MAY 23

MAY 23

ON THIS DATE in 1862, eighteen-year-old Belle Boyd won the gratitude of the Confederacy by eavesdropping on a conversation by Union officers at a hotel in Front Royal, Virginia. She occupied a room — some say a closet —and listened through a peephole to better hear that a General James Shields had received orders to leave the area, a transfer that would significantly weaken Union attempts to defend the town. Boyd took that intelligence to a Confederate officer who informed General Stonewall Jackson, who successfully repelled the depleted Union army. Jackson then sent a message to Boyd that said, “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.”

Boyd’s devotion to the Confederacy and hatred of its enemy owed much to an 1861 incident in which a Union soldier stationed in Virginia insulted her mother. Never timid, Boyd shot and killed the ruffian in what a board of inquiry would rule a justified homicide.

Many tales were told of Boyd charming Union soldiers into revealing secrets despite her less-than-stunning looks — one contemporary compared her to a horse, saying she had a “long face, a very long nose, and prominent teeth.” A more charitable observer said that “without being beautiful, she is very attractive … quite tall … a superb figure … and dressed with much taste.”

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