Rose O'Neal Greenhow Papers
An On-line Archival Collection

Special Collections Library, Duke University

Images and Transcripts from the Collection

About Rose O'Neal Greenhow.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817. "Wild Rose", as she was called from a young age, was a leader in Washington society, a passionate secessionist, and one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War. Among her accomplishments was the secret message she sent to General Pierre G.T. Beauregard which ultimately caused him to win the battle of Bull Run. She spied so successfully for the Confederacy that Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of Manassas.

She was imprisoned for her efforts first in her own home and then in the Old Capital Prison. Despite her confinement, Greenhow continued getting messages to the Confederacy by means of cryptic notes which traveled in unlikely places such as the inside of a woman's bun of hair. After her second prison term, she was exiled to the Confederate states where she was received warmly by President Jefferson Davis.

Her next mission was to tour Britain and France as a propagandist for the Confederate cause. Two months after her arrival in London, her memoirs were published and enjoyed a wide sale throughout the British Isles. In Europe, Greenhow found a strong sympathy for the South, especially among the ruling classes. During the course of her travels she hobnobbed with many members of the nobility. In Paris, she was received into the court of Napoleon III and was granted an audience with the Emperor at the Tuileries. Rose's diary (August 5, 1863 - August 10, 1864), held in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, NC, describes her mission in great detail.

In 1864, after a year abroad, she boarded the Condor, a British blockade-runner which was to take her home. Just before reaching her destination, the vessel ran aground at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina. In order to avoid the Union gunboat that pursued her ship, Rose fled in rowboat, but never made it to shore. Her little boat capsized and she was dragged down by the weight of the gold she received in royalties for her book.

In October 1864, Rose was buried with full military honors in the Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Her coffin was wrapped in the Confederate flag and carried by Confederate troops. The marker for her grave, a marble cross, bears the epitaph, "Mrs. Rose O'N. Greenhow, a bearer of dispatchs [sic] to the Confederate Government."

The following are a several titles by or about Rose O'Neal Greenhow. Look for these in your local public or university libraries. Some of these titles may be available through interlibrary loan. Ask your librarian!

About the collection at Duke.

The collection is mostly correspondence with Rose Greenhow related to her activities on behalf of the Confederate States of America. The bulk of the collection consists of letters, 1863-1864, from Greenhow to Alexander Robinson Boteler (1815-1892) reporting on the July 1863 bombardment of Charleston, S.C., interviews with Confederate officers, and her mission to Europe, including meetings with Napoleon III, Cardinal Wiseman, and Thomas Carlyle. Also included is an 1860 letter to Francis P. Corbin introducing Bishop Kip. In this on-line collection, several items contained in other Duke University collections have been added. These include a lengthy (though incomplete) letter to Jefferson Davis and several newspaper clipping about Greenhow's imprisonment in 1861 and death in 1864.

You can find more information about the Duke University Special Collections Library and other holdings related to women and the Civil War from the Special Collections Library home page. For more information about other Civil War materials at Duke, you can search the Duke Libraries on-line catalog or contact the Special Collections Library reference desk directly at

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About the digitized version of this collection.

The digitized version of the Rose O'Neal Greenhow Papers was developed as a project of The Digital Scriptorium of the Duke University Special Collections Library in collaboration with the Duke University Libraries Women's Studies Bibliographer.

This on-line collection includes items from both the Rose O'Neal Greenhow collection and other related collections at Duke. Transcriptions were made from the originals, and retain the original misspellings and punctuation. Greenhow's handwriting is difficult to read, and in some cases there are words or sections that were illegible; where possible we supplied our best guess. If in your study of these papers you can shed some light on the text, please send us a note and we will be happy to add your contributions (and give you credit, of course!). [Thanks to Dawson Carr for deciphering some text that we had not been able to read! Thanks also to John W. O'Neal, II for sending in some corrections to letter transcriptions!]

People who worked on this project:
Lydia Boyd: transcription
Ginny Daley: material selection and subject expertise; transcription; proofreading
Andy Elders: transcription
Bill Erwin: transcription
Steve Hensen: proofreading
Paolo Mangiafico: project coordination; web page design and editing
Linda McCurdy: transcription
Laura Micham: research and editorial oversight; scanning; HTML coding; transcription; proofreading

These papers were scanned with a Sharp JX-330 color flatbed scanner with Adobe Photoshop on a PowerMacintosh 9500/120. The "double size" images are 24-bit 150dpi JPEGs and the "full size" ones are 72dpi GIFs.

[Special Collections Library | Women's Studies Resources | Civil War Women]

A project of The Digital Scriptorium, Special Collections Library, Duke University. May 1996