Thursday, January 19, 2012

Defenseless Women

Wherein the Rebel Rose is sent to jail

Greenhow and her daughter at the Old Capitol prison
On January 18, Allan Pinkerton's patience ran out. Since the end of August, Rose O'Neal Greenhow had been under house arrest at her house on 16th and K [site of today's Hay-Adams Hotel] for aiding the Confederacy, particularly in the run up to Bull Run. In that time she had been nothing short of a nightmare for Washington's provost-marshal, Brig. General Andrew Porter, responsible for maintaining military security across the expanding area of operations for the Army of the Potomac. Greenhow was alternating charming and haughty, and loved playing the beleaguered Southern woman to the press.

She also was still sending messages to the Confederate Army of the Potomac and her old friend, Thomas Jordan, adjutant to General G.T. Beauregard. On December 26 she had managed to smuggle out a letter to Jordan through a mutual friend and member of his spy ring in Washington.
In a day or two, 1,200 cavalry supported by four batteries of artillery will cross the river above to get behind Manassas and cut off railroad and other communications with our army, whilst an attack is made in front. For God's sake, heed this. It is positive. They are obliged to move or give up.

Greenhow's friend appended her note with a message that attacks would come simultaneously at Leesburg and Occoquan, while the main body attacked the center. Of course, McClellan was nowhere near ready to move, since he was terribly sick at the time. But Greenhow was more enamored with the drama of spying than the substance of her reports, as evidenced by the second half of her message to Jordan that day:
They find me a hard bargain, and I shall be, I think, released in a few days without condition, but to go South. A confidential member of McClellan's staff came to see me and tell me that my case should form an exception, and I only want to gain time. All my plans are nearly completed.
Just over two weeks later, Porter had come to a similar conclusion. Pinkerton reported that Greenhow was still actively spying, and the decision was made to transfer her to prison. Pinkerton recorded the decision in his war memoirs:
The intention of the government was to treat her as humanely and considerately as possible, but disdaining all offers of kindness or courtesy, the lady was discovered on several occasions attempting to send messages to her rebel friends, and finally her removal to the Old Capitol prison was ordered, and she was conveyed there...
Greenhow is more verbose in her description:
On Saturday, January 18, at two o'clock, I learned, incidentally, that I was to be removed from my own house to another prison. I was sitting in the library, reading, with my little one at my feet, playing with her dolls, prattling and beguiling me almost into forgetfulness of the wickedness and persecutions which beset me, until recalled by this startling intelligence.
She lay responsibility for the arrangement of her transfer (which she indignantly notes did not allow her to bring more than a "few articles of clothing" for herself and her daughter--who she requested accompany her) to Pinkerton, referring to him by his alias, Major E.A. Allen (the way he exclusively identified himself to her). She noted derisively about the atheist Scot immigrant: "Detective Allen was a German Jew, and possessed all the national instincts of his race in an exaggerated degree, besides having these inherent characteristics sharpened by Yankee association."

In her memoirs of the event, Greenhow published two of the articles she had saved about her arrest that most piqued her sense of honor, noting that:
These extracts will be sufficient to show in what manner I was made a spectacle of, in order to gratify the greedy appetites of the sensational North, and the unenviable publicity to which I was condemned, Cause enough, if no other existed ,for my deep contempt and detestation of a Government so lost to every instinct of propriety as to descend to that meanest of all persecutions--that of dragging my name in the slough of its own hirelings. By every principle of integrity and honour I was entitled to their protection, and they gave me such as the hyaena would give to the victim within reach of its fangs.
Even in a day sensationalist news, the clips don't come close to being as salacious as Greenhow portrays them. On January 22, the New York Times reprinted one of the pieces, from the Washington Chronicle (a rival to the Star), helpfully for the modern online researcher:
At 4 1/2 o'clock a carriage was drawn up in front of the door of the prison, and at the hour first named the prisoners [Greenhow and a woman arrested in Baltimore in late December, Catherine Baxley] left the house on their way to their new quarters. Before leaving the house, however, both the ladies took occasion to shake hands with several members of the guard, who stood to the left of the house, when the prisoners came out. Mrs. Greenhow was the first to advance, and taking one of the soldiers by the hand, said to him, "Good-bye, Sir. I trust in the future you may have a nobler employment than that of guarding defenceless women." As she dropped the hand of the guard and walked towards the carriage we noticed a nervous [illegible word] at the lips, and a watery look about the eye.
The microfiche is needed to figure out which word the Times scanner couldn't decipher, because Greenhow omitted that entire sentence from the reprint in her memoirs.

But even though Greenhow had been shipped off to the Old Capitol prison because of her uncooperative behavior, her house remained a prison for other women of suspected secessionist tendencies. Dubbed "Fort Greenhow" by the press in a joking reference to both the heavy guard and the plethora of forts springing up in the area, a Philadelphia paper (again, helpfully reprinted in the Times) counted thirteen women as having been imprisoned in the house since August on the day before Greenhow's transfer, though only her, Baxley, and a woman named Ellie Poole remained. Greenhow despised them both:
Miss Poole at this time took the oath of allegiance and fifty dollars in gold from the Yankee Government, and went on her way rejoicing. The woman Baxley also applied to be released upon similar terms ,which was refused, and she was sent to the Old Capitol Prison, upon which occasion I saw her for the first time.

The Old Capitol, located on the site of today's Supreme Court, was a blocky brick structure built in 1815 to house Congress during reconstruction of the burned Capitol building. The building had been a boarding house just before the war, an Greenhow's idol, the late John C. Calhoun had died in it, a detail not missing from her flamboyant memoir of 1861 and 1862 when relating her entry into the building:
The building itself was familiar to me. The first Congress of United States in Washington had held its sessions there[*], but it was far more hallowed in my eyes by having been the spot where the illustrious statesman John C. Calhoun breathed his last. The tide of reminiscences came thronging back upon my memory. In the room in which I now sat, waiting to be conducted to my cell, I had listened to the words of prophetic wisdom from the mouth of the dying patriot.
[*Greenhow is flamboyant and prone to embarrassing editorializing, but usually doesn't get facts like this wrong. However, I can find no evidence that the Congress met anywhere but the Old North Wing in 1800. Leave a comment if you find out what she's talking about.]
Continuing with Greenhow's account:
After the lapse of some half hour, I was taken up to the room which had been selected for me by General Porter. It was situated in the back building of the prison, on the north-west side, the only view being that of the prison yard, and was chosen purposely so as to exclude the chance of my seeing a friendly face. It is about ten feet by twelve, and furnished in the rudest manner--a straw bed, with a pair of newly made, unwashed cotton sheets--a small feather pillow, dingy and dirty enough to have formed part of the furniture of the Mayflower--a few wooden chairs, a wooden table, and a glass six by eight inches, completed its adornment: soldiers rations being only allowed me by this magnanimous Pennsylvanian [Porter], who was doubtless driving a good trade by his patriotism.
Greenhow's ordeal (perhaps better described as the ordeal of her jailors) was only just beginning.

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