July 29, 1864: During the US Civil War, a spy was captured in Washington, D.C. Isabella Marie Boyd was born in 1844 in western Virginia. She was the eldest child in her family and called her early life idyllic. Although not rich, her family provided her with a good education. She attended Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore at age 12 and completed her training by age 16. At that time, her family arranged a debut in Washington where she lived the carefree life of a debutante.
Belle came to spying by accident. On July 4, 1861, Union soldiers removed a Confederate flag from outside her home and replaced it with a Union one. Next, one of the Union soldiers cursed at her mother and this enraged the teen. She pulled a pistol and shot the guy. She was exonerated, but her house was placed under guard. She charmed the men guarding her and learned military secrets. Belle sent those secrets on to Confederate officers via her slave. This plan unraveled when Eliza Hopewell, the slave was caught. The women were threatened with death if they tried this stunt again.
In May of 1862, Union officers met at the local hotel to discuss strategy. Belle hid in a closet to eavesdrop. Belle learned some state secrets and took off into the night, riding herself through Union lines. She used fake papers and lots of bravado to bluff her way through. She got to speak with an aide to General Stonewall Jackson and gave him information. She was given the Southern Cross of Honor. However, Belle’s lover turned her into the Union officials who arrested her on this day.
After her arrest, she was taken to the Old Capitol Prison. An inquiry was held on August 7 mostly concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody. She was held for a month before her release was affected on August 29 during an exchange of prisoners at Fort Monroe. Later, she was arrested again for spying and once again was set free. In 1864 she went to England and there she met and married a Union naval officer.
After the war, Belle stayed on in England where she became an actress. Her husband died in 1866 and she returned to the US in 1869. Once there, she married again, this time a Southerner. She divorced him in 1884 and a year later married yet again. In 1886 she began to tour the country and gave dramatic lectures about her days as a Confederate spy. She died of heart attack in 1900 in Wisconsin and was buried there with GAR (Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Union Army veterans) members acting as pallbearers.
BORN IN VIRGINIA
DIED IN WISCONSIN
ERECTED BY A COMRADE” – Bell Boyd’s tombstone
“To him, I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information.” – Belle’s diary concerning Captain Daniel Keily (first attempt at spying)
“The Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.” – Belle’s message for Stonewall Jackson
“I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.” – Stonewall Jackson’s note to Belle
“Since knowledge is but sorrow’s spy, It is not safe to know.” – William Davenant