CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — West Virginia has its own unique history when it comes to the Civil War, and the break that the mountain state made from Virginia in order to join the Union was far from clean.

There were still those determined to fight or spy for the Confederacy, including two notorious West Virginia women, Maria Boyd and Nancy Hart Douglas.

Maria “Belle” Boyd

Maria “Belle” Boyd (Courtesy of turbguy – pro)

The most well known between the two is Maria “Belle” Boyd, who was born the oldest child of an affluent shopkeeper and tobacco farmer on May 9, 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia (previously Virginia).

Boyd’s family assisted confederate soldiers during the war, with her father even joining Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s “Stonewall Brigade.”

On July 4, 1861, a drunken Union soldier reportedly invaded Boyd’s home and harassed her family, leading her to ultimately shoot him dead. In her post-war memoirs, Boyd wrote that the soldier “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive. I could stand it no longer…we ladies were obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage,” according to Boyd was quickly acquitted of the shooting, which had garnered her favor in the south.

It was after this incident that Boyd began in earnest her notorious career as a confederate spy at the age of 17.

Given various nicknames throughout the war, including “the Rebel Spy,” “La Belle Rebelle,” “the Siren of the Shenandoah,” “the Rebel Joan of Arc” and “Amazon of Secessia,” Boyd was known to use her age and beauty, as well as peoples’ expectations for women at the time, to achieve her ends gathering and couriering information, usually at her aunt’s hotel in Front Royal, Virginia.

On one occasion, she wrote to a Union soldier she flirted with, saying “I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and last, but not least, for a great deal of very important information…I must avow the flowers and the poetry were comparatively valueless in my eyes,” according to

One often cited exploit took place on May 23, 1862 in Front Royal. A few weeks prior, Boyd informed “Stonewall” Jackson that the forces of Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ would soon be marching. Then, on May 23, she reportedly eavesdropped on several Union officers adjacent to her hotel room. She reportedly rode between the two opposing armies to deliver the information to a staff officer, helping to secure a confederate victory.

Over the course of her career as a spy, she was arrested six times, imprisoned three times and exiled twice, according to

She would ultimately end her spy career on May 8, 1864, after being captured on a blockade runner escaping to England by a Union Navy warship.

Despite her previous allegiances, she would end up marrying two Union men.

First was the Union naval officer who captured her during her escape attempt, Lt. Samuel Wylde Hardinge Jr. Hardringe helped her escape to Canada then England, where the two would marry and have a daughter together. He died before the birth of their child.

In 1866, Boyd returned to America and continued a career in acting that began in England. This career would last until 1869, when she married former Union officer John Swainston Hammond, with whom she would have four children before divorcing in 1884.

Boyd married her final love just a few months later, Nathaniel High, Jr., an actor who was 17 years younger than her.

She returned to acting and lecturing in 1886, working until on June 11, 1900, she died from a heart attack at age 56 while on stage in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin.

According to, Boyd was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery and her childhood house at 126 East Race Street in Martinsburg as well as the cottage in Front Royal, Virginia, were converted into museums.

But that is just one of the women who was operating as a confederate spy in and around West Virginia.

Nancy Hart Douglas

Much less is known about the life of Nancy Hart Douglas.

According to, Douglas was “probably born in July 1843, probably in Tazewell County, Virginia.” Douglas’ family later moved to Boone County then Roane County sometime before 1860

When the Civil War began, she allegedly worked as a guide and spy for Capt. Perry Conley’s Moccasin Rangers, a confederate resistance that worked to undermine Union efforts in western Virginia.

Douglas’ most known exploit took place in Summersville on July 10, 1862. While spying on a Union camp, she was captured by Lt. Col. William C. Starr of the 9th West Virginia.

Under Starr’s capture, Douglas reportedly agreed to be photographed. “She posed for an itinerant photographer, and her captors placed the hat decorated with a military feather upon her head,” according to The Photographic History of the Civil War: Soldier Life, Secret Service by Francis Trevelyan Miller and Robert Sampson Lanier. Reports say that she was not to happy with the situation, being both posed in front of an unfamiliar device and for being made to wear such a hat.

Soon after the photo, she managed to talk a young guard into letting her hold his pistol, which she then promptly shot him with. Escaping on the back of Starr’s horse, Douglas relayed what information she had over to confederate forces and a week later, on July 25, 1862, helped Maj. Robert A. Bailey of the 22nd Virginia lead 200 confederate troops in an assault on Summersville.

The confederate forces ended up surprising two companies of the 9th West Virginia. “They fired three houses, captured Colonel Starr, Lieutenant Stivers and other officers, and a large number of the men, and disappeared immediately over the Sutton road. The Federals made no resistance,” according to The Photographic History of the Civil War: Soldier Life, Secret Service.

After the war, Douglas would marry confederate veteran Joshua Douglas in 1864 and settle in Greenbrier County, later moving to Webster County. She would ultimately pass away in 1902, being buried at Manning Knob back in Greenbrier County. A marker dedicated to her can be found in Summersville.

Additional information about Maria Boyd can be found at

More information about Nancy Hart Douglas can be found at and The Military Telegraph During the Civil War in the United States by William Rattle Plum.