Rose Greenhow, Confederate Spy, Drowning Victim

Image from Duke UniversityOn October 1, 1864, Rose O’Neal Greenhow died while trying to run the blockade and pass into the port of Wilmington.

The Washington, D.C. socialite and spy had been in Europe seeking support for the Confederacy from England and France. While she found a great deal of sympathy there, neither nation would officially sanction the Southern government.

Greenhow, who had been imprisoned in 1861 by the federal government for spying, was on her way home to Richmond in 1864 onboard the blockade runner, Condor, when it was pursued by a blockader. Although the Condor was within the protective reach of the guns at Fort Fisher, Greenhow did not know that and was afraid of recapture by federal authorities, so she insisted on being put into a small boat to make for shore. She was the only woman aboard and the only one who drowned when the small boat capsized.

At the time of her death $2,500 in gold, which she had received from the sale of a book published in London about her imprisonment, was found in her clothes. Greenhow’s body was carried to Fort Fisher and from there to Wilmington where a full military funeral was conducted. She was buried at Oakdale Cemetery.

Visit: Fort Fisher, where Greenhow’s body was found, is now a state historic site that tells the story of the largest amphibious attack by American forces before World War II, and of Civil War naval warfare more broadly.

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