History – Rose O’Neale Greenhow

Maria Rosatta O’Neale Greenhow  ” Rebel Rose”

Rose Oneal Greenhow  

Rose O’Neal was born in 1814 in Montgomery County, Maryland. After her father’s suspected murder Rose and her sisters were sent to live with their Aunt in Washington D.C. Rose would grow up there learning about politics and people from the politicians she admired such as  John C. Calhoun and others.  She was introduced to Robert Greenhow in 1834 by Dolly Madison and Ellen Elizabeth O’Neale. Robert was an upcoming  politico and statesman with superb family ties and the couple were married in 1835.

 Robert quickly rose to a State Department Official and Rose was the consummate politician’s wife, becoming the darling of Washington D.C’s high society. The Greenhows moved to Mexico City in 1850 as  Robert had fallen  ill and the couple moved again to San Franscisco in 1851 where Robert practiced law on Montgomery Street.

In 1854 while Rose was away in Washington D.C, Robert fell from the plank street down an embankment to the ground 6 feet below. He hurt his leg, which after 6 weeks would be the cause of his death. He did not tell Rose of his accident as he did not want her traveling so soon after giving birth to Little Rose, their other children Leila was in school, Gertude was a teenager and Florence was a young woman.  Gertrude would pass away in  March of 1861.

 Rose would begin her career as a Confederate spy with the assistance and tutelage of  Lieutenant Colonel  Thomas Jordan (also known as Thomas John Rayford) who would teach Rose the cipher code. Rose was an open and passionate supporter of the Confederacy and Southern Cause and used her social influence and great beauty and intelligence to gather information to aid her beloved South. Information gathered by Rose and sent to General P.G. T. Beauregard before the Battle of Manassas in 1861, led to the Confederate victory. Commendations from President Jefferson F. Davis and General Beauregard  for Rose’s espionage were clear in crediting her information which led to the victory.

Unfortunately Rose had also attracted the attention of the Union and detective Allen Pinkerton who had her placed under house arrest after a time of survelliance. Rose was able to destroy some of the missives and evidence against her, but enough remained that the ring of spies was exposed and Rose was sentenced to prison. She and her young daughter Little Rose were sent to Capital Prison on January 18,1862 where they remained for 5 months where Rose continued her work for the Cause.

Union authorities then decided to exile Rose to her beloved South where she enjoyed praise from President Davis and other dignitaries. Rose would then turn her attention to attention to blockade running to England and France acting as a diplomat endearing good will and support for the Confederacy. While overseas Rose also wrote her memoirs. She made preparations to return to the South on the blockade runner ship the “Condor” with $2000 in gold on her person, the ill fated trip left for North Carolina on September 1864. The Condor was intercepted by a Union gunboat just off Wilmington, North Carolina and fled up the Cape Fear River to avoid capture. Rose and other passengers fled into a small boat which capsized, the others were able to cling to the boat, but Rose, weight down by the gold on her person, drowned. Her body was recovered the following day and her body was laid in state in a hospital chapel in Wilmington with a Confederate flag shroud until her interment on October 1st, 1864.

“At the last day, when the martyrs who have with their blood sealed their devotion to liberty shall stand together firm witnesses that truth is stronger than death, foremost among the shinning throng, coequal with the Rolands and Joan d’Arcs of history will appear the Confederate heroine, Rose A. Greenhow.”

  Taken from the Obituary of  Rose O’Neal Greenhow in 1864, assumed to be the Wilmington Sentinel.