Rose O’Neal Greenhow
Red-Hot Fires of Patriotism
As the 1860’s began, Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a wealthy, attractive and outgoing widow, who made no effort to conceal her strong Southern sympathies. Living just across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington, D.C., and being a very popular member of Washington’s highest social circles, Rose was strategically positioned to secure information valuable to her beloved Confederate cause.
Armed with these facts, Col. Thomas Jordan, a United States officer with strong Southern sympathies of his own, approached Rose about developing a Confederate spy ring, and supplied her with a cipher code to use in sending messages. By April of 1861, Rose had developed a network of spies, ranging from ordinary household servants – to whom she referred as her “little birds” – to prominent professionals and government officials.
Through the assistance of this network, Rose was able to provide General P.G.T. Beauregard with the timetable for the Union advance on Manassas. On July 10th, a courier delivered a small package to Brigadier General Milledge Bonham to forward to General Beauregard. The package, a piece of black silk folded to the size of a silver dollar, contained the message informing General Beauregard that General Irvin McDowell would lead 35,000 Union troops out of Washington on July 16th.
Subsequent information from Rose described McDowell’s plan to advance through Arlington, Alexandria, and Centreville, Virginia on his way to his objective of destroying the railroad lines at Manassas Junction. Because this information allowed the Rebels time to consolidate their forces, Jefferson Davis credited Rose with helping the Confederate army to achieve this first major victory.