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Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Confederate Spy


About Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Dates: about 1814/1815 - October 1, 1864

More About Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Maryland-born Rose O'Neal married the wealthy Virginian Dr. Robert Greenhow and, living in Washington, DC, became a well-known hostess in that city as she raised their four daughters. In 1850, the Greenhows moved to Mexico, then to San Francisco where Dr. Greenhow died of an injury, leaving Rose widowed.

The widowed Rose O'Neal Greenhow moved back to Washington, DC, and resumed her role as a popular social hostess, with many political and military contacts. At the start of the Civil War, she began supplying her Confederate friends with information gleaned from her pro-Union contacts.

One important piece of information that Greenhow passed along was the timetable for the Union Army's movements towards Manassas in 1861, which allowed General Beauregard to gather enough forces before the forces joined battle in the First Battle of Bull Run / Manassas, July 1861.

Allan Pinkerton, head of the detective agency and of the federal government's new secret service, became suspicious of Greenhow, and had her arrested and her home searched in August. Maps and documents were found, and she was placed under house arrest. When it was discovered that she was still managing to pass information to the Confederate espionage network, she was taken to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, DC, and imprisoned with her youngest daughter, Rose. Here, again, she was able to continue to gather and pass along information.

Finally, in May, 1862, Greenhow was sent to Richmond, where she was greeted as a heroine. She was appointed to a diplomatic mission in England and France that summer, and she published her memoirs, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, as part of the propaganda effort to bring England into the war on the side of the Confederacy.

Returning to America in 1864, Greenhow was on the blockade runner Condor when it was chased by a Union ship and ran aground on a sandbar at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in a storm. She asked to be put into a lifeboat, along with $2,000 in gold sovereigns that she was carrying, to avoid capture; instead, the stormy sea and the heavy load swamped the boat and she was drowned. She was given a full military funeral and buried in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow on the web

About Rose O'Neal Greenhow

  • Categories: female Confederate spies, American Civil War
  • Organizational Affiliations: Confederacy
  • Places: Maryland, Washington, DC, United States
  • Period: 19th century

Also on this site

Print Bibliography

  • Johnson, George Johnson, jr. Rose O'Neale Greenhow and the Bolckade Runners.
  • Leonard, Elizabeth D. All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies. 1999. (compare prices)

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Text copyright 1999-2008 © Jone Johnson Lewis.

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