Clara Judd, a Northerner, had moved to Winchester, Tennessee, in 1859 with her husband and eight children. He and one of their children was killed in an accident two years later. The widow found jobs at a government factory for her older sons.
Union armies controlled Winchester five times during the first two years of the Civil War (1861-1862) and Clara hosted them. A Union officer warned her that they’d been ordered to destroy her crops “except enough to last six weeks” and that she should leave.
Losing her possessions probably embittered her toward the Union soldiers.
She eventually ended up leaving her children with her sister in Louisville. Obtaining Union passes to travel to Atlanta to visit her son and Louisville to visit her youngest children enabled Clara to learn troop movements and other military information for the Confederacy.
Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan, while planning his famous raid, contacted Clara in December of 1862. He asked her to discover Union troop locations and strength of those controlling the railroad. She agreed.
While traveling north, she was stopped in Murfreesboro and had to wait three days for a pass to Nashville. Unable to find transportation, she walked.
Delos Thurman Blythe, a Northern counterespionage agent posing as Southern paroled prisoner, offered her a ride in his buggy. Blythe’s pass into Nashville was accepted but not Clara’s. He overheard a Confederate soldier giving her information about getting through Union lines and became suspicious.
Clara received a pass to visit her children and then told Blythe everything. He promised to help her.
His pretense of loyalty to the South had worked. He reported her to Union authorities yet advised them to give her the passes she requested.
They traveled north by train. Clara, from her window, asked folks at each station about troops in the area. In Louisville, Blythe escorted her in all her errands and took her to dinner. She fell in love with him. Meanwhile, Blythe asked the authorities to arrest him and Clara in Mitchelsville, Tennessee.
On their return trip, military police arrested them in Mitchelsville. Goods and drugs for the Confederate army were found in her bags—quinine, nitrate of silver, and morphine.
Placed under guard in a Nashville hotel shortly before Christmas, Clara told her captors that Blythe was innocent. She didn’t know that he had already been released or that loving her had been an act.
Charged with espionage, she went to prison in Alton, Illinois for about eight months before being paroled due to poor health.
-Sandra Merville Hart
McCurry, Stephanie. “Clara Judd and the Laws of War,” HistoryNet, 2019/08/16 https://www.historynet.com/clara-judd-laws-war.htm.
Winkler, H. Donald. Stealing Secrets, Cumberland House, 2010.