Civil War ghost story of an artifact collector who has a ghostly encounter with Belle Boyd, the infamous Confederate spy.
NOTE: To learn about the real Belle Boyd, read on after our story.
Table of Contents
Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy – Audio Story
One warm spring day, I left my home in Washington, D.C. and took a long drive through the rolling, peaceful farm country in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I worked in the city as a tax accountant, but most of my co-workers didn’t know about my secret hobby – I was a Civil War collector. Ever since I was a child, I had collected old Civil War books, maps, clothing, and in later years, weapons. Now as a middle-aged man, my interest had grown to what some would call an obsession.
Although it’s hard to believe today, this peaceful Virginia valley was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Driving through this historic land not only satisfied my hunger for history, but calmed my nerves far away from the hustle and bustle of home.
Some folks say that ghosts wander the earth in places where horrible deaths took place, their lives suddenly ripped away from them before they knew what happened. So it’s no wonder that so many Civil War ghost stories come from the Shenandoah Valley.
But the human tragedy of the war didn’t weigh heavily on my heart at that time. Although I knew that many young men had lost their lives, the war to me was a fascinating chess game of strategies, maps, attacks and counter-attacks. So while I found these ghost stories intriguing, my interest was in studying battlefields, not myths and tall tales.
That is, until I met the mysterious woman on the roadside.
I was so carried away with my travels that day that I stayed in the valley until nightfall. I gazed with wonderment at the bright, full moon overhead. The winding road suddenly plunged into a long, dense stretch of woods, and if it wasn’t for that bright moon, I certainly would have been swallowed up in the black darkness.
A few miles into the woods, the moonlight faintly revealed a figure running beside the road in the distance. At first I thought it was a runner getting a bit of exercise for the night. But as I drove closer, I was surprised to see that it was a young woman, dressed not in jogging clothes, but in a long, dark blue dress with a white apron hanging over it. The dress looked like something women wore in another time – the 1800s, I guessed. Her hair was pulled back tightly from her strikingly beautiful face – a face that I noticed wasn’t flushed from her run, but was as white as snow.She was obviously in a great hurry, running swiftly beside my car, oblivious to my presence.
Since we were miles from any town, I pulled over and asked if she needed any help. “Why yes,” she answered breathlessly, jumping into the passenger’s seat. “I’m on my way to meet some friends, and find myself in need of some quick transport.” She seemed excited and a bit nervous as she immediately looked behind her, as if she was afraid someone was following.
As I drove away, she was silent for some time. When I would glance over, she would stare intently out into the dark woods. After a few minutes of riding in silence, she suddenly pointed at a side road stretching into the woods and blurted out, “There! That break in the trees on the right. That’s where my friends are!”
I slammed on the brakes and aimed my car down the long, bumpy dirt road. It was then that I heard a strange and unbelievable sound – horses, lots of them. From what I could tell, they were galloping up rapidly behind me!I looked into the rear view mirror, and I saw a sight that chilled me to the bone. I was being followed by a dozen horsemen, all in military uniform, armed and shooting directly at us!
My palms started to sweat. I stepped on the gas, but as fast as my car was, the soldiers on horseback lost no ground. “Can’t you go any faster?” the woman said, her voice calm but her bright eyes shining excitedly in the moonlight. I could hear the bullets whizzing close by the car windows. One of the riders got close enough to the car that I could finally see what he looked like. I could swear that he wore a Union Civil War uniform, blue and slightly tattered. His skin was pale, and not just because of the moonlight. As he rode closer to my window, I could see the trees in the forest right through him, as if he were a patch of mist!
Seeing me, he pulled out a pistol and aimed straight for my head. I let out a yell and made a sudden turn onto another side road as he fired, the bullet whizzing past. I was really starting to panic now – what in the world had I gotten myself into?
The woman suddenly spoke up again: “Over there! That’s where my friends are!” I looked where she was pointing, and saw several campfires burning deep in the forest. I drove as fast as I could toward the fires. If these people are her friends, I thought, maybe they can get us all out of this mess. Suddenly a loud bang erupted from underneath the car – my tire had blown! I swerved off the road and sideswiped a tree. As the car sputtered to a halt, the mysterious woman looked over at me with an expression not of fear, but of annoyance, as if our death-defying chase was a nuisance to her.
“Thank you for your kind assistance, sir, but I think I’m better off on foot,” she said. Then she jumped out of the car and ran as fast as she could toward the campfires. The soldiers on horseback rode past me without even a glance in my direction, chasing her into the forest. As the woman gradually faded from sight, so did the horsemen and the campfires.
Then, just as suddenly as they had arrived, they were gone. Only the silent, black forest and the bright moon remained.
I sat in my car in stunned silence for the remainder of the night, scared to make any move for fear of the ghostly soldiers returning. When the sun rose the next morning, I saw no sign in the forest of any fires or people. There were no foot or horse prints anywhere to be found. Was it all a dream?
An hour later, a tow truck driver arrived to take away my banged up car. He was quite curious as to why I was stuck so far out in the woods. I was so delirious at that point that I went ahead and told him the story, figuring he would at least have a funny tale to tell his friends after work. To my surprise, he got strangely quiet and nodded.
“You weren’t seein’ things, mister,” he said as he slowly took a sip from his steaming coffee cup. “What you saw was the ghost of Belle Boyd.”
Belle Boyd – that name seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. “She was a spy for the Confederacy,” continued the driver. “She once lived a few miles down the road from here. The story I heard was that she used to eavesdrop on the Union troops that captured the towns around here. And she’d sneak their battle plans out to Stonewall Jackson and other Confederate generals out in the field. She’d run through the battle lines in a long dress and kitchen apron while the Yankee troops fired on her.”
“She helped the Confederate forces a lot, but the Union troops eventually took over this whole area. They wiped out a lot of the soldiers that Belle tried to help. Ol’ Belle got put in prison, and eventually escaped to England. But she could never get over all those poor boys dyin’. Some folks say she still runs up and down these roads, tryin’ to deliver battle plans to the Confederates. Sad thing is, the war’s long over.”
The driver then hopped into the truck and lifted my car out of the ditch. “You really believe that story?” I asked him. The driver shrugged his shoulders and replied, “There are a lot of ghosts ’round here, mister. I guess it’s a good thing. Keeps us all from forgettin’ what happened.”
After my experience, I never returned to that part of Virginia – at least at night. I became fully convinced that my ghostly passenger was the famous Belle Boyd. And sometimes at night, I think about Belle and hope she has delivered her last message to the Confederate troops in the forest. Perhaps then she can finally find peace.
Who Was The Real Belle Boyd?
Belle Boyd (1844-1900), also known as “Le Belle Rebelle,” was one of the most beloved Confederate spies during the Civil War. A charming and crafty woman, she passed Union battle plans along to the Confederate army on numerous occasions, becoming a heroine to the South and a notorious criminal to the North. Belle Boyd’s exploits have become the stuff of legends, so accounts of her life vary. But the generally accepted story is this:
Marie Isabelle Boyd (later “Belle “) was born in 1844 in Martinsburg, Virginia (now part of West Virginia) to Benjamin Reed Boyd, a prominent store and tobacco plantation owner, and Mary Rebecca Boyd. Benjamin built the original Belle Boyd House in the Greek Revival Style in 1853, and ran a mercantile store out of the side of the home.
Belle Boyd left Martinsburg to attend college in Baltimore, where she was formally presented to Washington, D.C. society. But with the Civil War looming, Belle Boyd returned home to help raise funds for the Confederate army and begin her life of espionage.
Belle Boyd and the Civil War
Near the start of the Civil War in 1861, when Belle Boyd was 17, Union forces captured Martinsburg. Belle frequently mingled with the Union officers, who were charmed by her wit and beauty. During conversation, she would pick up bits of military secrets and promptly deliver them to Confederate troops in the field. She was later appointed courier for Confederate Generals Beauregard and Thomas Jackson. When Union troops finally found out, they arrested Belle and sent her to prison in Baltimore, where she was released after a week.
Belle next moved to Front Royal, Virginia to live with relatives. While there, Belle learned of a Union plan to burn key bridges around Front Royal to prevent an attack by approaching Confederate forces, led by General Stonewall Jackson. Belle rode 15 miles at night through heavy Union gunfire to deliver these plans to Jackson. In turn, Jackson accelerated his attack to save the Front Royal bridges. Belle Boyd was now a heroine to the Confederacy.
Union troops captured Belle Boyd again and imprisoned her in the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. She was later released and headed south to Wilmington, N.C., where she boarded the Confederate ship “Greyhound” to deliver military dispatches to England. The ship was captured by the Union blockade, and once again, Belle was sent to prison.
It was during this third prison stint that Belle was rumored to have fallen in love with one of her captors, Union Lieutenant Samuel Harding, Jr. According to this story, Harding helped Belle escape to Canada, and later England, where he married her. Harding later returned to the United States where he was tried and imprisoned for treason. His health ruined, Harding died shortly after his release.
Belle stayed in England and wrote her famous autobiography, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. She also started an acting career, making her stage debut in Manchester. Belle returned to the United States on a theatrical tour in 1869. She married twice more, but suffered numerous financial setbacks. Belle Boyd died while on tour in 1900 at age 56.
Where is the Belle Boyd House and Her Grave?
The original Belle Boyd House still stands in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It now houses the Berkeley County Museum and is open for tours.
Belle Boyd is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
Written by Craig Dominey and Scott Dupoy
Directed by Craig Dominey
Told by Scott Dupoy
Sound Design by Henry Howard
Music by Brad Weage