Sunday, April 21, 2013

Belle Boyd: in camp and in prison - Edited with Introduction and notes by Curitis Carroll Davis

In reading about 19th century, Civil War era Jewry (Isaac Leeser and Judah P. Benjamin), the regional attitudes toward slavery etc, I noticed the mention of a notorious spy, Belle Boyd.  With my curiosity piqued, I found a book about the spy.

Her memoir of the war years is a fascinating read about Southern gentry, values and culture attempting to justify secession.  Ms. Boyd (who becomes Mrs. Hardinge) is an articulate voice of the Confederate demand for freedom to continue the values and culture of the South and a constant critic of Northern bullying and brutality.  According to her memoir, after the Union conquest of her hometown, she and her mother are accosted at their home by belligerent Union soldiers who verbally disrespecting them demand entry to be fed and quartered.  Ms. Boyd demands a minimum of courtesy which is not forthcoming and requests that the soldiers stand down or she will defend herself, her mother and her home!  The first belligerent soldier steps threateningly toward the threshold and Boyd pulls a small derringer from concealment and mortally wounds the soldier.  She is hauled into custody and the following investigation aquits her with the Union commanding officer commending Ms. Boyd's conduct saying that he would have done the same.  Later, she overhears conversations of Yankee positions that she gallantly, courageously conveys to the Headquarters of Confederate General 'Stonewall' Jackson.  That information is vital to Jackson's routing of Union forces and Belle Boyd is instantly famous in the Confederacy.

The most interesting element of this memoir for me was Ms. Boyd's attitude toward slavery.  Although it is clear that she believed in white supremacy (very common in the South- e.g. she does not believe a loyal black servant that warns her of the Union pursuit of her) she seemed to acknowledge that slavery would be short lived.  This assertion is similar to Judah P. Benjamin's attitude.  Perhaps, this may not be a true attitude but rather a politically necessary attitude because the Confederacy was lobbying for British recognition and support.  The British outlawed slavery in the 1830's.  Ms. Boyd's memoir was directed to a British audience.  In downplaying the institution of slavery and stressing State's rights and freedom from a central federal government, Boyd makes the case for supporting the Southern way of life.

From this memoir, one can deduce a well educated, and  outgoing personality who would not be abused and the demand for refined Southern gentleman values.

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