“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”--Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Belle Boyd, one of the most infamous Confederate spies of the Civil War, began her career early. At age 17 she shot and killed a soldier attempting to force his way into her home to raise a Union flag. Exonerated, she came to Front Royal, Virginia. There she eavesdropped on Union forces staying at her relative’s inn, and charmed army secrets out of the soldiers. During General “Stonewall” Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign, Belle overheard Union plans to withdraw from Front Royal and burn the bridges as they retreated. When she could find no one else to deliver this critical information to General Jackson, Belle bravely made her way through enemy lines in spite of bullets whizzing dangerously close to her. Her information propelled Jackson into action. His army took 3,000 Union soldiers as prisoners and seized thousands of small arms and vitally needed supplies. Belle was arrested a week later, taken to Washington, and incarcerated, one of several arrests throughout her spying career. Because the Union Army didn’t approve of executing teenage girls (a typical sentence for spies), Belle survived the war despite ample evidence against her.
Investigate the life of the notorious spy at the Belle Boyd Cottage in Front Royal at the northern end of Skyline Drive. A living history museum, the cottage’s four period-decorated rooms show the house as it appeared in 1862, the year of her most famous exploit. Costumed guides give visitors an idea of what everyday life was like in Warren County during the Civil War as they tell Belle’s story. Or take Skyline Drive south into the heights of Shenandoah National Park for grand overviews of the Shenandoah Valley. Envision troop movements during the Civil War as generals sought strategic dominance of the area.
The Belle Boyd Cottage is open Monday-Friday throughout the year, including weekends from May through October. Contact the Warren Heritage Society to plan your visit or to learn more about Belle Boyd and history of the Civil War in Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley.
- Public domain. Photo provided by the Library of Congress