Military Records

Seized Correspondence of Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Refer to Caption Rose O'Neal Greenhow and Her Daughter Rose [Photographed at Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC] Mathew Brady Studio, Albumen silver print, 1862, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Rose O'Neal Greenhow (1817-1864) was a popular socialite in Washington, DC, and a spy for the South during the Civil War. The National Archives has digitized and made available in the National Archives Catalog 175 documents that the U.S. Intelligence Service seized from Greenhow's home in August 1861. See all descriptions and digital copies of records related to Rose O'Neal Greenhow in the National Archives Catalog

Search Tips: To see thumbnails of the digital copies, click Refine Search and check the Descriptions of Archival Materials linked to digital copies box. To see a biographical note about Rose O'Neal Greenhow, click on her name where you see it hyperlinked in a catalog description.

The Most Important Treasonable Papers from Mrs. Greenhow (National Archives Identifier 1634029)


Ciphered (Encoded) Writing (National Archives Identifier 1634036) Fragments of Letters and Notes (National Archives Identifier 1634039) Senator Joseph Lane (National Archives Identifier 1634063) Mary Greenhow Lee (Rose's Sister-in-Law) (National Archives Identifier 1634068) Letters about Secession and the South (National Archives Identifier 1634117)
Letters from Rose O'Neal Greenhow (National Archives Identifier 1634034) Love Letters (National Archives Identifier 1661058) Florence Moore (Rose's Daughter) (National Archives Identifier 1634093) Capt. Treadwell S. Moore (Rose's Son-in-Law) (National Archives Identifier 1634083) Edward J. Pringle (National Archives Identifier 1634113)


Refer to Caption Portrait of Rose O'Neal Greenhow

A Brief Version of Rose's Story

As a young woman in the nation's capital, Rose O'Neal Greenhow befriended many influential politicians, including President James Buchanan and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. Calhoun played a role in shaping Greenhow's dedication to the South. In 1835, she married Dr. Robert Greenhow, and in 1854, she became a widow.

During the Civil War, Greenhow wrote ciphered (secret code) messages to the Confederates and provided information about Union military plans. Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited her with helping the South win the First Battle of Bull Run. Greenhow provided a message about the Union troop's movements in time for Brigadier Generals Beauregard and Johnston to meet at Manassas, Virginia. A young woman working with Greenhow named Betty Duvall carried the message wrapped in a tiny black silk purse and wound up in a bun of her hair.

President James Buchanan (National Archives Identifier 528303) Senator John C. Calhoun (National Archives Identifier 527678)
The Confederacy (National Archives Identifier 305578) Confederate President Jefferson Davis (National Archives Identifier 529264)
Bull Run (National Archives Identifier 594732) Detective Allan Pinkerton (National Archives Identifier 530415)
Old Capitol Prison (National Archives Identifier 526486) Mathew Brady Photographs of the Civil War (National Archives Identifier 525338)
Richmond, Virginia (National Archives Identifier 528204) Civil War Blockade (National Archives Identifier 528930)

Head of U.S. Intelligence Service Allan Pinkerton observed Rose Greenhow as part of his counterintelligence activities and found sufficient evidence to place her under house arrest. Greenhow claimed she knew she was under surveillance but had defiantly continued her spying activities. Pinkerton and his men searched Greenhow's home and seized documents including letters, maps, notes, ciphered messages, and burnt papers that Rose had tried to destroy in her stove.

After a period under house arrest, Greenhow was transferred to Old Capitol Prison where she continued to send encoded messages and collect secret information. Her daughter, Little Rose, stayed with her in prison, and a photographer from Mathew Brady's studio photographed the mother and daughter together.

After her hearing, she was deported to Richmond, Virginia, in May 1862. Jefferson Davis sent her on a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1863. While in Europe Greenhow published a memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington. On her return trip to the South on October 1, 1864, the blockade runner the Condor encountered Northern forces and ran aground. Rose Greenhow tried to escape in a rowboat, but it turned over and she drowned.

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