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Women Spies of the Civil War

Women Spies of the Civil War

In the summer of 1861, the young daughter of a prominent Fairfax County, Virginia merchant resolved to serve the Confederacy by spying on Union troops. For two years, Antonia Ford was successful moving information to J.E.B. Stuart and John Mosby. Then she was captured and sent to Old Capitol Prison in DC. Twice. By the end of her second incarceration in 1864, Ford was released and married one of her captors, Union major Joseph C. Willard. Ford stopped spying, Willard resigned from the army, and they returned to managing the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C., and had three children.

The Civil War is full of colorful and unexpected tales of espionage, most of which placed women in a starring role... and many of which occurred around the Capital Region. Here, you can see Antonia Ford's home and historic sites around her hometown of Fairfax and explore the lives of other women spies at nearby sites such as:

  • Laura Ratcliffe, a local beauty who tromped through thick mud to save Mosby's life. General J.E.B. Stuart was smitten by her and dedicated a poem to her. Her grave can be found in a small, almost hidden spot on the grounds of the Worldgate Marriott Hotel in Herndon.
  • Rose O'Neale Greenhow, a leader in DC society circles who used her contacts to gain information for the Confederacy. Also known as "Wild Rose", she spent much of her spying career in the Old Capitol Prison where she continued to transmit coded messages.
  • Sarah Emma Edmonds, one of about 400 women who posed as men to fight in the war. As Union Private Frank Thompson, she volunteered to spy on the Confederacy, completing eleven successful missions around Virginia.
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The Civil War in Fairfax County and the Capital Region

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