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Search HomeFind Friends Edit ProfileView As … grapevine Friends From Born onEducation Work About me Philosophy Religion Political Views Favorite Quote Like ∙ Comment ∙ Share Single 214 Mary Bowser Paul Revere October 15, 1818 Richmond, Virginia Quaker School Unionist Spy I was born in Richmond, Virginia, where I was home- schooled as a child, and then sent off to the Quaker school. I went off to school a careless slaveholder, and came back an abolitionist. When my father died when I was 25, I quickly convinced my mother to free our slaves, and then used my inheritance money to free my relatives slaves as well. I then spent the rest of my life a unionist, despite my Virginian heritage. I did everything I could to help the slaves and my country. Unknown Republican Unionist Ulysses S. Grant “Slave power crushes freedom of speech and opinion. Slave power degrades labors. Slave power is arrogant, is jealous and intrusive, is cruel, is despotic, not only over the slave, but over the community, the state.” Elizabeth Van Lew That soldier may have tricked Belle Boyd with his lies, but he will not trick meThat soldier may have tricked Belle Boyd with his lies, but he will not trick me. Elizabeth Van Lew Dahlgren will be justified tonight! Elizabeth Van Lew Mary Bowser, we’ll meet again tonightMary Bowser, we’ll meet again tonight. Elizabeth Van Lew Elizabeth Van Lew I just helped in freeing men in Libby Prison. 1861
Elizabeth made her first target of helping the Union, the Confederate Libby Prison, which imprisoned Union captives. Pretending to make a merely humanitarian gesture, Van Lew brought baskets of food, medicine, and books to the prisoners. What she brought out would have shocked the guards she learned to charm and deceive. Not only did Van Lew help some prisoners escape, she also gleaned valuable information from various sources inside the prison. GRAPEVINE
Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a former Van Lew family slave, became an crucial help to Elizabeth. Van Lew had arranged for Bowser's education at the Quaker Negro College in Philadelphia and then, during the war, persuaded Jefferson Davis's staff to take her on as a servant in the Confederate President’s House. There, Bowser pretended to be illiterate, all the while collecting information and passing it on to Van Lew or other spies using her picture perfect memory.
Union officials planned a major operation, but unfortunately its secrecy was descovered by too many officers and their wives talking about it. On February 28, 1864, General Judson Kilpatrick and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren led Union troops into Richmond. Dahlgren had lost a leg shortly after Gettysburg, but still could outride anyone despite his wooden leg and crutch. The raid began on schedule but quickly fell apart -- Confederate soldiers were waiting for them. As Union troops retreated, Dahlgren was killed. Confederates took from him a finger (for its ring), and his wooden leg, then casually buried him next to a road. Southern officials claimed Dahlgren carried orders to burn the city, and kill President Davis and his Cabinet. The Union soldiers were described as "assassins, barbarians, and thugs” although its not proven that these orders were real. The newspapers said no one knew where he was buried; "Friends and relatives in the North need inquire no further." But, in fact, President Davis ordered Dahlgren's body to be placed in a coffin and reburied secretly among thousands of Union graves in Richmond. This was done at night. Even so, Elizabeth found out where. She wrote that a Negro was "in the burying ground at night... entirely accidentally, or rather providentially" and he marked Dahlgren's grave. She then stole his body and transferred it through the Confederate lines by having four men, late at night, dig up the rough casket, claim the body and rushed it to W.C. Rowley's farm, where Elizabeth waited. She transferred the body to a new metal coffin, which they reburied on a farm outside Richmond.
Elizabeth was almost caught once when a Union scout messenger had not arrived to pick up a requested report on Richmond's defenses. As she walked down the street wondering how to send her message, a man walked by and muttered, "I'm going through tonight." She thought it was odd that the messenger didn't identify himself, but maybe he had an urgent reason. She hurried to pass him again and again heard, "I'm going through the lines tonight." She thought better of it; too risky. The next day as a Confederate troop marched by, Elizabeth recognized the man. Belle Boyd, a confederate spy, had been caught in a similar ploy.