Cleopatra of the Secession
Known as Cleopatra of the Secession, Belle Boyd was a hotel operator and Confederate spy. She was born in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), in May of 1843 or 1844. She was considered a very well-educated woman for her time and graduated from the Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1861. Her career as a spy began that same year when Union soldiers in Front Royal allegedly tore down the Confederate flag that flew over her mother’s boardinghouse and replaced it with a Union flag. When the Union soldier insulted, or perhaps pushed, her mother, Boyd shot him dead. She was acquitted of any wrongdoing.
Later that year, Boyd became a courier for Generals Beauregard and Jackson. She obtained information by charming Union soldiers and officers passing through the area and relayed the information to the generals. The information was supposedly relayed via Boyd’s servant, Eliza Hopewell, in a hollowed-out watchcase to escape detection. Once Boyd learned valuable information about Union troop positions and formations after the boardinghouse was seized by Union forces, she rode fifteen miles through the wilderness and battle lines to relay the information personally to General Jackson. On the way, a bullet tore through her skirt. To show his appreciation, Jackson made the seventeen-year-old girl a captain and honorary aide-de-camp.
During the Civil War, Belle Boyd was arrested six times and imprisoned twice. After the war, she published a famous book about her life and became an actress. She died in Wisconsin in 1900 of an apparent heart attack. Today, the Belle Boyd House and Museum is located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and her birthday is celebrated there every third weekend of May.