Civil War Wiki
Belle Boyd
Born May 5, 1844
Martinsburg, Virginia, United States
Died June 11, 1900
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Isabella Marie Boyd (May 9[1], 1844[2] – June 11, 1900, best known as Belle Boyd or Cleopatra of the Secession, was a Confederate spy in the American Civil War. She operated from her father's hotel in Virginia and provided valuable information to Confederate general Stonewall Jackson in 1862.

She was born at Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. As a teenager, she was a fun-loving debutante.

Belle Boyd's espionage career began by chance. According to her 1866 account, on July 4, 1861, a band of Union army soldiers saw the Confederate flag hung outside her home. They tore it down and hung a Union flag in its place. This made her angry enough, but when one of them cursed at her mother, she was enraged. Belle pulled out a pistol and shot the man down.She was fuming. A board of inquiry exonerated her, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, Captain Daniel Keily,[3] into revealing military secrets. "To him," she wrote later, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information."[4] Belle conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. On her first attempt at spying she was caught and told she could be sentenced to death, but was not. She was not scared and realized she needed to find a better way to communicate.[5].

Belle Boyd was not blessed with a pretty face, but a fine body. She was particularly noted for having the best looking ankles known—and she used them to her advantage. She evidently had a "winning way" with the Union troops and was most obliging in taking care of their needs.

Then, one evening in mid-May 1862, Union General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel. Belle hid in the closet in the room, eavesdropping through a knothole she enlarged in the door. She learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength at Front Royal. That night, Belle rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Col. Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates. She then returned to town. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Belle ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson's men, braving enemy fire that put bullet holes in her skirt. She urged an officer to inform Jackson that "the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all." Jackson did and that evening penned a note of gratitude to her: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. Jackson also gave her captain and honorary aide-de-camp positions.

After her lover gave her up, Belle Boyd was arrested on July 29, 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington July 30, 1862,[6] where there was an inquiry on August 7, 1862 concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody.[7] Boyd was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe.[8]. She was later arrested and imprisoned a 3rd time, but again was set free.

In 1864, she went to England where she met and married a Union naval officer, Samuel Wylde Hardinge, who died on October 3, 1866 when the passenger steamer SS Evening Star went down off Cape Hatteras. However, this information may not be correct since Hardinge's name does not appear on the combined passenger and crew list of the SS Evening Star.

 After the war, Belle Boyd became an actress in England before returning to the United States. Nov 11, 1869.   She then married John Swainston Hammond (1869) in New Orleans and, after a divorce in 1884, married Nathaniel Rue High (1885). A year later, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy. 


While touring the United States (she had gone to address members of a GAR post), she died of a heart attack in Kilbourne City, Wisconsin (now known as Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin) at the age of 56. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells-with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers.[9]


  1. Ancestry of Belle Boyd (some sources give the day of birth as May 4)[1]
  2. Hay, p. 215 (some sources give the year of birth as 1843) [2])
  3. Bakeless, p. 155 {Note:the only Daniel Keily in the Union Army was a Colonel of the 2nd Regiment/Louisiana Cavalry {US} which was formed in 1863! A 1900 account claims [3] that the 1861 shooting incident occurred when Robert Patterson and George Cadwalader's troops invaded Virginia and that Boyd was exonerated by Patterson. Official reports regarding Pattersons 1861 occupation of Virginia [4] pp.157-186 do not have any references to Boyd in regard to any shooting incident or being exonerated}
  4. Boyd, p. 102
  5. [However the Official Records of the Civil War only mention Boyd in 1862-see Notes# 6-8]
  6. Official Records, p. 310, Series 2, Vol. 4
  7. Official Records, p. 349, Series 2, Vol. 4
  8. Official Records, p. 461, Series 2, Vol. 4
  9. The GPS coordinates for Spring Grove Cemetery are 43.62560, -89.75280 and for the grave of Belle Boyd are 43.625695, -89.754068
  • Official Records Retrieved June 14, 2009
  • Ancestry of Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy Accessed June 14, 2009
  • Hay, Thomas Robson. "Boyd, Belle" Notable American Women. Vol. 1, 4th ed., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975 Accessed June 14, 2009
  • Bakeless, John. Spies of the Confederacy. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1997.
  • Boyd, Belle. Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. New York: Blelock, 1867.

External links[]

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