The Confederates’ Cleopatra

Conflict: Civil War

Belle Boyd

When Miss Belle Boyd was 17, Union soldiers came to her home and replaced the family’s Confederate flag with a Union one. Belle looked on, seething, but let it pass. But when one of the soldiers started insulting and cursing at Belle’s mother and suggesting they search the house, Belle pulled out a pistol and shot the man. The shooting was considered justified, and Belle was not punished.

This was the beginning of Belle Boyd’s wartime actions against the Union. When more soldiers were posted at her home after the shooting, Belle used her southern charms to cozy up to them. One soldier in particular, Captain Daniel Keily, was very helpful in providing military secrets. She later wrote, “To him I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information.”

The secrets she learned were sent to Confederate officers using her slave, Eliza Hopewell. One evening she even hid in a closet during a meeting with Union General James Shields and his men and learned that Shields had been ordered elsewhere, greatly reducing the size of the Union Army’s strength in Fort Royal.  When the Confederates advanced on Fort Royal, she ran past enemy lines to urge them to attack immediately, as the Union force was small. General Jackson later wrote her a note, thanking her for aiding in their victory that day.

Record of a search for “Bell Boyd,” the Rebel spy

She was searched for by the Union and eventually detained. On July 29, 1862, she was brought to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, where she was apparently treated pretty well and was released one month later. She was arrested twice more after that, returning from her final incarceration aboard a blockade runner that was captured by a vessel commanded by Captain Samuel Hardinge. He escorted the ship to New York, during which time they fell in love. He followed Belle Boyd back to London where they were married.

Belle’s husband died soon after the war ended, leaving Belle a 21-year-old widow. She went on to turn her experiences to her advantage, writing a book and beginning a career in acting. She died in 1900 and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

For more on Belle Boyd, visit these websites:

Belle Boyd

This Day in History

You can also see her 17-page file in the Civil War Service Records on Fold3.