Though Rosetta is a fictional character in I Shall Be Near To You, some of the people she encounters as an enlisted soldier are not. When Rosetta guards Rose O'Neale Greenhow in the Old Capital Prison, we are given some insights into a fascinating, historical figure.
Born in Maryland in 1817, Greenhow was an ardent secessionist. She was also a vibrant socialite in Washington D.C. before the Civil War broke out. A widow and renowned hostess, Greenhow was able to move between various social groups, placing her in a unique position for spying. Information she passed to Confederate General P.T. Beauregard helped him win Bull Run. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, credited Greenhow with this victory.
She was arrested by the Union army and imprisoned first at home and then in the Old Capital Prison in Washington. Greenhow continued to spy while in jail, transporting messages in unlikely ways — sometimes by tucking them in the bun of a woman's hair.
President Davis sent her to Britain to work as an unofficial emissary to build support for the southern cause. She found much sympathy for the South in Europe, particularly among the nobility. She was received at the court of Emperor Napoleon III and granted an audience with him at the Tuileries. Her memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule in Washington, was published during this time and became a bestseller.
On the voyage home in 1864, her ship ran aground off the coast of North Carolina. She insisted that she be taken ashore on a small boat. The boat began to take on water and Greenhow drowned. Stories circulated that she was weighed down by the gold sovereigns she carried from the sale of her book. Greenhow was buried with Confederate military honors in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Picture of Rose O'Neal Greenhow from Duke University Libraries
This article was originally published in February 2014, and has been updated for the
September 2014 paperback release.
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