Famous Spies: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

Famous Spies: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

A smart, beautiful and socially adept spy

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was born in the early 1800s, long before the start of the Civil War.  She was a resident of Washington, D.C. who held no small degree of influence.  Known for being smart, beautiful and socially adept, she traveled among the most powerful people in both government and military circles, making many friends and allies.  Her beauty and personality earned her the nickname of “Wild Rose.”

When the Civil War arrived, she was forced to make a choice and pick a side.  Being as one of her closest friends happened to be John C. Calhoun, the choice was almost made for her.  She sided with the confederacy and began to use her contacts and influence to gather secrets and help the South in their struggle.

It wasn’t long, however, before the Union suspected her loyalties and called her out.  The famous Allan Pinkerton himself had the pleasure of throwing her into prison, along with her daughter, also named Rose.  Even from prison, Greenhow proved a formidable spy.  Her allies still gave her vital information and helped her pass it along to southern officials.  Her presence was seen as a continued security risk, so she was eventually deported back to the South.

Already her reputation had spread among her southern countrymen.  They greeted her warmly and as a hero.  Jefferson Davis continued to use her expert skills, though this time in a more standard diplomatic capacity.  She travelled to Europe and met with such leaders as Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, seeking allies for the South.

A return visit to the U.S. in 1864 would prove her end.  As she made her way home, a Union ship tried to run her vessel down.  In order to avoid capture, she fled in a lifeboat, but it capsized, sending her beneath the water and to her death.

She received a hero’s burial in the South for all the work she did in the name of her beliefs.  Though she may have been on the losing side of the war, no one can doubt Rose Greenhow’s courage and conviction.