Rose O'Neal Greenhow was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817. "Wild Rose", as she was called from a young age, was a leader in Washington society, a passionate secessionist, and one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War. Among her accomplishments was the secret message she sent to General Pierre G.T. Beauregard which ultimately caused him to win the battle of Bull Run. She spied so successfully for the Confederacy that Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of Manassas.
She was imprisoned for her efforts first in her own home and then in the Old Capital Prison. Despite her confinement, Greenhow continued getting messages to the Confederacy by means of cryptic notes which traveled in unlikely places such as the inside of a woman's bun of hair. After her second prison term, she was exiled to the Confederate states where she was received warmly by President Jefferson Davis.
Her next mission was to tour Britain and France as a propagandist for the Confederate cause. Two months after her arrival in London, her memoirs were published and enjoyed a wide sale throughout the British Isles. In Europe, Greenhow found a strong sympathy for the South, especially among the ruling classes. During the course of her travels she hobnobbed with many members of the nobility. In Paris, she was received into the court of Napoleon III and was granted an audience with the Emperor at the Tuileries. Rose's diary (August 5, 1863 - August 10, 1864), held in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, NC, describes her mission in great detail.
In 1864, after a year abroad, she boarded the Condor, a British blockade-runner which was to take her home. Just before reaching her destination, the vessel ran aground at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina. In order to avoid the Union gunboat that pursued her ship, Rose fled in rowboat, but never made it to shore. Her little boat capsized and she was dragged down by the weight of the gold she received in royalties for her book.
In October 1864, Rose was buried with full military honors in the Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Her coffin was wrapped in the Confederate flag and carried by Confederate troops. The marker for her grave, a marble cross, bears the epitaph, "Mrs. Rose O'N. Greenhow, a bearer of dispatchs [sic] to the Confederate Government."
The following are a several titles by or about Rose O'Neal Greenhow. Look for these in your local public or university libraries. Some of these titles may be available through interlibrary loan. Ask your librarian!
Mrs. Greenhow. My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule At Washington. London: Richard Bentley, 1863.
Halacy, Dan. The Master Spy. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, c1968.
Kinchen, Oscar A. Women Who Spied for the Blue and the Gray. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, c1972.
Mahoney, M.H. Women in Espionage, A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, c1993.
Source: Duke University