Good luck visiting the Wall of Spies experience in Bethesda, MD. The museum is located inside the headquarters of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, one of the most secure buildings in the country, and to enter you have to be a spy of some sort.
Far from being a roll of honor, the Wall of Spies names and disgraces more than 130 Americans who have betrayed the country. Their stories live up to the NCSC because it protects against insider espionage.
“It’s a wall you don’t want to end up on,” Dean Boyd, the agency’s chief spokesperson, said in a recent phone interview.
Because it’s closed to the public, the NCSC has slowly moved the museum online for everyone to see. His new exhibit, which went live earlier this month, focuses on spies during the American Civil War.
There was Thomas Nelson Conrad, a Methodist preacher from Virginia who used his chaplain outfit to cross into Washington, DC, and gather information on Union troop movements. His reports helped Confederate General Robert E. Lee defeat the Union at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Conrad was arrested three times during the war; twice he was released and once he escaped.
Many Confederate spies were women. One of the most famous was Rose Greenhow, a wealthy widow and socialite who lived across from the White House. She organized a spy ring that relayed information via numbers, Morse code, and messages sewn into secret pockets and tapestries.
Even after being arrested and placed under house arrest, Greenhow continued to spy, even using her 8-year-old daughter to deliver messages on candy wrappers. In 1862, both were held for several months in the Old Capitol Jail before being deported to the Confederate capital of Richmond. She sailed around Europe in support of the Confederacy and, returning by ship, she drowned off North Carolina. The weight of gold sewn into her dress dragged her underwater.
Young women also became Confederate spies, like Belle Boyd, who at age 17 began flirting with Union soldiers staying at her family’s hotel in Front Royal, Virginia. When she got useful information from these soldiers, she passed it on to Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall”. Jackson. Boyd was repeatedly arrested and released until she was deported to Richmond. When she attempted to escape to England in 1864, her ship was captured by the Navy. charming one of her captors, naval officer Samuel Wylde Hardinge, she fell in love instead; they were married a few months later.
There was a similar story with one of the brothers who founded the Willard Hotel in DC, Joseph C. Willard. While serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, he met and fell in love with Antonia Ford, who was soon arrested as a Confederate spy. It took months for Willard to convince her to swear allegiance to the United States, during which time he obtained a divorce from his first wife. Willard and Ford married a week later.
Most Americans caught spying for other nations were punished harshly – think Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed) or Aldrich Ames (sentenced to life) – but many Confederate spies escaped justice . After the war, Conrad, the preacher spy, became an English teacher and eventually president of the college that became Virginia Tech.
And consider the story of Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Stringfellow, a Confederate spy who used disguises to access Union secrets, including intelligence that helped Lee win the Second Battle of Bull Run. . Stringfellow spent some time in Canada after the war but returned to the United States in 1867. He married and became an Episcopal priest.
Stringfellow wrote a letter to President Ulysses S. Grant letting him know that he was once so close to the general during the Civil War that he could have shot him, but didn’t. Grant was apparently so grateful that he told Stringfellow to let him know if he needed a president’s help. Decades later, at age 57, Stringfellow wrote to President William McKinley and referenced Grant’s alleged offer, asking to be allowed to become an Army chaplain for the force he once spied on.
His wish was granted.