“But for you there would have been no Battle of Bull Run.”
Rose O’Neal Greenhow (1813 or 1814 – October 1, 1864) was a renowned Confederate spy during the American Civil War. Known as “Wild Rose,” she was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817 was a leader in Washington society. Considered to be a passionate secessionist, and one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War, among her accomplishments was the secret message she sent to General Pierre G.T. Beauregard which ultimately caused him to win the battle of Bull Run. She spied so successfully for the Confederacy that Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of Manassas.
A socialite in Washington, D.C. during the period before the war, she moved in important political circles and cultivated friendships with presidents, generals, senators, and high-ranking military officers including John C. Calhoun and James Buchanan.
She used her connections to pass along key military information to the Confederacy at the start of the war. In early 1861, she was given control of a pro-Southern spy network in Washington, D.C. by her handler, Thomas Jordan, then a captain in the Confederate Army. She was credited by Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, with ensuring the South’s victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in late July 1861.
Captured in August, Greenhow was subject to house arrest; found to have continued her activities, in 1862 after an espionage hearing, she was imprisoned for nearly five months in Washington, D.C. Deported to the Confederate States, she traveled to Richmond, Virginia and began new tasks. Running the blockade, she sailed to Europe to represent the Confederacy in a diplomatic mission to France and Britain from 1863 to 1864.
In 1863, she also wrote and published her memoir in London, which was popular in Britain. After her returning ship ran aground in 1864 off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina, she drowned when her rowboat overturned as she tried to escape a Union gunboat. She was honored with a Confederate military funeral.
In 1993, the women’s auxiliary of the Sons of Confederate Veterans changed its name to the Order of the Confederate Rose in Greenhow’s honor, following publicity about her exploits in a TV movie the previous year. A new biography of her was published in 2005.