Richmond Underground


Topics included here:

1. Richmond Underground Generally

2. Elizabeth L. Van Lew

3. Mary E. Bowser

4. Samuel Ruth


1. Richmond Underground Generally

George, Joseph, Jr. "Black Flag Warfare: Lincoln and the Raids against Richmond and Jefferson Davis." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 115, no. 3 (Jul. 1991): 291-318.

Hall, James O. "The Dahlgren Papers: Fact or Fabrication." Civil War Times Illustrated (Nov. 1983), 36ff.

McPherson, James M. "A Failed Richmond Raid and Its Consequences." Columbiad: A Quarterly Review of the War Between the States 2, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 130ff.

Riggs, David F. "The Dahlgren Papers Reconsidered." The Lincoln Herald (Summer 1981): 658-667.

Schultz, Duane. The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War. New York: Norton, 1998.

Noblitt,, 11 Aug. 2001, sees this as a "fast-paced and entertaining" book that "vividly describes the ill-fated raid" on Richmond in 1864. However, the author argues that the papers found on the dead Ulric Dahlgren "led directly to Confederate retaliation, but this seems questionable.... More controversially, Schultz questions whether the Dahlgren papers were authentic.... Disappointingly, the author offers no new evidence that would support his contention.... It is too bad that Schultz revisits arguments that have been so thoroughly discredited. He is a talented writer with a keen eye for color and detail."

Sears, Stephen W.

1. "The Dahlgren Papers Revisited." America's Civil War. []

The author argues convincingly that the so-called Dahlgren Papers are authentic. He concludes: "The ultimate irony in this sordid tale of villainy and retribution is that ... the legacy spawned out of the utter failure of the[] effort [of Judson Kilpatrick, Ulric Dahlgren, and their probable patron Edwin Stanton] may have included the death of their own president."

2. "Raid on Richmond." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 11, no. 1 (Autumn 1998): 88-96.

The author recounts the background surrounding and the actions in Col. Ulric Dahlgren's abortive raid against Richmond in February-March 1964. Sears speculates that the effort essentially broke "the rules for what in that day passed for civilized warfare," and motivated Confederate planners to move on with plans to kidnap Lincoln -- plans with which John Wilkes Booth was associated.

Stuart, Meriwether.

1. "Colonel Ulric Dahlgren and Richmond's Union Underground, April 1864." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 72, no. 2 (Apr. 1964): 152-204.

2. "Of Spies and Borrowed Names: The Identity of the Union Operatives in Richmond Known as 'The Phillipses' Discovered." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 89, no. 3 (Jul. 1981): 308-327.

Weinert, Richard P. "Federal Spies in Richmond." Civil War Times Illustrated 3, no. 10 (1865): 28-34. [Calder]

2. Elizabeth L. Van Lew

Elizabeth L. Van Lew (1818-1900): "Van Lew became the central figure in what has since become known as the Richmond Underground, a group of Union sympathizers that worked actively against the Confederacy.... She established a network of agents in Richmond.... However, she protected the identities of her agents so well most of their names are lost to history." O'Toole, Encyclopedia, pp. 463-464. See also, Webster's American Military Biographies (Springfield, MA: Merriam, 1978).

Beymer, William Gilmore.

1. "Miss Van Lew." Harper's Monthly Magazine, Jun. 1911. [Petersen]

2. On Hazardous Service: Scouts and Spies of the North and South. New York: Harper, 1912.

Van Lew, Elizabeth L. A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of "Crazy Bet" Van Lew. Ed., Davis D. Ryan. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1996.

Varon, Elizabeth R. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Zeman, I&NS 21.4 (Aug. 2006), notes that Van Lew's "independent bent ... led her to flout the social norms of the period" and, in time, led her to become "the mistress of an enterprising and well-conducted spy ring."

To Levin, Civil War Book Review [], this is "a rich account of a complex and important figure in wartime Richmond." The author "provides a convincing analysis of why Van Lew was so successful in her acts of espionage throughout the war." This is a "highly readable book [that] contributes to our understanding of important issues related to the Civil War, including the importance of Unionist activity in the South, the ways in which women responded to the demands of war and the role of espionage in the Union war effort."

3. Mary E. Bowser

On 30 June 1995, Mary E. Bowser was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The following article appeared in Military Intelligence 21, no. 2 (Apr.-Jun. 1995), p. 48, in connection with that event.

"Ms. Bowser was born a slave and worked on the John Van Lew plantation outside Richmond, Virginia. After her father's death in 1851, Elizabeth Van Lew freed Ms. Bowser and the other Van Lew family slaves. Mary was a very intelligent woman; Elizabeth recognized that and sent her north to attend school in Philadelphia.

"During the Civil War, Union sympathizer Elizabeth Van Lew organized an intricate spy operation. Elizabeth Van Lew sent for Mary Bowser after deciding to plant a Union spy in the home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. Mary gained employment in the Davis mansion (in Richmond) as a servant because of Ms. Van Lew's recommendation.

"Mary pretended to be a bit 'dull and unconcerned,' but she listened to and memorized conversations between Davis and his visitors as she served their dinner. She read war dispatches as she dusted the furniture. Each night after she finished her duties, Mary traveled to the Van Lew mansion which was some distance from the Davis mansion. Upon her arrival, she recited from memory the private conversations and documents. After she coded the information, it passed directly to the Union's General Grant, greatly enhancing the Union's conduct of the war.

"Jefferson Davis knew the Union somehow kept discovering Confederate plans but never discovered the leak in his household staff.

"Specific details of Ms. Bowser's activities and precise knowledge of the information passed to General Grant are unknown. In the interest of their protection, all records on Ms. Van Lew and her agents were destroyed after the war. However, it is certain that Mary Bowser succeeded in a highly dangerous mission that significantly benefitted the Union effort. She was one of the highest-placed and most productive espionage agents of the Civil War. Exact details of Ms. Bowser's date of birth and the year of her death are unknown."


4. Samuel Ruth

Samuel Ruth (1818-1872): Ruth was superintendent on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad when war broke out. "Through dilatory tactics and deliberate inefficiency, he effected slowdowns on the R.F.&P. railroad, a vital transportation service of the Confederate Army.... Ruth eventually became a member of the Union intelligence network in Richmond." O'Toole, Encyclopedia, pp. 398-399.

Johnston, Angus J., II. "Disloyalty on Confederate Railroads in Virginia." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 63, no. 4 (Oct. 1955): 410-426.

Stuart, Meriwether. "Samuel Ruth and General R.E. Lee: Disloyalty and the Line of Supply to Fredericksburg, 1862-1863." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 71, no. 1 (Jan. 1963): 35-109.

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