Rosie's Company, The House On K And 16th Street, Washington D.C.

JPK Huson 1863

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
17,022
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#1
rebel house spy.jpg

From a collage depicting a soldier's life in Washington, DC, Harper's early in the war gave us this. Dealing with female spies was so common a duty, it ranked a spot in ' daily life '.

For all the stories out there about women being pitched into prison, when their status of female soldier was discovered, it seems to me frequently men in charge simply did not know what to do with female law breakers. Of a certain class. Thread isn't about Rose Greenhow, we have threads on this famous spy. It's her prison for the early part of the war- her home on the corner of K and 16th Streets.

At war's commencement, Washington, DC was still a largely ' Southern ' city. Southerners who remained in the city were now " Secessionists ". It was an uneasy co-existence made more peculiar by women who attracted instant fame. Mrs. Greenhow, a socially prominent member of Washington elite launched her own war, an example emulated by quite a few peers. Since espionage was the over riding factor in their new, war-time existence a problem arose- what does one do with spies? They get shot. Lady spies, and unrepentant, belligerent, terrifying spies? You'd get shot, back.

rebel house1.JPG
rebel house2.JPG


Shooting was unthinkable- these were ladies. You can imagine men in power scratching worried heads. It's well known Greenhow eventually was confined to the old prison. Before that? Her house, where she was joined by other women who were problematic. Known for a rapier tongue, Greenhow's roommates would probably be of the same ilk. You just know guards flinched at their orders.

rebel house3.JPG

Please, no attacks on content- I didn't write it. Pretty normal stuff on both sides, no angels in this continual war of words.

And OH the lamentations, published in newspapers. Prison? Women? Pitched into rat infested attics? The horror! ( There were actually a number of black women at the time, living in unspeakable conditions in a DC prison. Crime was not having papers showing they didn't ' belong ' to someone . In the Northern capitol. ) Accusations were immediate- and nope. Just Rosie's house.

house dc 1.JPG

The usual....

And what was the case, a kind of posh house arrest. I don't mean that in as snark- if you had to be arrested, it was the way to go.

house dc 2.JPG
house dc 3.JPG
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

WJC

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
9,885
#3
Thanks for sharing this very interesting information about a bygone age.
We tend to forget that before equal rights, it was unthinkable that a woman could be as nefarious as a man. Recall, for example, that one of the reasons the jury found Lisbeth 'Lizzie' Borden not guilty in her 1893 murder trial was a refusal to believe that a woman could commit so horrible a crime. See Kathryn A. Jacob, She Couldn't Have Done it, Even if She Did. <http://www.americanheritage.com/index.php/content/she-couldn’t-have-done-it-even-if-she-did>
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
7,329
Location
Central Massachusetts
#5
"Hotel Greenhow" some newspapers called it.

Some stories of the ladies being held during the first winter of the war:
Providence_Evening_Press_1862-01-17_[3] - Edited.jpg
Providence_Evening_Press_1862-01-17_[3] - Edited (3).jpg

[Providence Evening Press, January 17, 1862]​
Note: the differing attitudes of different newspapers are seen here by the headline: the original Philadelphia Press article was headed "The Female Traitors at Washington." Otherwise the articles are the same, word-for-word.
 

Belle Montgomery

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 25, 2017
Messages
1,679
Location
44022
#6
Great post!!! @JPK Huson 1863 My female spy display at reenactments has many pictures and stories on these brave women but Rose and her spy "ring" is one of the highlights. I actually had a lady who lightly argued with me regarding this kind of thing … she had such a hard time believing these Southern Belles could resort to spying and smuggling tactics as well as Northern society ladies spying too. It only reinforced why I do what I do! Many young female spectators are inspired learning about these brave ladies and I so much enjoy that. It's so nice to see the younger generation actually inspired by Civil War era women! :smug:
 

JPK Huson 1863

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
17,022
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#9
Interesting post! Thanks for putting it up! :smile:

Just curious, was there ever an instance that a female spy was executed?

Hate to say ' no ' then have someone cough up a name but haven't come across one? There's been so much interest in female spies of the war along with a rash of excellently researched books, you just know someone would have discovered a case by now. Guessing it would have been unthinkable enough to rouse public condemnation on both sides. Note Rosie and company kept in a prison any male prisoner would have thought nirvana. Even when moved to the Old Capitol Prison, they were handled with kid gloves.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
17,022
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#10
Great post!!! @JPK Huson 1863 My female spy display at reenactments has many pictures and stories on these brave women but Rose and her spy "ring" is one of the highlights. I actually had a lady who lightly argued with me regarding this kind of thing … she had such a hard time believing these Southern Belles could resort to spying and smuggling tactics as well as Northern society ladies spying too. It only reinforced why I do what I do! Many young female spectators are inspired learning about these brave ladies and I so much enjoy that. It's so nice to see the younger generation actually inspired by Civil War era women! :smug:

Well they certainly were effective. Can't remember from the top of my head how Rosie affected Bull Run, but to affect it at all she had to get the information to send anyone. It must have been sieve in DC, for this to work as well as it did. Smuggling goods was a little different, women packing those hoops with goods. There's a thread somewhere on some astonishing amount of goods found on one woman, like a small store. Shoes, clothing, candy and medicine- can you imagine trying to walk?

It's funny. Rosie and her cohorts are much venerated, interest in them doesn't seem to wane. Holy heck, bring up Elizabeth Van Lew? Not a popular topic.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
17,022
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#11
Does the house still exist, or is there a marker for it now. Either way it is an interesting story and one worth the telling. Thanks for posting this one @JPK Huson 1863.

Good question! From where it was, could easily be there. Homes nearer the complex were lost as it spread- the public house my grgrgrandparents kept during the war vanished beneath asphalt and marble because it was on Capitol Hill. Rosie's house was across from St. John's Church, corner of 16th and K- cannot find a current photo. Rats, I see several sections of 16th with a sprawling apartment building taking up an awful lot of room- wonder if it was lost, too?
 
Joined
Jan 31, 2017
Messages
2,211
#12
The audacity, imprisoning "secessionist" women. They could not even for or against secession, or run for office nor declare war. However, if they were all justly proven to be like Rosie, an active spy, of course there must be consequences.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
17,022
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#13
The audacity, imprisoning "secessionist" women. They could not even for or against secession, or run for office nor declare war. However, if they were all justly proven to be like Rosie, an active spy, of course there must be consequences.

She must have been a handful. Remember years ago seeing the famous photo of Rosie and her daughter, taken in Old Capitol Prison. Rose's expression gave me the impression ( then ) of a discouraged woman, maybe a little quiet. Ha! What a deceiving photograph. She'd take on anyone, loathed Yankees and told them about it, had iron nerve and did not hesitate to use it.

Also read recently ( era accounts ) she was very unhappy rubbing elbows in prison with women whose social status wasn't hers, refused to speak to them. Can't remember if the other women were there for the same reason, or were some of the ' drunk and disorderly ' prisoners- DC records show quite a few of them.
 

Similar threads




(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top