

Varina died on 16 October 1905. She had left their home, called Beauvoir, in Mississippi to the state as a Confederate veterans’ and widows’ home as a perpetual memorial to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate cause. A favorite quote of Mrs. Davis’s is "Under it [the Battle Flag] we won our victories and its glory will never fade. It is enshrined in our hearts forever."

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Mary Boykin Chesnut was born on 31 March 1823 in Pleasant Hill, South Carolina. Her father, Stephen Miller, was the governor of South Carolina, and her mother was Mary Boykin.

Mary was opposed to slavery and believed in the southern states’ right to secede from the Union. Between February 1861 and July 1865, Mary kept a 400,000 word diary of the War for Southern Independence. Mary died on 22 November 1886, but her diary was not published until 1905. It is titled A Diary from Dixie.

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There have also been cases of a few women officers and hundreds of enlisted women soldiers who served with honor in the Confederate Army.

I should also mention the women civilians who endured hardship and sacrifice as a result of their husbands and brothers who left home to resist Yankee invasion. Many were forced to endure the depredations of pure terrorism and barbarity visited upon them by Yankee soldiers, they who served the supposedly noble and righteous Union Army of the United States.