Growing up in what is now Martinsburg, West Virginia, Belle Boyd was considered a tomboy who often scandalized the neighbors with her exploits. However, by the time she was 17, with the Civil War raging, her tomboy ways stood her in good stead as she spied for Confederate generals Turner Ashby and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
To get information, Belle relied on her outgoing personality, her “joyous recklessness” and what have been described as the best pair of legs in the Confederacy. By the time she reached age 21, her activities had been reported to authorities over 30 times; she had been arrested six or seven times and put in prison twice.
Always restless, Belle was galvanized by the Civil War. Her self-described “first adventure” involved killing a Union soldier for pushing her mother. Union troops celebrating the Fourth of July stumbled drunkenly up to the Boyd’s home. One of the drunken troops pulled out an American flag and started to climb to the roof to hoist it over the house.
Belle’s normally meek mother called out, “Men, every member of this household will die before that flag is raised over us.” The soldier pushed Mrs. Boyd aside, prompting Belle to pull out a pistol and shoot him. Pandemonium broke loose as the Union soldiers began firing shots at the house and threatening to burn it down. The Union commander investigated, listened to Belle’s “tearful” story and posted a guard at the house to make sure no other incident occurred.
Belle’s exploits continued throughout the war, with her once racing across an exposed portion of a battlefield to deliver a message.
After the war, Belle took the road with a one-woman show about her daring exploits. She lived until 1900, dying in Wisconsin on a speaking tour. She is buried there, far from her beloved Confederacy.