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Rose Greenhow and Daughter

Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a rich, attractive, and outgoing widow, was a very popular member of Washington's highest social circles; her friends were former presidents, senators, and generals. When the Civil War started, she joined the Confederate espionage system in Washington and used her social contacts and admirers to gather useful information for the Rebel government. She is credited with supplying Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard with the timetable for the Union advance to Manassas, thus allowing the Rebels time to consolidate their forces to win the 1st Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.

Too indiscreet about her sympathies, Greenhow and her activities aroused suspicion in detective Allan Pinkerton, who had her arrested in August 1861. A search of her house turned up detailed maps of the Washington fortifications and notes on military movements. She was placed under house arrest for a few months; then, in January 1862, Greenhow was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, from which she managed to continue her clandestine activities and forward valuable information to the Confederacy. In May she was deported to Richmond, where she was greeted by cheering crowds.

That summer Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent Greenhow on a diplomatic mission to Europe. During her two year stay, she wrote and published her memoirs, titled My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington. Greenhow was re-entering the Confederacy on October 1, 1864, when her blockade runner, Condor, was spotted and chased by a Union warship off the coast of North Carolina. The Condor was forced onto a sandbar at the mouth of the Cape Fear River during a storm, and Greenhow, fearing capture and return to prison, asked to be put ashore in a small lifeboat. A few days later her body washed up on the shore. The stormy seas had swamped her boat, and the weight of the $2,000 in gold that she carried dragged her under the waves. She was given a military funeral and buried in Wilmington, North Carolina*.

*I would like to thank Barbara McCormick for pointing out my error on the burial place for Rose O'Neal Greenhow.