Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Petticoat Spies: Rose O'Neal Greenhow aka Rebel Rose

Welcome back, Victoria Gray with her Petticoat Spies series!  Today she will delight us with her post on Rose O'Neal Greenhow, also known as Rebel Rose. If you missed the last post on "Crazy Bet", click here.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow: Rebel Rose
By Victoria Gray


As I discussed in my previous post, one of the Union’s most successful spies was a spinster who hid in plain sight, her eccentric, slightly mad persona the perfect disguise for their activities. Widely known as “Crazy Bet”, Elizabeth Van Lew rubbed elbows with Richmond elites while ferrying information to Union generals. The South also had its share of petticoat spies. Today, I’m going to share the story of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, possibly the most notorious of the Confederacy’s female spies.

Rose Greenhow was in many ways Elizabeth Van Lew’s opposite. A popular Washington, D.C. hostess, she flattered secrets out of the nation’s political and military elite. Married as a young woman to a State Department employee, Robert Greenhow, Rose associated with notables such as Dolley Madison and John C. Calhoun. Sophisticated and gracious, her charm proved as effective a disguise as Crazy Bet’s eccentricities when the war broke out in 1861 and Rose’s sympathy for the Confederacy led her to betray those who considered her a friend.

“Rebel Rose” quickly proved her mettle as a spy, providing Union general Beauregard with information that helped the South rout the North in the First Battle of Bull Run. Transporting the sensitive intelligence in the hair of a female courier, Rose demonstrated her ingenuity and her effectiveness.

Her activities were not without risk. Before long, she’d attracted the attention of Allan Pinkerton, who’d been brought in by the Union to combat espionage. Placed under house arrest, her home was occupied by Union soldiers and used to house other female prisoners. Confinement in Fort Greenhow, as her home came to be known, did not put a stop to Rose’s activities. Communications complaining of her mistreatment leaked out, creating great sympathy for her in the South. After several months, Fort Greenhow was closed. Rose and her young daughter were transferred to the Old Capitol Prison.

While in Old Capitol, Rose became a propaganda tool for the South, which portrayed the Northerners who’d imprisoned her as brutal for imprisoning both a woman and her child. Following a hearing that seemed to accomplish nothing, Rose Greenhow was exiled to Richmond. Mrs. Greenhow soon traveled to Europe, meeting with Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, and other members of the elite to garner support for the Confederate cause, while her book detailing her confinement in Washington during the first year of the war became a best seller in Britain.

Rose Greenhow’s European trip culminated in tragedy. On the last stretch of the voyage home, the ship on which she traveled ran aground off the North Carolina coast. While attempting to reach shore on a small boat, Mrs. Greenhow’s vessel capsized. She drowned and was buried with full military honors in Wilmington, North Carolina.

While she met a tragic end, Rose Greenhow lived her life defiantly, serving a cause she believed in quite passionately. She was a daring woman who stood up for her convictions, regardless of the cost, one of many women on both sides of the conflict who made great sacrifices for their beliefs.

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Victoria Gray writes sizzling Civil War era romance novels. Visit her at: http://www.victoriagrayromance.com/ or http://victoriagrayromance.blogspot.com/

14 comments:

Diane M. Wylie said...

Great blog, Victoria. The women of the U.S. Civil War have provided lots of fascinating stories. They deserve to be heard. Thanks for a great article.

Crystal said...

As a Canadian I don't get to hear about the great women of our southern neighbour! Thanks for teaching me something new today!

Jennifer Jakes said...

Love Civil War history. I'd heard this story before, but never her tragic end.
Very interesting -- and sad.

Debby Lee said...

Hi Victoria, what an educating and fun to read article. The Civil War is one of my favorite era's to research and read about. Thanks for posting.

Velda Brotherton said...

Victoria, as a lover of Southern history, I found this post most intriguing. I too had heard of Rose, but didn't know "the rest of the story." Thanks for sharing.

Susan Macatee said...

This is a fascinating story, Victoria! Anyone who reads factual accounts of the men and women who lived during American Civil War will never run out of stories to tell.

Victoria Gray said...

Rose Greenhow had a fascinating life. So many bold experiences...such a shame her life was cut short by tragedy.

Victoria

Eliza Knight said...

Another great post Victoria! I agree it is a shame her life ended so early, there's no telling what she could have done. Even today, female spies are something to be admired, but back then it seems even more the stuff of fiction. I would have loved to talk with her.

Nancy said...

As a northerner married to a northerner, whose ancestors fought for the north in the Civil War, we are now proudly living near Rose's final resting place. No matter what side, history has made us who we are. I feel we have learned difficult lessons, which makes this country GREAT! GO USA! (a proud army mom)

Victoria Gray said...

Well said, Nancy!

Margaret Tanner said...

What a great Blog Victoria, I found it very informative. You certainly have to admire the courage of such women.

Regards

Margaret

Anita Clenney said...

What a great post. I love stories full of mystery and intrigue, and to know it was real, and that a woman carried it out. Amazing. It reminds me of an episode of Decoded with Brad Meltzer on the History Channel. He did a show about the Culper spy ring during the Revolutionary War. There was a mysterious female agent who, if I remember correctly, was instrumental in stopping Benedict Arnold. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Victoria Gray said...

Sounds fascinating, Anita...I will have to check that out :)

Victoria

Julie Lynn Hayes said...

This was a fascinating blog. I love history, and can't understand why so many people consider it dull and unexciting. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Julie