Civil War Espionage Agent
Among the many heroic tales of women from the American Civil War you will find the story of Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900) and her Richmond, Virginia, spy ring, asserted to be “the most productive espionage effort of the Civil War.”
The account of Van Lew’s loyalty to the North is particularly fascinating because although her family was a member of Richmond’s elite and had once held slaves, she was passionate about the preservation of the Union and the injustices of a slave society. When the Civil War broke out, Van Lew vowed to help bring it to an end, and by the middle of the war, the spy ring she had assembled contained an interesting cast of accomplices eager to aid her in her determination to supply General Benjamin Butler and General Ulysses S. Grant with tactical and strategic information.
Van Lew’s story expands beyond the war, for when Grant became president of the United States in 1868, he appointed Van Lew Postmaster of Richmond, Virginia, for her “loyalty during the rebellion.” It was her allegiance to a united country that resulted in Van Lew spending the rest of her life reviled by the citizens of her city. After her death in 1900, grateful Union soldiers erected a boulder with a bronze plaque to mark her grave in Richmond.
In this 1st person history of Van Lew, audiences will be invited into the Van Lew “mansion” to hear Van Lew explain her determination to help end the war and the price she paid for her loyalty to the United States.