Belle Boyd: A Woman of Principal
By Denise M. Clark
a well-known name, but what exactly did she do?
Some may link the name to a notorious outlaw or actress or sharpshooter
and while some certainly considered Belle an outlaw and many believed
her a consummate actress, and she most certainly handled herself
well with a gun, she was truly none of those. Belle Boyd was, depending
on whose side you were on, either a spy or a patriot.
Maria Isabella (Belle) Boyd was born in Virginia in
1843. She grew up a tomboy, who, as she sprouted into womanhood,
became not only lovely, but witty and exuberant as well. A teenager
when the War Between the States tore the nation asunder, Belle devoted
most of her attention to the Southern Cause and ways she could help
it along. Because her home was close to Federal lines, she took
full advantage of the fact that she saw Federal officers roaming
through her town on a daily basis and kept her ears and eyes open.
But caution was a trait Belle learned the hard way, after one of
her early messages to a Confederate officer accidentally found its
way into the hands of a Yankee officer instead. Though warned that
the North could consider her actions treasonous, Belle begged to
She learned to cipher and from then on wrote out her messages and
tidbits of information in code, then delivered those messages in
person, riding horseback through picket lines and disregarding boundaries.
Caught once again in 1862, Belle was held captive near her home
in Martinsburg, but after being warned again to immediately desist
in her activities, she was again released. After all, how much damage
could a beautiful teenager do?
Well, Belle was not put off so easily as that and continued to
eavesdrop and question soldiers and officers of the Yankee persuasion,
who had no difficulty at all in speaking with the lovely young miss,
little knowing who she was or what she intended to do with the information
they so agreeably assuaged her insatiable curiosity. By late May
of 1862, she had amassed enough information that she felt would
have a direct impact on General Stonewall Jacksons campaign
to defend the Shenandoah Valley against continued Yankee advancement.
Again, she personally delivered the information, receiving for her
trouble General Jacksons heartfelt thanks. From then on, both
sides knew Belle as the precious rogue. Nevertheless,
she continued to do what she could to help her state, and paid for
it when in late June of that year, she was captured again. Weary
of her refusal to obey the prior warnings about her activities,
Belle was escorted to the Old Capitol Prison (formerly a brick boarding
house) in Washington D.C.
So it was, that at the tender age of 19, that Belle was questioned
and then asked to take the Oath of Allegiance. She, naturally, refused
and was imprisoned for a month. While at the Old Capitol Prison,
she earned the admiration of her fellow Southern prisoners and the
grudging respect of her Northern captors. Those who witnessed her
imprisonment claimed that her spirits were always high, she never
complained, and she continued to remain a staunch defender of the
Confederacy. From there, Belle was banished to Richmond. Determined
that Yankee orders could not control her life, Belle left the city
and wandered through the South until she once again ended up in
Martinsburg in early 1863. Later that summer, she was arrested for
being found behind enemy lines and again incarcerated, this time
at Carroll Prison, Washington D.C., for a three month stint.
Due to the confinement, Belles health declined, and she was
again released and sent to Richmond. Her physician suggested a trip
to restore her health and she took him up on it, deciding to venture
to England, while, naturally, carrying dispatches to the Souths
In May of 1864, Belle stepped aboard the blockade-runner, Greyhound
and set forth, but unfortunately, the Yankee USS Connecticut attacked
her ship. Aboard that enemy ship was a young sailor by the name
of Samuel Harding who, not surprisingly, fell in love with
Belle while in route to their Northern port at Fortress Monroe.
Later that year, after Belle had served her prison term and she
had been released, she and Harding met in England after separately
making their way there, and were married. Her new husband was dismissed
from the Navy. Several months later while in the South, Harding
was arrested as a Confederate spy. The two young lovers met only
briefly one more time before he died unexpectedly, leaving Belle
a heartbroken widow.
After the war, Belle took up acting in England and in the States,
and supplemented her meager income by giving lectures to veterans
gatherings. Eventually, she married two more times and spent most
of her life on the west coast. She died in Kilbourne, Wisconsin
in 1900 at the age of fifty-seven.
Belles desire and determination to serve her cause with loyalty
and with little regard to personal reward or damage to her reputation
held her in good stead. Her faith and loyalty in her cause was unshakable
and has forevermore emblazoned her with the title of a patriot.
Denise Clark is a freelance writer and creator of Denise's Pieces
Author Site & Book Reviews at: http://www.denisemclark.com