Isabelle (Belle) Boyd (1844-1900)
Isabelle (Belle) Boyd (1844-1900), actress and Confederate spy, was born on May 9, 1844, in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), to Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd, a prominent slaveholding family in the Shenandoah Valley. Her varied career brought her to Texas at least twicefirst to perform in Houston and Galveston theaters, and later to settle temporarily in Dallas.
She graduated from Mount Washington Female College at the age of sixteen in 1860.
The Virginian-born Boyd was just 17 when the war began. In 1861, she shot and killed a Union solider for insulting her mother and threatening to search their house. Union officers investigated and decided the shooting was justified. Soon after the shooting incident, Boyd began spying for the Confederacy.
She used her charms to engage Union soldiers and officers in conversations and acquire information about Federal military affairs. Suspecting her of spying, Union officers banished Boyd further south in the Shenandoah, to Front Royal Virginia, in March 1862. Just two months later, Boyd personally delivered crucial information to General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during his campaign in the Valley that allowed the Confederates to defeat General Nathaniel Banks's forces at the Battle of Winchester. In another incident, Boyd turned two chivalrous Union cavalrymen who had escorted her back home across Union lines over to Confederate pickets as prisoners of war.
Boyd was detained on several occasions, and on July 29 she was placed in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. But her incarceration was evidently of limited hardship. She was given many special considerations, and she became engaged to a fellow prisoner. Upon her release one month later, she was given a trousseau by the prison's superintendent and shipped under a flag of truce to Richmond. Boyd was arrested again in 1863 and held for three months. After this second imprisonment, she became a courier of secret messages to Great Britain.
In May 1864, her ship was captured off the coast of North Carolina, while carrying dispatches to Confederate agents in England, and the ship and crew were taken to New York. Captain Samuel Wylde commanded the Union ship that captured Boyd's vessel, and the two were seen shopping together in New York. Boyd was banished to Canada, but she subsequently reached England, where, in August of the same year, she married Hardinge, the Union naval ensign assigned to guard her after her capture, who had followed her to London.
Belle was apprehended aboard ship in May 1864, while carrying dispatches to Confederate agents in England, and banished to Canada. But she subsequently reached England, where, in August of the same year, she married Samuel Wylde Hardinge, the Union naval ensign assigned to guard her after her capture.
In 1865 she published an account of her wartime activities, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison.
Soon widowed and left with a small daughter, she went on stage in England in 1866. That same year she made her United States debut in St. Louis and soon afterward adopted the stage name Nina Benjamin. In fall 1868 she performed in several plays in Houston, having contracted with Maurice and Henry Greenwall to appear at their stock houses in Houston and Galveston. However, a disagreement between Henry Greenwall and members of the acting company led to cancellation of the bookings. With new manager Thomas P. Ochiltree, Belle proceeded to Austin, where she gave a series of dramatic readings. When the new year arrived, she left the state.
On March 17, 1869, she retired from the stage to marry John Swainston Hammond. They moved to California, where she suffered a mental collapse and gave birth to a son in a Stockton insane asylum. At Mount Hope, near Baltimore, she was treated, recovered, and was discharged in 1870. She had three more children with Hammond, a traveling salesman, and the family moved to various cities around the country before settling in 1883 in Dallas. The marriage was dissolved on November 1, 1884.
Two months later Belle married twenty-four-year-old Nathaniel Rue High of Toledo, Ohio, a stock-company actor, and in order to support her family she returned to the stage with High as her business manager. She debuted in Toledo on February 22, 1886, with a dramatic narrative of her own exploits as a Confederate spy.
Until her death she toured the country, performing her show in a Confederate uniform and cavalry-style hat. Belle Boyd died at the Hile House in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin, on June 11, 1900, and was buried there at Spring Grove Cemetery.