A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…expect if you are Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow and you’re in a stinky Union prison.
Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a widowed woman from Maryland who was the toast of Washington D.C. society. She was also one of the Confederacy’s most renowned spies. Using her contacts in society, Rose exploited the fact that Union men spoke freely in front of her. Just another case of men discounting the intelligence and ingenuity of women. Southern President Jefferson Davis credited Rose with helping General G.T. Pierce Beauregard win the battle of Manassas. (Manassas is the Confederate name for the Battle of Bull Run.)
At the onset of the war our intrepid blog topic developed a close relationship with Lt. Colonel Thomas Jordan and the pair created a 26 symbol cipher that allowed Rose to pass information about the Union’s troop movements as well as any fortifications in Washington that might be able to be exploited by the South. In fact, Rose’s house was “within easy rifle-range of the White House” according to Beauregard. Now you have to remember that although Washington D.C. was the capital of the United States a.k.a the Union, the town is actually situated smack dab in the middle of the South. Richmond, the capital of the Confederate United States of America was right across the Potomac. Give or take a couple miles. (Trust me, if you say the name Beauregard in a faux southern accent it makes this blog even better.)
By July 1861 Alan Pinkerton, who was the head of the newly formed Secret Service, discovered Rose’s extracurricular activities and placed her under house arrest. Did that stop her? Heck no! Rose was not finished spying for her beloved Confederacy. She continued passing any information she could glean to the other side of the Mason Dixon line. It was believed she was getting information from a powerful Massachusetts senator, Henry Wilson. He was an easy target because they were bumping uglies. Sex makes men stupid and chatty and Rose was hot, in that Civil War hoop skirt wearing kind of way.
Pinkerton decided to have her moved to the Old Capital Prison. Most likely because he got frustrated with the inability to get her to stop spying and figured sticking her in prison would help. It didn’t. Rose still managed to send out information to the South, in many cases concealed in the bun of her female visitors. Lesson to the men reading this blog, chicks are really smart and we can fool you every time. Fed up with her, the Union banished Rose to the South, hypothesizing that she would do less harm to the Union cause if she was out of the North.
This sort of worked. Davis sent Rose to England to garner support for the Southern Cause. However on the way back to the United States, her ship was run aground in the Cape Fear River. (Not to be confused with the movie of the same name.) Rose and two other passengers attempted to escape via lifeboat, against the Captain’s wishes. The lifeboat capsized and Rose immediately sank, weighed down by the gold she carried, which was sown into the linings and layers of her clothing. Her body was rescued from the river the next morning and she was brought south for burial.
What is most interesting about Rose O’Neal Greenhow is the sheer fact that she was only a spy for a few short months before Pinkerton caught her. Sure, the intel she provided Beauregard helped him win Bull Run but in the grand scheme of the war, she really played a small part. But still, she was the South’s Wild Rose and will always be remembered as such.
See, chicks rock.