The beautiful rebel spy from Virginia


Belle Boyd hated Yankees, but she gladly used her charms on gullible Union officers for her own protection. French newspapers called her "La Belle Rebelle" (the beautiful rebel) . Boyd was born with that indefinable quality of women like Cleopatra. Men turned into putty in her hands.

She was born in 1844 in Martinsburg, (now) West Virginia. Her father was a wealthy merchant who sent his daughter to a fashionable girls school in Baltimore. Belle returned home shortly before the Civil War came to her valley. Union forces under General Robert Patterson occupied Martinsburg on on July 3, 1861.

When a Yankee soldier tried to remove the Confederate flag flying over her house, she killed him. Patterson did not punish her. The soldier had shoved her mother out of the way. She was just protecting her mom. Nevertheless, Belle moved to Front Royal until tempers cooled.

At Front Royal, she began collecting information on Union troop movements which she forwarded to General "Stonewall" Jackson. She was arrested in early 1862 and sent to a military prison in Baltimore. She managed to charm General John A. Dix, who arranged for her to be included in the next prisoner exchange. Belle went right back to Front Royal and her espionage. Her finest hour came on May 23, 1862.

Union forces made plans to ambush the advancing rebels, inflict heavy casualties, then withdraw, blowing up the bridges behind them. Belle raced to intercept Jackson’s columns. Jackson changed his battle plans, tricked the Union commander, and won a decisive victory at Front Royal.

A few days later, Belle was arrested again and sent to Capital Prison in Washington. "La Belle Rebelle" charmed Lafayette Baker, who supposedly created the U.S. Secret Service. Baker arranged for her to be exchanged. The "Cleopatra of the South" was back in business.

The Union victory at Gettysburg and the Confederate retreat stranded her in Yankee territory. She was arrested in August 1863 and imprisoned in Carrol Prison near Washington. She almost died of typhoid fever, which won her widespread sympathy. The Union solution was to banish their troublesome prisoner.

In Richmond, President Davis gave her important letters to take to England. The blockade runner she sailed on was captured by the USS "Connecticutt." Ensign Samuel Hardinge was ordered to sail the captured prize to Boston. En route, he fell in love with his tempestous captive. He arranged for Belle to continue to Canada. He followed her to England where they were married on August 24, 1864. Hardinge died a few months later.

His widow had a brief career as an actress in England and published a book about her adventures as a Confederate spy. She returned to the US in 1869. She married twice, to men named Hammond and High, both of whom died. Belle also claimed she was once married to Cole Younger, a Confederate veteran and famous outlaw.

Her stage career did not flourish. Finally, she turned to giving "readings" of her life. But the Yankees had the last word. Belle Boyd Hardinge Hammond High died in Kilbourn, Wisconsin on June 10, 1900, where she had scheduled a reading at the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Union veterans paid for the funeral. She was broke, having sent her last $2 to her daughter, apologizing for the small amount and explaining: "I have been able to play only one night, so I am sending you all I have over expenses, $2." Six union veterans were pallbearers when the tempestous rebel spy was laid to rest under a simple headstone that reads:

BELLE BOYD
Confederate Spy
Born in Virginia
Died in Wisconsin