Isabella “Belle” Boyd was from a prominent family in Martinsburg, Va. (now West Virginia). Although the area was strongly Union, her family was devoted to the Confederate cause. No one could accuse her of being a “proper young lady.” When she was 17, she shot and killed a soldier. The records are unclear as to whether he insulted her or assaulted her, but she was not prosecuted.
She developed a friendship with Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Over a period of a year, she furnished him with information about Union troop movements which see acquired from her “friend,” Union General Shields.
After General Jackson captured Harpers Ferry, he sent word to her that she should move further south. She was arrested by Pinkerton agents, but after being held for a short period of time, she was released. Later, Alan Pinkerton said that that was one of the biggest mistakes he had made.
After her release, she obtained a pass to visit family in Knoxville, Tenn. Her uncle, Samuel Boyd, had just completed a term as Knoxville’s mayor, and was living in the house we now know as Blount Mansion. Knoxville was firmly in Confederate hands at the time. General Joe Johnson was staying at the Lamar house, planning his West Tennessee campaign.
When word of her presence leaked out, the citizens of Knoxville, accompanied with a brass band, went to the Blount mansion and called upon her to speak. She came out on the front porch and made a brief speech.
For the next several months, she was the toast of the town. She was guest of honor at many parties and galas put on by Knoxville’s finest citizens. Her relatives were jealous, and one wrote in a letter that “she is no beauty, in fact quite homely.” This didn’t stop the festivities.
When it seemed that Union forces might threaten Knoxville, she left and went to Wilmington, N.C. where she sailed to England. She spent most of the rest of the war in England, and married there.
After the war, her family lost their fortune. She supported herself by playing in traveling minstrel shows, and selling photos of herself holding a sword. She died suddenly in Wisconsin, where she had gone for a performance.
For a while, however, she was the toast of Knoxville and our own Confederate spy.
By David Creekmore