Susan Archer Talley - Artist, Poet, and Confederate Spy
Susan Archer Talley was born on Valentines Day, 14 February (1822? or more likely, 1835) in Norfolk, VA., the oldest of three children born to Thomas Talley and Eliza Archer Talley. She attended the prestigious Persico’s Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies. In spite of a speech impediment, she was quite successful and her talents for the arts blossomed. During the same time, she lost her hearing as a result of illness.
Her first published work, “The Spirit of Beauty,” appeared in the April 1845 issue of Southern Literary Messenger. In 1849, she met Edgar Allen Poe, who had praised her poetry. By the time she met Poe, Susan had already achieved notoriety as an accomplished poet by being included in Griswold’s Female Poets of America, published in 1848.
During the Civil War, Susan was active as a spy and smuggled arms, delivered messages to both sides, visited Federal camps, and enlisted the help of Federal officers to procure supplies. Even after she was arrested and confined at Fort McHenry, she continued to provide information to the confederates.
Recognizing the potential danger of this woman, Gen John A Dix ordered Talley held in solitary confinement. Susan seduced Lt. Louis Weiss, the Union officer serving as her captor/guard. The two were married May 13, 1862, but the marriage was kept a secret. She, because he was a union officer; he, because she was a confederate spy.
The marriage remained a secret and she was released by General Morris on June 28, 1862. Thereafter, she made the mistake of returning to Richmond via Norfolk. The new commander at Norfolk, General Dix, was the one who had ordered "solitary confinement." Dix ordered her confined to the city and had all her incoming and outgoing mail screened.
Just two months after the marriage, on July 23, 1862, Lt. Weiss resigned. He was soon granted a passport and allowed to return to his homeland of Germany. Less than a week later, Susan engaged the assistance of Federal officers, ran the blockade, and escape home to Richmond. Back home in Richmond, her secret was gradually revealed to friends and acquaintances as her pregnancy began to show. Two weeks before the birth of son, Stuart Archer Weiss, the belated announcement was made of the marriage.
"AUSTIN STATE GAZETTE, October 8, 1862, p. 1, c. 6
Another "Dangerous" Woman. -
The special correspondent of the Philadelphia Press at Fort McHenry, gives the following information about Miss Susan Archer Tally (sic) another of the female spies:
Among the recent prisoners at this fort, has been until the 28th of June last, a lady, a Miss Susan Archer Tally (sic), of Norfolk who attempted last year to take a coffin full of percussion caps through our lines to Richmond, alleging that the body of her brother was in it. Suspicion excited, the coffin was opened, and the lady incarcerated. It was afterwards found that she had acted as a spy between the pickets of the two armies. She was closely confined in her room during the day, with the exception of a walk in the balcony before her window, and a stroll around the ramparts, for an hour daily, with the officer of the day. She was about thirty years of age, and a very good amateur artist. She took from memory a very good crayon portrait of Gen. Morris, commanding the fort and presented it to him. Liberty having been given to her, she has gone to her home near Norfolk." http://apps.uttyler.edu/vbetts/women_soldiers.htm