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Civil War Curiosities, Part I

I’ve been reading a book called, More Civil War Curiosities by Webb Garrison. Thought I’d post one of these interesting facts. I’ll be back with more from time to time.

On August 23, 1861, Allen Pinkerton placed Mrs. Rose Greenhow O’Neal, an attractive widow, under house arrest. He suspected that someone in Washington D.C. had been providing a steady flow of vital information to the enemy. Mrs. O’Neal was implicated after checks of letters and telegrams she’d received and was sent to the Old Capital Prison by a military guard.

Mrs. O’Neal’s parties were the talk of Washington. Everyone who was anyone attended them. She’d entertained many high Union officials. 

During a search of her home, a large packet of love letters was discovered signed only with the initial “H”. It was suspected they were from Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, but no conclusive evidence was found to confirm it. It was thought Mrs. O’Neal may have forged the letters to implicate the senator.

She was held, with her 8-year-old daughter and a few other women, as a political prisoner in custody of the Department of State. But while in prison, she was able to continue her correspondence with Confederates. She may have doomed the Federal assault of Bull Run, the first battle of the Civil War, by informing General P.G.T. Beauregard of their plans.

Although she was obviously guilty, no one, including Abraham Lincoln, initiated any action against her. It seemed most Federal officials feared embarrassing information regarding them would emerge if she were interrogated. They decided instead of convicting her, she should be banished from the Union for the duration of the conflict.

Along with two other women prisoners, O’Neal was taken to Fort Monroe, Virginia. After a short period of detention, they were led to the Confederate lines and released.

Mrs. O’Neal traveled to England and returned on the blockade runner, Condor. The ship was forced aground by Federals. She jumped ship to avoid capture and drowned near Wilmington, South Carolina on October 1, 1864.

From the book More Civil War Curiosities by Webb Garrison, available at Amazon.com.

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8 Comments

  1. WOW that’s an interesting story. Amazing how women had effect on the Civil War.

  2. It is, Paisley! Thanks for commenting.

  3. Susan!
    This is a very fascinating post.
    Look forward to more from your book.
    Mary Ann

  4. Susan, what an interesting post. I had heard about her and her parties, but didn’t know she drowned. That’s sad. I know she was a spy, but I hate that she escaped only to drown coming home.

  5. What a fascinating woman, and a fascinating post. I wonder how many other female spies were involved in the Civil War. Sounds like a great idea for a book!

  6. Hi, Mary Ann, Caroline and Jennie! Thanks for stopping by!
    What amazes me the most was that spying was so easy for women to get away with, because of the attitudes of men.
    Sounds like she compromised a lot of Union officials’ reputations. LOL.
    And from what I’ve read, Jennie, there were many female spies on both sides of the conflict.

  7. I just saw this post…fascinating…I’ve known about Rose Greenhow O’Neal for quite a while, but had no idea she’d drowned under those circumstances. Great post : )

  8. Me either, Victoria! Thanks for stopping by!

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