Rose O'Neal Greenhow and her daughter "Little Rose" at the Old Capitol Prison.
"I employed every capacity with which God has endowed me, and the result was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect." Rose O'Neal
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was one of the most successful spies the Confederate States of America had. Born Maria Rosetta O’Neal in Montgomery County, Maryland, she was was as a Catholic orphaned as a child (Her father was murdered in 1817, by persons unknown.)
and raised by an aunt who ran the exclusive Congressional Boarding House in D.C where Rose came to know some of the most important political figures of her time.
In 1835, the beautiful, educated, loyal and refined O’Neal marred Dr. Robert Greenhow, a physician and amateur historian, who worked in the U.S. State Department and eventually had four daughters. Dr. Greenhow died in 1854.Her sister Ellen married Dolley Madison’s nephew James Madison Cutts. In 1856 their daughter Adele Cutts married the widower Stephen A. Douglas, the senator from Illinois.
At the start of the civil war, Thomas Jordan, a young lieutenant from Virginia recruited O’Neal to act as a spy for the south answering to Gen. PGT Beauregard. Jordan, of Luray Virginia was an interesting man. A career soldier he served 30 years in three armed forces. (The United States, Mexico, and Cuba)
Jordon and Gen. PGT Beauregard
Jordan recruited O’Neal while he was still enlisted in the Union Army but intending to switch sides to the Confederate States. He knew that O’Neal was a sympathizer to the southern cause and was widely know in the right circles in DC and counted President James Buchanan and William Seward as her friends.She was strongly influenced in pro=Southern beliefs by her friendship with U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun from South Carolina
Working from her home on 16th Street near St. John’s Episcopal Church, O’Neal
O’Neal passed along critical information regarding the 1st Bull Run and Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited Greenhow's information with securing victory at Manassas for the South. On August 11, 1861, she was able to send a long report detailing the complete Washington defense system including the numbers of men and weapons in each fort as well as weak spots in the earthworks.
The great bulk of her information probably came from her lover, abolitionist Henry D. Wilson, a Senator from Massachusetts and Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee. In 1872, he was elected Vice President as running mate with President Ulysses S. Grant, and served from 4 March 1873 until his death on 22 November 1875. A married man, Wilson, signed his love letters to O”Neal as “H”. (There is some speculation that “H” stood for Henry Wilson’s secretary Horace White.)
On August 23, 1861 Allan Pinkerton arrested O’Neal as a spy. She was kept under house arrest. While searching her house, Pinkerton and his men found extensive intelligence materials left from evidence she tried to burn, including scraps of coded messages, copies of what amounted to eight reports to Jordan over a month's time, and maps of Washington fortifications and notes on military movements. (The materials also included numerous love letters from Henry Wilson) Shortly afterwards, her guards discovered a Confederate plot to free her and transferred her to the Old Capitol Prison (Now the site of the present day Supreme Court) on January 18, 1862.
On June 6, 1862, Rose and her daughter were banished to Richmond, arriving to wild hero’s welcome. The Confederate government then assigned her to be a courier to Confederate diplomats. O’Neal ran the Northern Naval blockades and, from 1863 to 1864, traveled through France and Britain on a diplomatic mission building support for the Confederacy with the aristocrats. She was received in the court of Napoleon III at the Tuileries. In Britain, she had an audience with Queen Victoria. She also met and became engaged to Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville. Two months after arriving in London, Greenhow wrote her memoir, titled My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington. She published it that year in London and it sold well in Britain.
In late September of 1864, a ship that was carrying O”Neal ran aground on a sandbar. Desperate to escape, O’Neal boarded a lifeboat that capsized in the rough water and drowned.She was weighed down by $2,000 worth of gold sewn into her underclothes, returns from her memoir royalties, which she intended to donate to the Confederate treasury.