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Jane Vanderhorst Bowly - a Spy for the South during the Civil War
The State (newspaper), Columbia, S.C. - May 10, 1922 from McDavid Horton, Managing Editor.
This the narrative dictated by the late Mrs. Jane Vanderhorst Bowly.
Her story :
I was living in New York at the commencement of the War and remained there for several months, enduring many dangers and hardships. As the summer of 1861 advanced I took my five children and the nurse to Brattleboro, Vermont. There we boarded in the house with some distinguished New York ladies, members of the Ogden and Winthrop families being among them. These women made themselves very obnoxious with their remarks, and as I retaliated most promptly we had frequent wordy wars in which I usually came off the victor.
During our stay in this town there were some six thousand Yankee soldiers there to be mustered out. One day my oldest son, being dressed in a little Zouave suit, was accosted by some of the soldiers and questioned as to what company he belonged to. He hotly rejoined that he was no d----- Yankee, that he belonged to the New Orleans Zouaves. From this it was reported that I had taught my boys to curse the soldiers, and I was threatened with a coat of tar and feathers. When I heard of this I took a walk up to the Camp, where I remained for some little time walking up and down without being molested. Just before leaving I had climbed up on a stack of wood to get a better view of the sunset, when two or three of the soldiers came toward me, one of them giving me the military salute. I promptly returned the same, and seeing that I was in a conspicuous position gave him an impromptu speech, stating that I had come through I heard that I was in danger of receiving a coat of tar and feathers but trusted to the chivalry of the Green Mountain Boys; that I was alone and unprotected but was not in the least afraid of being molested by them in spite of being from South Carolina. I then gave three cheers for the Green Mountain Boys, and they gave three cheers for South Carolina.
But the town people were very bitter against me because their sons and husbands and fathers were going into the army. I was known as “that Secession Woman”, and my children who were very young were called rebels and traitors. At last I was warned that I was to be assassinated, but I went out on the street just the same, and think that my show of extreme bravery saved my life. Finally the natives threatened to pelt me with spoiled eggs, and by the advice of some gentlemen, who had proved themselves friends, I left Brattleboro during a driving storm which frustrated their plans. I could not stand the eggs
It was after my return to New York that I saw President Lincoln, he was passing through the City and while there attended the Academy of Music. I was there and sat very near his box, having a fine view of him. I attended his funeral some months after I returned North, just before the War closed.
In November we started South, going by way of Baltimore to Fortress Monroe where we were met by a tug and taken some distance and then transferred to a small steamer. On my way to Norfolk I met a lady who made me believe she was in favor of our cause, when she was in fact a Yankee spy. As I had very important verbal news to convey to the General in command at that point and conversed quite freely on the subject, she returned to Washington, D.C. and reported me to the War Office as being a most dangerous character, which prevented my being allowed a passport to return.
However I made an attempt to return by Port Royal, having two escorts, a personal escort and one to hold the flag of truce. On my way I remained at McPhersonville for a few days and was entertained at headquarters by the Colonel and his staff. They all accompanied me to the Port Royal Ferry, though we had to go over a terribly rough causeway which was covered with water a great part of the way. The officers came over to receive us and the carriages were waiting on the other side, but they refused to let me get in their boat until I had taken the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Government. Of course I refused to take the oath, and there was nothing left to do but return to headquarters as they would not even take my nurses with the children. I then went to Charleston where I remained for two weeks under the siege, walking over the City, going to the Battery and often witnessing fighting in the harbor. From Charleston I went to Anderson, S.C. While there I learned from some friends in Richmond that there was a possibility of my getting through the lines from that point by the “under ground route”, and started at once for that City where we boarded at the Spotwood Hotel until the parties were all ready to start. We were taken some thirty miles in conveyances to the Banks of the Potomac River, and after some delay in the home of the Captain, who made us pay $30.00 a piece to be taken across the river, we started and were joined by the rest of the party, all women with the exception of one man. It was a dark, rainy night that we started. In crossing we came very near to the U.S. Gunboats, but avoided them, our muffled oars making no noise. Fortunately none of the children cried or made any sound, and we finally approached the place where we were to land. Some fishermen, however, were seining at this point, so we were carried on and dumped out on the shore of Maryland, where we wandered about in the darkness some time before we came to a habitation. We entered the kitchen of the Laurens House and dried our clothes by the fire. Early the next morning the landlord let us in and was very kind, but informed the party that all of us would be compelled to go on the Gunboat to Washington about twelve o’clock. I tried to persuade him to let us off. He refused at first but by using a little strategy he was finally induced to consent to do so. I also asked to have the gentleman as an escort and obtained his consent. The gentleman then hired an ox cart and paid five dollars to be taken five miles to a farmer’s residence where a wagon was hired to proceed to Port Tobacco. While the horses were being brought from the field my escort revealed himself to me as a Confederate Agent, the bearer of most important papers connected with the Government, dispatches to be sent to our ministers in London and Paris, a check on the Bank of England to purchase supplies for the Army, and other important papers, also $200.00 in gold which as given him by the Government in Richmond for his expenses. He remarked that he would be hanged if he was caught, and delivered all the papers to me for safekeeping. I remarked that if I were suspected and searched I would probably meet with the same fate, as I was defying the U.S. Government by returning, however I took the chance. At one place where we crossed a bridge we were stopped and questioned by an officer. He evidently intended to enter the door of the stage we were in, attempting to untie the cord with which we had secured the door of the vehicle, but seemed much pleased when we greeted with much laughter his remark that it was “a Virginia Knot”, “hard to untie” and allowed us to continue our journey without further trouble.
Arriving on the Long Bridge leading into Washington we all stood up and congratulated each other on our fortunate escape. I had brought with me six hundred dollars in gold, my family diamonds and a United States Bond for ten thousand dollars. The gold I divided between my white nurses, but I kept all of the important papers as I was not easily intimidated. We remained in Washington only a short time before going on to Baltimore. Whenever we were in a public place, such as a railway station, there was great danger of the children talking with the soldiers, who were always attracted by them, and giving away the fact that we had run the blockade. In Baltimore we stopped at one of the leading hotels, and here I gave to the Agent his money and papers. He left immediately to find his family, and as I never heard from him after the War think probably that he was killed.
It was then November 1863, and the War closed the following Spring. On my arrival in New York with my late husband who joined me in Baltimore, I went to board with a friend from whom we were the recipients of much kindness, but I was betrayed by a female spy who was staying in the house, and who reported me as having just returned from the South. I was immediately summoned to appear at headquarters, which I did as the penalty was five hundred dollars for failing to do so. There I was asked a few questions which I answered as evasively as I could. When the examining officer asked how long it had taken us to come I could not resist telling him that we had very little trouble, and had made the trip quite rapidly, when in fact we had been more than two weeks en route. Finally my personality was jotted down and I was allowed to depart. I never took the oath of allegiance to the United States Government and never would. My traveling companion paid me the tribute of saying that he had never met a man in all of his experiences as brave and perfectly fearless as I was, never flinching when placed in the most dangerous positions. He offered to give me a tribute in writing, but I did not think it necessary as I was helping the cause.
I had made with my five small children two trips to Richmond, the first not being successful I was obliged to return, and with us on the same train was a part of Hood’s Division, one thousand men on their way to Atlanta, Ga. While crossing the trestle over the Dismal Swamp we were all shaken up, and on arriving on the other side the conductor stopped the train and making his appearance stated that some foul fiend had cut the ties of the trestle over which we had just passed, but had propped them up so securely to avoid detection that one thousand men had passed safely over, as well as the other passengers.
As stated before, I was in the City of Charleston for two weeks during the bombardment, viewing the shells as they burst over the City day and night. I had the privilege of walking through the streets visiting many houses that were battered by the shells. I even went down to the Battery and viewed the battle in the harbor between the Forts, remaining until I was warned of the risk I was taking of being struck by a shell when I left reluctantly. I spent three years during the War between Greenville and Anderson, S.C.
Before I left New York, at the commencement of hostilities, I was told by a friend that a French gentleman was going to Columbia, S.C. and that I could write anything political that I wanted to and he would take it to Columbia for me. So I wrote a strong political letter as regards the movement of the troops and the points of attack, but unfortunately the gentleman was arrested and locked up. He said afterwards that he then remembered the letter and decided that he had better read it. He did so and thinking that it would convict him, and that he would probably be hanged as a spy, he chewed it up and swallowed it to escape detection. He was given $50.00 by my aunt, Miss Maria Simons, who was in Greenville, S.C. at the time.
Other amusing incidents occurred, but it would make this article too long to tell them all.
As regards the smuggling of quinine, it was brought in different ways. Some ladies who had children would arm each with a doll which had had the stuffing removed and replaced with quinine. Others placed it in cushions worn a la pompadour. Finally the Yankees caught on to all the subterfuges and the examinations became very rigid, so extremely vigorous in fact that smuggling had to be abandoned. I brought over two bottles that I shared with others who had low fevers.
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