Letter Written in Cipher on Mourning Paper by Rose Greenhow


Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a spy for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. As a young woman in Washington, she befriended many influential politicians, including President James Buchanan and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, who played a role in shaping her dedication to the South. During the Civil War, Greenhow wrote ciphered (secret code) messages to the Confederates, providing information about Union military plans. Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited her with helping the South win the First Battle of Bull Run. Greenhow sent a message about Union troop movements in time for Brigadier Generals Pierre Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston to meet at Manassas, Virginia. A young woman working with Greenhow named Betty Duvall carried the message wrapped in a tiny black silk purse and hidden in a hair bun. Head of U.S. Intelligence Service Allan Pinkerton observed Rose Greenhow as part of his counterintelligence activities and found sufficient evidence to place her under house arrest. She later was transferred to prison and then deported to Richmond, Virginia. Shown here is one of her encoded letters.

Last updated: September 1, 2016