The Siren of the Shenandoah: Belle Boyd

The Siren of the Shenandoah: Belle Boyd

The American Civil War produced a multitude of curious and exciting personalities, arguably the most infamous spy during the entire war called what is today West Virginia home. Isabella “Belle” Boyd was born in the eastern panhandle of Virginia (near Martinsburg) in 1844, nineteen years before West Virginia statehood. She was a fervent supporter of Virginia and southern rights, coming from the planter class, she was wealthy and entitled. When the Civil War exploded in April of 1861, Belle was seventeen years old and headstrong, to say the least. Almost immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities, she began to act as an amateur spy for the Confederacy. When Union forces commandeered her home she murdered a Union soldier, she claimed self-defense and was eventually acquitted by the Union forces. After that, there was no turning back for the young secessionist. Using her feminine attributes, Belle would coax information out of Union soldiers and pass the info on to southern commanders, most notably fellow Virginian Stonewall Jackson. She was caught and arrested a half dozen times, even being thrown in the Capitol Prison in Washington D.C., but each time she was exchanged for important Union prisoners of war or was simply sent along her way. She never stopped working for the Confederate cause throughout 1862, until she was finally exiled to the south. Belle would sail to Britain in an attempt to bring the English into the war on the southern side, but that proved fruitless. Belle Boyd leveraged her notoriety into a stage play with some success after the war. Indeed the most infamous spy of the American Civil War, Belle Boyd was an unforgiving secessionist in the disputed land.

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About TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website www.theoddpast.com and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere