Today in History, August 23: 1861 – Widow and Washington, D. C. socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow is arrested and placed under house arrest in her home by Allan Pinkerton and his agents. Her story exemplifies the atmosphere at the outbreak of the Civil War. Many of those loyal to the Confederacy went south, but many stayed put.
Mrs. Greenhow, a fiercely loyal Confederate spy, used her intellect, her many connections and her wiles to provide information to Confederate Gen. PGT Beauregard prior to the Civil War’s first battle (First Battle of Bull Run or First Manassas) which contributed greatly to a Southern win, such as it was.
She continued to obtain and sneak out information, but Pinkerton was pretty smart himself and after surveillance and investigating, built his case. Even under house arrest she continued her operations and eventually she and her young daughter “Little Rose” were imprisoned. The conditions were horrible, the child often going hungry. Rose remained arrogant and rebellious throughout and in 1862 was paroled and sent South.
She would then be sent to Europe in an attempt to gain support for the Confederacy. Sailing for home in 1864, she was almost there when a Union ship appeared. Rather than be taken prisoner again, she attempted to swim to shore, but drowned in the process.