Σάββατο, 4 Ιουνίου 2016

An unlikely Union spy- Elizabeth Van Lew developed an extensive spy ring during the Civil War

 
During the Civil War, while the Union and Confederate officers were busy fighting a war, the women from both sides began gathering  crucial information about the enemy and served as a undercover agents. Over the course of the war, both sides began recruiting women as operatives to provide them with critical information on their enemy’s military strategy.
One of the most renowned Union spys was Elizabeth Van Lew.
Elizabeth Van Lew was born on October 25, 1818, in Richmond, Virginia to John Van Lew and Eliza Baker, whose father was Hilary Baker, mayor of Philadelphia from 1796 to 1798. Elizabeth’s father came to Richmond in 1806 at the age of 16 and, within twenty years, had built up a prosperous hardware business and owned several slaves.
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Her family sent Elizabeth to Philadelphia for her education at a Quaker school, which reinformed her abolitionist sentiments. When her father died in 1843, Elizabeth’s brother John Newton Van Lew took over the business and the family freed their nine slaves, despite John’s misgivings. Many of the emancipated slaves continued as paid servants with the family, including the young future Union spy Mary Bowser. In the depths of the 1837-44 depression, Elizabeth used her entire cash inheritance of $10,000 (nearly $200,000 in current money) to purchase and free some of their former slaves’ relatives. For years thereafter, Elizabeth’s brother was a regular visitor to Richmond’s slave market, where, when a family was about to be split up, he would purchase them all, bring them home, and issue papers of manumission.

President Lincoln visiting the Union Army at the battlefied at Antietam MD
Upon the outbreak of the war, Van Lew began working on behalf of the Union. When Libby Prison was opened in Richmond, Van Lew was allowed to bring food, clothing, writing paper, and other things to the Union soldiers imprisoned there. She aided prisoners in escape attempts, passing them information about safe houses and getting a Union sympathizer appointed to the prison staff. Recently captured prisoners gave Van Lew information on Confederate troop levels and movements, which she was able to pass on to Union commanders. She even helped hide escaped Union prisoners and Confederate deserters in her own mansion.
Van Lew also operated a spy ring during the war, including clerks in the War and Navy Departments of the Confederacy and a Richmond mayoral candidate. Van Lew reportedly convincedVarina Davis to hire Bowser as a household servant, enabling Bowser to spy in the White House of the Confederacy. Varina Davis adamantly denied ever hiring Bowser, although it would be unlikely she would have known of Bowser’s real identity or admitted hiring her after the fact.Although Bowser used several pseudonyms during and after the war, making her contributions especially difficult to document, newly uncovered sources confirm her involvement in the Union espionage circle run by Van Lew. Van Lew’s spy network was so efficient that on several occasions she sent Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant fresh flowers from her garden and a copy of the Richmond newspaper.She developed a cipher system and often smuggled messages out of Richmond in hollow eggs.Union commanders highly valued Van Lew’s work; George H. Sharpe,
Van Lew’s spy network was so efficient that on several occasions she sent Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant fresh flowers from her garden and a copy of the Richmond newspaper.She developed a cipher system and often smuggled messages out of Richmond in hollow eggs.Union commanders highly valued Van Lew’s work; George H. Sharpe, intelligence officer for the Army of the Potomac, credited her with “the greater portion of our intelligence in 1864-65.”
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In 1864, Van Lew risked her entire spy network to see that the corpse of Union Col. Ulric Dahlgren, who died trying to free Union prisoners in Richmond, was properly buried. Reports of disrespectful display of his corpse had outraged Northern public opinion, and Van Lew herself. Furthermore, during the long siege of Petersburg, Van Lew assisted civilians of both sides.
When Richmond fell to U.S. forces in April 1865, Van Lew was the first person to raise the United States flag in the city.
On Grant’s first visit to Richmond after the war, he had tea with Van Lew, and later appointed her postmaster of Richmond. Grant said of her, “You have sent me the most valuable information received from Richmond during the war.”Van Lew modernized the city’s postal system and employed several African-Americans until new President Rutherford B. Hayes replaced her in 1877. She was allowed to return as a postal clerk in Richmond, where she served from 1883-1887.
After the Reconstruction, Van Lew became increasingly ostracized in Richmond. “No one will walk with us on the street,” she wrote, “no one will go with us anywhere; and it grows worse and worse as the years roll on.”  She reportedly persuaded the United States Department of War to give her all of her records, so she could hide the true extent of her espionage from her neighbors. Having spent her family’s fortune on intelligence activities during the war, she tried in vain to be reimbursed by the federal government. When attempts to secure a government pension also failed, the elderly spinster turned to the family and friends of Union Col. Paul Joseph Revere, whom she had helped at the Henrico County Jail in 1862. These Bostonians gladly collected money for the woman who helped so many Union soldiers during the war.However, neighborhood children, including future novelist Ellen Glasgow, were told to consider her a witch.
Lew died on September 25, 1900 (aged 81), and was buried in Richmond’s Shockoe Hill Cemetery. She was purportedly buried vertically, facing the north, and relatives of Union Colonel Paul J. Revere, whom she had aided during the war, donated the tombstone.Even into the twentieth century, however, many Southerners regarded Van Lew as a traitor.

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