Rose O’Neal Greenhow a wealthy widow who lived in Washington at the outbreak of the Cival War was a renowned Confederate spy. As a leader in Washington, D.C. society during the period to prior the American Civil War, she traveled in important political circles cultivating friendships and using her connections to pass along key military information to the Confederacy at the start of the war.
On July 9, 1861, and July 16, 1861, Greenhow passed secret messages to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard containing critical information about the First Battle of Manassas and the plans of Union General Irvin McDowell. This information was credited with securing victory for the Confederate Army over the Union Army.
On August 23, 1861, Greenhow was caught by Allan Pinkerton, head of the recently-formed Secret Service, and placed under house arrest. Leaked information was traced back to Greenhow’s home, which was searched. Further evidence was found in the form of maps of Washington and notes on military movements. She was placed under house arrest and then confined along with her daughter “Little Rose” to the Old Capital Prison for five months before being released in June 1862 and exiled to the South.
Jefferson Davis welcomed her to the South and soon enlisted her as a courier to Europe where she traveled to France and Britain on a diplomatic mission for the Confederacy. She found plenty of sympathy among European aristocrats and was received in the court of Napoleon III and had an audience with Queen Victoria. A couple of months after arriving in London she wrote her memoirs, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington.
Greenhow left Europe to return to the South carrying dispatches sailing on a British blockade runner called the Condor. The Condor ran aground at the mouth of Cape Fear near Wilmington, North Carolina, on October 1, 1864. Fearing recapture, Greenhow fled the grounded ship by rowboat, which was capsized by a wave. Weighed down by a bag of gold around her neck (memoir royalties) intended for the Confederate treasury, Greenhow drowned.
Click on the Barnes and Noble Graphic on the left to purchase the author Ann Blackman’s book Wild Rose: Rose O’Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6118-0. The book is also available as a NOOK book.
Click on National Archives and Records Administration to see records on Rose O’Neal Greenhow.
Click on the Rebel Rose Web Site for the most comprehensive repository of information on Rose Greenhow.