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Intro  |  Pauline Cushman  |  Belle Boyd  |  Sam Davis  |  Williams and Peters

The Scout and the Guerillas

"The Scout and the Guerillas," ca. 1865
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

The covert operation of scouts and spies was a vital part of the war effort. These brave men and women crossed enemy lines in order to gather news regarding troop movements and enemy resources and to secure, among other things, newspapers, which also provided valuable information. Both Northern and Southern armies relied upon the dangerous and risky services of their scouts/spies; the ability of army leaders to devise strategies and tactics was dependent upon the information they supplied.

Pauline Cushman, Union spy
Pauline Cushman

Pauline Cushman posing as a male field officer, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1864
Library Collection

Born Harriet Wood on June 10, 1833, she changed her name at age 18 to Pauline Cushman and set out to make her mark as a theatrical performer. Perhaps her greatest role, however, was that of a Confederate sympathizer. As a spy for the Union army, she was charged with the task of gathering information on Southern spies in Louisville, Kentucky, and determining how they were able to smuggle medical supplies across enemy lines. While working in Nashville, she obtained information regarding Confederate troop movements and the trade in contraband. In May of 1863, while attempting to learn the strength of Confederate fortifications in Shelbyville, Bedford County, Tennessee, she was captured and then court-martialed and sentenced to be hanged by General Braxton Bragg. With a stroke of luck, she was rescued by Union forces on June 27, 1863 during the Army of Tennessee's evacuation from Shelbyville.

Acknowledging Pauline Cushman's valuable work as a spy, President Abraham Lincoln commended her for her service and she was awarded the honorary rank of brevet major. For a time, she toured the country regaling audiences with stories of her exploits as a spy; at one point she was even featured in P. T. Barnum's circus show. After separating from her third husband, she moved to San Francisco where, living virtually destitute and alone, she died of an opium overdose on December 2, 1893.


Marie Isabella "Belle" Boyd, Confederate spy
Belle Boyd

Carte de visite of Belle Boyd, ca. 1860s
Library Photograph Collection

Belle Boyd (1843-1900), risking her reputation by flirting and associating with unsuspecting enemy soldiers, used her femininity to gain vital information about Union troop movements. She was imprisoned and released on several occasions as a result of her covert activities. Eventually living virtually alone in England, she wrote and published her memoirs, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison, and began a career as an actress in order to support herself and a daughter. Returning to the United States in 1866, she continued her acting career and gained notoriety for her dramatic accounts of her years as a Confederate spy.


Sam Davis, Confederate spy
Sam Davis

Bust of Sam Davis
Library Photograph Collection

On November 20, 1863, Sam Davis (1842-1863) was captured near Minor Hill, Giles County, Tennessee, wearing a Confederate uniform and carrying Union battle plans. He was brought before a Military Commission in Pulaski, Giles County, Tennessee, and was charged with "Being a Spy" and "Being a carrier of mails, communications and information, from within the lines of the United States Army, to persons in arms against the Government." General Orders No. 74 contains the findings of his trial.

After Davis was found guilty of both charges, Brigadier General Grenville M. Dodge issued the order, dated November 25, 1863, sentencing Sam Davis to death by hanging. The sentence was to be carried out on Friday, November 27, 1863.


Colonel William Orton Williams and Lieutenant Walter G. Peters, Confederate spies
aptain William T. Crawford letter

Letter from Captain William T. Crawford, 85th Regiment, Indiana Infantry, describing the capture and execution of Colonel William Orton Williams and Lieutenant Walter G. Peters, Sullivan, Indiana, June 27, 1909
Confederate Collection
PDF of entire letter

Posing as Inspectors General on the staff of Major General James A. Garfield, Colonel William Orton Williams and Lieutenant Walter G. Peters entered Union lines at Franklin, Tennessee, and proceeded to make a thorough inspection of the camp at Fort Granger. Quickly overtaken and apprehended while on their way to inspect the camp at Nashville, the two men were court-martialed, found guilty, and hanged on June 9, 1863.


Vine Grove Methodist Church

Vine Grove Methodist Church, Dayton, Tennessee, before 1885
During the Civil War, it was used to incarcerate local women accused as spies, sometimes referred to as the "Rhea County Spartans."
Looking Back At Tennessee Photograph Collection

gallant rescue

"Gallant Rescue of the Fair Spy at Shelbyville, Tenn.," ca. 1865
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

Davis letter

Last letter from Sam Davis to his mother and father, Pulaski, Tennessee, November 26, 1863
Civil War Collection
PDF of entire letter

General Orders No. 74

General Orders No. 74, Pulaski, Tennessee, November 25, 1863
Confederate Collection

Dr. Thomas Cathey White

Dr. Thomas Cathey White, Pulaski, Tennessee, ca. 1850
Dr. White, a physician in Pulaski, is said to have walked Sam Davis up the hill to his execution.
Looking Back At Tennessee Photograph Collection

Secret reunion of Coleman's Scouts, CSA

Secret reunion of Coleman's Scouts, CSA, Nashville, Tennessee, 1866
Coleman's Scouts were a unit of Confederate scouts under the command of Captain Henry B. Shaw. Sam Davis and his brother John (standing in the middle of the back row) were members of this unit.
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

Death of the Hanging Tree

"Death of the Hanging Tree," Review Appeal, Franklin, Tennessee, November 19, 1970
Figuers Collection