by Sandra Merville Hart
Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 of my new “Spies of the Civil War” series releases on May 10, 2022. Here’s a bit of the historical background for the story leading up to its release.
Though the series is about a fictional family, there are actual historical spies who touch the stories.
Boulevard of Confusion is set in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy in 1862. With its Southern setting, one might imagine all the citizens supported the Confederates. Surprisingly, a number of Union spies and Union supporters—called Unionists—lived in Richmond.
Just as the historical Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow played a part in Avenue of Betrayal Book 1, her story also touches the characters in Boulevard of Confusion Book 2.
Rose O’Neal Greenhow was perhaps the most famous female Confederate spy who lived in Washington DC when the Civil War began. She agreed to send messages based on a cipher. She built up a spy network of fifty people, the largest of the war.
Rose learned battle plans for Bull Run and passed this vital information to Confederate General Beauregard. The First Battle of Bull Run was a Confederate victory.
She was caught and imprisoned at Washington’s Old Capitol prison. The Federals decided to send her South.
On June 4, 1862, she arrived in Richmond, where she was taken to the best hotel. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called on her the next day, saying, “But for you there would have been no battle of Bull Run.” Rose wrote that his words made up for all she’d endured.
The following year President Davis sent her to Europe. She took letters from him to France and England. She received money from them to aid the South.
In October 1, 1864, Rose returned on the Condor, a blockade runner. Unfortunately, the USS Niphon, a Union gunboat, came close to their position on Cape Fear River. While Confederate soldiers from nearby Fort Fisher fired on the Union gunboat, Rose asked the captain for a lifeboat for herself and two other Confederate agents. Two hundred yards of rough waters were between the boat and the shore. Despite his initial refusal, she convinced the captain to provide a boat.
A powerful wave overturned the lifeboat. They swam for shore. Unfortunately, Rose had a bag of gold sovereigns tied around her waist underneath a heavy silk dress. Though she was a good swimmer, she drowned due to the extra weight while her companions made it to safety.
Her body washed ashore the next day. A Confederate soldier found the bag of gold and took it. A search party later found the body. When the soldier discovered Rose’s identity, he returned the sovereigns.
She was buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington with full military honors.
Rose’s story touches our fictional family again when she arrives in Richmond in June of 1862.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Monson, Marianne. Women of the Blue & Gray, Thorndike Press, 2018.
Winkler, H. Donald. Stealing Secrets, Cumberland House, 2010.
Zeinert, Karen. Those Courageous Women of the Civil War, The Millbrook Press, 1998.