The third entry in Connor Heath’s Spy Hall of Fame is American Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew. She was born in 1818 in Richmond, Virginia – one of the southern Confederate states that went to war against the northern United States (or Union) in 1861.
Her family believed strongly in abolition, and when war broke out she started to bring food and clothing to Union war prisoners in Richmond’s Libby Prison. Soon she was giving them information about safe houses and helping them escape. The prisoners gave her intelligence about Confederate troops that she then passed on to Union commanders.
Van Lew became more sophisticated as the war progressed. She established an extensive espionage network, with contacts in the Confederate War and Navy Departments. She developed a cipher system and was able to smuggle messages via hollowed-out eggs.
She often traveled by horse at night wearing farmer’s clothes to deliver messages to Union agents on the outskirts of Richmond. Her horse was essential to the preservation of her network, but the Confederate government ordered that all livestock be confiscated for use by the Army. She was warned of the confiscation officers arriving, and led her horse into her mansion and up the steps to the library. With the exception of her night rides, the horse lived in her mansion for the remainder of the war.