Sisters Who Spied for the Confederacy
Image: Lottie and Ginnie Moon
Born Charlotte and Virginia, the Moon sisters were from Virginia, the daughters of a doctor. In the 1830s, the family moved to Oxford, Ohio, in the southwestern corner of the state. One of Lottie’s suitors was a young man from nearby Indiana named Ambrose Burnside, and sources say that she jilted him at the altar. She finally settled down with Jim Clark, who soon became a judge.
After Dr. Moon’s death, Mrs. Moon enrolled Ginnie in the Oxford Female College and moved to Memphis. One of the teachers criticized Ginnie for her Confederate leanings. She dropped out of school and went to live with Lottie and Jim, who were also pro-Southern. When the Civil War began, Lottie was 31 years old, Ginnie only 16. Their two brothers promptly enlisted in the Confederate army.
Southwestern Ohio had a small but vocal group of Confederate sympathizers. Judge Clark became active in the Knights of the Golden Circle, a Confederate spy ring. Its operatives sometimes visited the Clarks when they were carrying secret messages back and forth. On one occasion, a courier arrived with important dispatches for Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in Kentucky.
Lottie volunteered to carry the messages, her first act as a Confederate spy. She disguised herself as an old woman, and headed for Lexington, Kentucky, by boat. She delivered her dispatches to a Rebel officer, and then threw off her costume. Using her acting talents, she tearfully enlisted the aid of a Union general, who helped her return home by train.
By this time, Ginnie had moved to Memphis with her mother. They wrapped bandages and nursed wounded soldiers, as the Yankees got closer to Memphis. In June of 1862, the Union took over the city. Ginnie soon began her own spying activities, carrying messages and supplies to the Rebels, boldly passing through Union lines on the pretext of meeting a beau.
In 1863, Ginnie and her mother carried messages to the Knights of the Golden Circle, pretending they were only visiting Lottie and Jim. But the Yankees knew that women were being used as Confederate spies. The Moons were preparing to return to Memphis from Cincinnati by boat, but at the last minute an officer entered their cabin with orders to search them.
As Ginnie explained the situation in her memoir: “There was a slit in my skirt and in my petticoat I had a Colt revolver. I put my hand in and took it out., backed to the door and leveled it at him across the washstand. If you make a move to touch me, I’ll kill you, so help me God!” Her tactics did no good, but she pulled the message she carried from her bosom, “dipped it in the water pitcher and in three lumps swallowed it.”
In the provost marshal’s office, Union officers searched Ginnie’s trunks. Inside one of them, they found a very heavy quilt. They ripped it open and found that it was filled with opium, quinine, and morphine, medicines that were badly needed in the Confederate Army.
What happened next is in dispute, but apparently a Federal officer pushed Ginnie’s hoop skirts aside so he could close the door, and noticed that her skirts were also quilted. The officer called for a housekeeper, who searched the spy and found more drugs quilted into her skirts, on her person, and in a large bustle in the back of her dress.
The Moons were taken to a hotel, where they were put under house arrest. Ginnie immediately requested to see her “friend,” Union General Ambrose Burnside, the same Ambrose Burnside who had courted Lottie all those years ago. He was the new commander of the Union Department of the Ohio in Cincinnati, and was busily prosecuting Confederate sympathizers in the area. He issued an order that anyone showing Southern leanings were to be tried for treason and that anyone caught helping the Rebels would receive the death penalty.
The following morning, General Burnside sent word that he would see Ginnie. Holding out both hands, Burnside said, “My child, what have you done this for?” “Done what?” she asked. “Tried to go South without coming to me for a pass. They wouldn’t have dared stop you.”
Since General Burnside was so understanding, the other officers sought to gain Ginnie’s favor. “I was asked down to the parlors every evening to meet some of the staff officers,” she wrote. “The Yankee women in the parlor looked very indignant to see these officers being so polite to a Secesh woman.”
Lottie arrived at Burnside’s headquarters, dressed in disguise, and tried to convince her old beau to release her mother and her sister, but he supposedly said, “You’ve forgotten me, but I still remember with pleasure the hours I used to spend with you in Oxford.” And he put her under house arrest, too.
For weeks, the women were kept under surveillance. Ginnie had orders to report daily at 10 a.m. to Federal General Hurlburt, hoping this would curtail her spy activities, but apparently it didn’t. After three months, Ginnie was ordered to leave Union territory and stay gone!
There is no record of what she did for the next eight months. Then, in 1864, she surfaced in Danville, Virginia, with her sister-in-law. Ginnie’s brother was ill and had traveled to the south of France to await the end of the war. He asked his wife, children, and Ginnie to join him there. The two women received passes and started for Newport News.
But Union General Ben Butler spoiled their plans. They wouldn’t be allowed to continue their journey, he said, unless they took the Union oath. Ginnie refused, but her sister-in-law felt she had to go to her husband. Later, Ginnie asked her how she could take an oath she despised. The woman said, “I didn’t hear a word that man talked about. I kept saying the multiplication tables as hard as I could.”
General Butler kept Ginnie in custody for a while, but in the end allowed her to return to Confederate territory. The war soon ended, but not for Ginnie. She lived another 61 years, and never accepted defeat for a single moment.
Lottie became a novelist and a newspaper correspondent, covering stories all over the world. That couldn’t have been an easy job for a woman at that time.