The "Real" Rebel Rose
by John W. O'Neal, II
Rosatta Maria O'Neale Greenhow
and her daughter "Little" Rose O'Neale Greenhow
Rose & Little Rose in Prison


This article began as the result of this writer learning that “Rebel Rose” or Maria Rosatta O’Neale was an ancestor. While doing genealogy research on the descendants of John O'Neale, who arrived in America in the mid 1600’s, Rose’s name surfaced and this writer was soon engrossed and looking for any records and materials on Rose that existed. After searching for a year it became evident that the information I was looking for was not going to be found through reading the popular books about Rose, but was going to take some research into her background. The question that was burning in my mind was “Why? What forces drove Rose to do what she did? What pushed her to ultimately sacrifice her life for a cause?”

The popular books on Rose where filled with information on a mere four years of her life. During this four year period almost every single moment of her life was accounted for. Now, a person just doesn't appear out of thin air and accomplish what Rose did during the Civil War. There had to be a tremendous amount of background behind her, something that drove her to justify her actions and do what she did. The Rose painted in these books seemed quite superficial to me. She was presented to readers like a comic book Superhero, but even Superheroes have backgrounds. They are believable, in their own way, because we are told where they came from, how they got here, why they were here and what their goals were. But the popular books on Rose did not even offer us a believable history. And I must point out at this juncture, before I lead anyone down the wrong path, that I do not mean to belittle or detract in any way from these books. Their stories were quite exciting and fascinating reading. I enjoyed every one. But they left me wanting for more. I guess my problem was that these books were written for the general public to provide information about Rose’s role in the Civil War. Period. But as an ancestor of Rose’s and as a genealogist I wanted more…

Thus began the quest that ultimately became the article you are now reading. At about the same time I met Rose, I met a fellow researcher and distant cousin named Bev Crowe from Gibson City, Illinois. Sharing common ancestry, we began working together on our genealogy, and we also began researching Rose together. This article is the result of our combined efforts to find the “Real Rose.” To dress her up in her period clothing, breathe some life back into her, and ask her, “Why?”


Upon reading Rose O’Neale Greenhow’s manuscript, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, a couple of observations must be noted pertaining to Rose’s attitude toward the north. For therein she derived the will, the power, if you wish, that drove her. To state that she was driven by a desire to maintain her stature as a Washington socialite is first, an insult to her intelligence, and second, an understatement of her motives.

During the time of her imprisonment she had many opportunities for freedom. At any time she could have uttered vows of allegiance to the north, or at the very least promised to remove herself to the south and from political circles. Doing so would have garnered her immediate release, whereby she could have donned her ballroom gown and returned to the polite society to which she was accustomed. But she didn’t. Her convictions were much deeper than that. So what was it that drove her, if not a concern for her social stature?

To which I can only respond at this time that there was no one “straw that broke the camel’s back.” There was no one defining moment when Rose decided to become a spy for the confederacy. In fact, I’d be willing to go so far as to say that Rose’s major role in the confederate effort was not as a spy at all; At least not in the literal sense of the word. There’s no doubt that she was involved in subterfuges and espionage. But, a spy? Rose took no pains to hide her activities and even less effort to hide her sentiments. People she obtained information from knew where she stood. They were aware of her political alignment, yet gave her information freely.

To understand what drove Rose is impossible using today’s mores and standards. She lived in a different world than we, a different time. A time so alien to our understanding of the world, that to look into her life, we must first take a look into her world. For Rose’s world, and her life, not unlike our own today, was pretty much shaped by the events taking place in the world around her. This in not to say that Rose was a pawn being moved around on some hideous gameboard; For as surely as she was shaped by the world around her, when the time came she rose to the occasion, and in her own right, changed the world around her.


Drawing of Wollaston Manor, from an article by The Montgomery County Historical Society

Rose came from a long line of illustrious ancestors. Her grandmother was the favorite granddaughter of Captain James Neale, who, according to Semmes, was the grandson of  "Shane the Proud," O'Neill and great-grandson of Conn O'Neill, surnamed Bacach (the Lame), the first Earl of Tyrone. When Shane was usurped and beheaded in Ireland in the early 1600's, Priests secretly whisked away his son to Spain for safekeeping. This son was raised at Court by the King of Spain. His name was changed to Neale to hide his identity. His son, James Neale became a Captain of His Majesties Fleet. In 1652 he came to America, liked what he saw and petitioned Lord Calvert for a land grant. It was issued for services to the Crown. He built a Plantation (Wollaston Manor) on the junction of the Wicimoca and Potomac Rivers that stood until the early 1900’s, when it was consumed by fire. Captain James Neale’s descendants played a huge role in establishing Catholicism in early Maryland and his descendants all married well and were among the elite pioneers of early Maryland.(1)

Rose’s Grandmother was Eleanor Ball, and family legend states she was a relative of Martha Ball, George Washington’s mother. Her grandfather, Lawrence O’Neale was one of the most successful land speculators in early Maryland history. Lawrence also served a lengthy career in the Maryland House of Representatives and it was he who proposed the creation of Montgomery County. Between him and his siblings, the O’Neale’s were well known and respected and owned vast amounts of land, including most of what today is currently the cities of Rockville, Georgetown, Poolesville, Barnesville, Seneca State Park, and much of the adjoining and surrounding areas. Lawrence served a couple terms as Sheriff of Montgomery County, as a judge of the Orphans court, and for about 15 years was a member of the House of Representatives. In a philanthropic gesture he donated property to the United States Government, which became part of Washington, D.C.(2)

Drawing of the first O'Neale Homestead in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Through Lawrence and other family members the O’Neale’s were a well respected and politically connected aristocratic family. Through marriage they were kin to the Calvert's, Bealle’s, Van Swearingens, Digges, Wathens, etc. You will find many of these prominent names in the annals of Maryland history.


Rose’s father, John O’Neale married Eliza Henrietta Hamilton in Price George’s County, Maryland in 1810.(3) This marriage increased the O’Neale land holdings and social stature, for the Hamiltons were one of the largest land bearing families in PG County. Eliza’s grandfather was John Hamilton, who like Captain James Neale, arrived in America in the 1600’s and was appointed a huge land grant. John Hamilton’s plantation still exists today and is known as Spye Park.

John and Eliza married on January 10th, 1810 and over the course of the next few years Eliza bore five beautiful daughters. As his home, he chose a spot on the waters of Seneca Creek, which was then considered Poolesville and is near the current City of Poolesville and Barnesville. Here he cleared the land and built a house for his family and settled into the life of a “Gentleman Planter.”  In 1816 St. Mary's Catholic Church in Barnesville began keeping records and through those records we learn the family's religious preferences.

John was an avid sportsman and often frequented dog races, cockfights and other sports popular during this time. According to Ishbel Ross he was quite a “fascinator of women” and “enjoyed all the lusty pleasures of the manoral region.” When Rose was still a toddler, her father was returning home from one such event. He was accompanied by his negro servant, Jacob. For some unknown reason, Jacob supposedly struck his master along the way, and John was knocked unconscious from his horse. Jacob, thinking, “dead men tell no tales” finished off his master there on the spot. Jacob was later tried and hung in the city of Rockville for his foul deed. (4) At least, that’s how one story goes…..

But then, like any story, this one has two sides. There is another viewpoint about John's death. You wont find this scenario in any legal documents or history books, but if you were to visit Montgomery County and ask the right people the right questions, an entirely different story may emerge……..

Was John an embarrassment to this politically tied family? Was he hurting the family name and their aspirations through his gambling, womanizing and other "lusty pursuits?” Perhaps he really just fell off his horse and banged his head on a rock. Perhaps then the family stepped in, contrived his "murder", and painted Jacob as a barbarous heathen and John as a martyr. Of course, Jacob was touted as adhering to the northern doctrines. He was said to have been incited to murderous riot by the rebellious thoughts planted in his head by the northern "Black Politicians". This would result in raising John's status in death to a plateau he could not attain in life, with the added bonus of restoring the good family name.

The truth of John's death will most likely never be known. But historical records found at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis Maryland do shed some light on the facts. According to witness statements and evidence found at the scene of the crime, it appears that John left Nathan Trail's Tavern after a day of drinking and started for home late one rainy night. He had shared some whiskey with Jacob, and they were both quite drunk. It was a moonless night with a light rain. The ground was wet and John's horse was injured, making it difficult to maneuver. About 1/4 mile from home John ordered Jacob to go on ahead..............

When Jacob awoke in the morning and could not find his master he began retracing his steps. He found John lying in a lane about 150 yards from his house. He was bleeding from the head and unconscious.  Fearing repercussions when his master came to, or deeming it prudent to end his master's misery, and still under the influence of  alcohol, Jacob picked up a rock and smashed John's skull. Medical Doctors interviewed in the case could not discern if the blow that killed John was from a fall from a horse or the blow Jacob inflicted. Jacob was tried and convicted and sentenced "to be hung by the neck until dead". His defense lawyer petitioned the Governor to commute the sentence to life imprisonment, but that never happened.  Jacob was hung in the public square in Montgomery County on  Friday, October 10th, 1817. (5)

When John’s estate was inventoried in 1817 he netted over $5,700 pounds, not bad for a young man just starting out in life in the early 1800's. Unfortunately, as a result of all the land he had purchased, this amount would not cover his indebtedness. Family members advised his widow to sell “Conclusion,” a 500 acre tract of land on the banks of Seneca Creek that contained the family home, but his widow, Eliza refused to sell the property. There must have been arguments over this matter, because Eliza returned to Court and advised that she refused to administer her husbands will and asked the court to appoint Mr. Solomon Davis as Administrator. Solomon was a friend of John's father Lawrence and was also involved in Montgomery County politics. Shortly thereafter the Maryland Legislature passed a ruling to deed some of the properties formerly owned by the recently deceased Lawrence O’Neale to John’s heirs as a “relief effort.” (6)

Historians also disagree about where the children grew up. According to Ishbell Ross and David Rankin Barbee, the girls were shuffled around from Barnesville, to Poolseville, to Port Tobacco, and to Wollaston Manor. However, after searching various archives, courthouses and even Barbee’s papers and source materials, this writer has not been able to verify that the girls ever left their home. It’s far more likely that they remained there and received their education from St Mary’s Church in Barnesville, from their mother and their widowed Aunt Eleanor. Another indication that they never left was an article published by an ancestor of Dr. Wootten. He was an M.D. in the area and he relates that Dr. Wootten saved the bones of the slave Jacob for study. Jacob was double jointed and was said to have performed “tricks” no other person was ever known to perform.(See image at right, supposedly one of Jacob's leg bones.) Dr. Wooten was also the family Doctor of Eliza and her children, and mentions them growing up in the area. (7)

As to her education, Rose was obviously a well learned woman. In “Abolition,” she quotes many literary works and professes a deep understanding of the subject matter of each. She speaks of past wars and battle stratagems and makes some very astute observations on the cause & effects of war. She relates her opinions on the social & economic impact of a war between the states, and she ties this all together in a very compelling argument for the confederacy. It’s obvious after reading her thoughts, so well laid out on paper, that Rose knew her subject matter intimately and felt totally vindicated in her course of action leading up to and during the Civil War. (8)

Which, of course, brings us back to the original question. Why? What drove her? What circumstance would cause a delicate southern lady, an aristocrat, no less, to forsake all, her family, her freedom and ultimately, her life?


When Rose was a teenager, the creditors began knocking at her mother’s door again. Her mother, being older and perhaps wiser, finally decided to sell “Conclusion.” Rose and her sister Eleanor left their home in Maryland and moved in with their Aunt Mary (O'Neale) Hill, who owned and operated the Capitol Hotel in Washington, DC. Because of the proximity of the hotel to the Capitol, senators, statesman and politicos of the day would dine and be entertained here. Due to the hardships of travel at the time, many politicians stayed at the hotel for extended periods when their duties required them to be in DC. Rose obviously inherited her grandfather’s love of politics and she enjoyed listening to the orations of such great thinkers and philosophers as James Buchannan, John C. Calhoun, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, &c; In “Abolition” she relates that she would spend hours in the pews lining the rear of the senate, enthralled with the exciting speeches of what she dubbed as the greatest minds in history.

John C. Calhoun                                                          James Buchanan

She heard the debates of the statesmen on the floor during the daytime, and in the evenings, in her Aunt's Hotel Lounge, she would hear the barroom strategies and plans for the next days events unfolding. Her uncanny ability to read people’s gestures, body language and inflection were skills she no doubt learned and honed in the Capitol Hotel. She not only learned to read people using these devices, but learned to control them in herself, as well. In “Abolition” she notes that during her imprisonment, when she was not allowed human company, she would read aloud to herself, so as not to lose control of the resonance and timber of her voice.

This exposure to politics, both as a child growing up in Maryland, and as a teen, during the years leading up to the Civil war was exciting to Rose and she reveled in it. Through her circle of acquaintances, her contacts at the Hotel and the newspapers, Rose knew practically everything going on of any political importance in DC. She was an avid reader and debater and she would discuss politics with anybody inclined to discuss them with her. She studied people’s reactions to her thoughts and learned from their reactions. And most importantly Rose made allies in this time strife with political passion. Allies such as John C. Calhoun & James Buchanan went a long way towards promoting Rose’s credibility at a time when women had “no place” in politics. And, the fact that women had no place in politics was a paradigm that as Rose so aptly said, "gives one the power to perform seemingly impossible feats.”

In 1833 at Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia Rose’s sister Eleanor married James Madison Cutts, who was the son of Dolley Madison’s sister. This moved Rose even closer into the inner circle of DC politics. She and her sister and nephew were often seen at affairs of state accompanying Dolley. And it was Dolley who introduced Rose to Robert Greenhow and encouraged them to marry.


James Madison               Dorothea "Dolly" Payne Madison                     Eleanora O'Neale                       James Madison Cutts

Robert, the son of John Greenhow, Mayor of Richmond Virginia, was a prominent statesman and lawyer and was highly respected in DC. He was a fluent linguist and author. After the marriage Rose was to receive even further acclaim for the work she did with her husband, Robert. She aided him in the research for his books and in preparing his manuscripts for publication. He commented more than once about how valuable her aid was, both in mastering new subject matter and in her research abilities.


Rose met Robert at the boardinghouse, underwent a whirlwind romance and married him in 1835 at the age of 21. Rose and Robert celebrated the birth of their first child, Florence in 1836. Gertrude was born in DC in 1838, Liela, their third daughter was born about 1840. Next, in 1842, came Alice, who only lived four years. Then came two sons, Robert, Jr. in 1845 and Morgan Lewis in 1848. They lived two and one years, respectively. Next came Rose, in 1849, who did not survive a year. So, of their first seven children, only three made it to adulthood. Robert and Rose would not have another child for four years when Little Rose was born in 1853. (9)  After the loss of  four children in a row and then her husband, it is of little wonder that Rose clung to her namesake, her last child, "Little" Rose O'Neale Greenhow and refused to be parted from her.

As a wife Rose was a woman any man could love. By all reports, without dispute, she was bright, beautiful, charming, witty and sensual. She appeared to be infatuated with Robert, got into his work, acted as his aide and assisted him with great zeal on various projects during their brief time together. She was the perfect hostess and entertained lavishly.

The Greenhow home in Washington, D.C.

When Rose was 23 years old her mother passed away. We've found Maryland court records showing that she and her sisters all returned to Maryland in 1837 to settle the estate for their father's properties in Montgomery County.

As a mother, since there aren't any records, we have to draw on what we've learned of Rose and her family. Her daughters were well educated and headstrong, or more appropriately put, independent women. This fact, being independent is important. How difficult it must have been for Florence to tell her mother that she was going to marry a Northern Army Officer, knowing full well the impact such an announcement would have. This would have caused a major rift in any family, I'd think, but Rose and Florence remained close. As a matter of fact when things started getting ugly in DC, Rose sent Liela north to live with Florence, on the promise that Leila would receive a "quality" education.

Another reason I think the fact that Rose raised independent children is important is because I understand what it means to do so. It's so easy as a parent to raise obedient children, little robots that are seen and not heard. But raising a child to be independent is a much harder task. I remember like it was yesterday (many years ago) when my daughter was born. I picked her tiny body up and looked her in the eye and promised her that she would grow up to be master of her world. That I would give her the tools to be master of her fate, that she would need no one to succeed, that she would not be dependent on anyone or anything. I think Rose felt the same way and made the same promises to her daughters and history bears out the truth of that love between a mother and her daughters.

Another example of her strengths as a mother is in her refusal to be parted from her daughter Little Rose. Family members and friends pleaded with her to send Little Rose away, but she would not part with her child. Not during the incarceration in her home and even during her stay at the Capitol Prison. Not until the war is in full swing and Rose was feeling that her daughter's life was being threatened would she take her namesake to England and safety. Only when assured her daughter was free from northern aggression would she dare part from her side.


So, again, what drove Rose? It wasn’t any one item in particular, but a compendium of grievances. Like any complex person, Rose must have had complex thoughts on the matter. First, let’s go back to Rose’s childhood. Her father was killed by a slave when she was three years old and many writers have speculated that this was the reason Rose was such a staunch supporter of slavery. However, this was not the case at all. In every instance documenting Rose’s relations to slaves, it’s shown that she treated them generously, fairly, and with dignity and respect. This does not sound like someone who hates slaves.

As stated earlier, to understand Rose, we must reach back and understand her world. In Rose’s world slavery was a totally acceptable circumstance of life in her plantation upbringing. It was a given, a matter of fact, A way of life. She didn’t even question it. And as a master of slaves she adhered to the conventions of the true southern aristocratic lady, contradictory as that may seem to us today. Rose’s father owned slaves, as did her grandfather and his father before him. Every family of distinction in the south owned slaves. Often times, the number of slaves one owned was indicative of the level of success and financial prowess of many a Gentleman Planter.

No, Rose did not blame the slave who murdered her father any more than we blame Eve for eating of the tree of knowledge of good & evil. We blame the serpent that convinced Eve to eat. Rose didn’t blame her father’s death on poor Jacob. She blamed the snake, the northern “Black Republicans” who implanted the mutinous, murderous thoughts into the heads of the servile population. In the years preceding the Civil War the number of slave insurrections, mutinies, murders, riots &c. increased dramatically as a result of the lure and promise of freedom being touted by northerners. No, the “Black Man” did not kill her father, her way of life, her dreams of a happy childhood, growing up and growing old with her father. In Rose's estimation, the “Black Republicans” killed her father, just as surely as if it had been their hands choking the last vestiges of breath from his lungs.

This was the act that planted the seeds of discontent in Rose. Unfortunately, it would prove to be only the first of many events in her life that would bring Rose to despise her northern brethren and bring her to that place and time in DC that we all know so well.

Another fact often overlooked by the popular historical writers is that Rose was considered by her peers to be a true American Patriot, and in many circles still is today. Many of Rose’s ancestors, too many to cite here, spilled their blood gloriously on the American field of battle. Being in America since the 1600’s Rose’s forefathers fought Indians, the British, the French, the Spanish and the Mexicans, all in the name of American freedom. Rose was proud of this fact and proud of the role her forebears contributed in making the United States what they were in her lifetime. In “Abolition” Rose said, “I have revolutionary blood in my veins.”

Rose studied the constitution of the United States and felt that it’s very fabric was being ripped apart by what she saw as the unconstitutional acts of treason being openly discussed by northern statesmen. She felt that the constitution was the law that bound the states together. At the same time she felt that the constitution was the law that allowed every state to be sovereign in its reign over it’s constituents. “Why,” she asked in ‘Abolition,’ should a citizen residing in New York have a vote in whether a citizen in Virginia should own a slave?”

Rose felt emphatically that a “Federal” or Republican government did not have the constitutional power to tell a sovereign state how to run it’s own house. And this view was not singular to Rose. Indeed this mindset reigned predominately in the south and became quite apparent to northerners as the northern Federal or Republican Party flexed it’s muscles. Southern states began seceding from the union. They felt they had no choice in the matter. And this debate still exists to a certain extent today. The federal government exerts control over state governments, and state governments resist and demand laws be made that are more befitting their constituents lifestyles.

So, once again, Rose had yet another reason to despise her northern brethren.


And finally we come to the bottom line. What drove Rose? The same thing that drove the northern politicians. The same thing that drove the southerners. The same thing that still drives the world around you & I today. THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR !

IN 1850 the main exports from the United States were cotton and tobacco. Commodities that are grown in the south. By slaves... Rose was aware that her very way of life of the aristocratic society she was brought up in was being threatened. Free the slaves and the entire southern economy would come to a screeching halt. So, what drove Rose?  She could not comprehend how the southern economy could persist without slavery.  And, she could not understand why the northern Republicans were so dead set against this "peculiar institution".

The north wanted a piece of this pie, she thought. Free the slaves, who then by necessity must be paid by the southern planters. Once they get paid they can be taxed by a Federal government. When they spend their money they can be taxed again.  Ex-slaves could also fill the demand for cheap workers in northern factories. Rose felt that the entire anti-slavery issue was a Republican ploy to undermine the economy of the southern states and benefit the northern economy, which was in the birth throes of the industrial revolution and needed bodies to perform tedious factory work. Why else, she questioned in Abolition, would President Lincoln only free the slaves in the states that succeeded? If he really wanted to emancipate slaves and halt the institution of slavery, he should have freed ALL the slaves, even those residing in northern states, shouldn't he have?

And that, gentle reader, is, in her estimation, what drove the north, and brought on the Civil War. Rose, and the entire political machine of the south were convinced that the north didn’t really give a damn about slaves, and that their sole intention was to fill the federal coffers with southern gold. That’s what set the stage for the worst bloodletting in the history of the world, for the ugliest war of all time when brother would meet brother on the battlefield.

And somewhere about this time, our Rose must have realized that her entire life had been shaped to prepare her for the battle she was about to face, and for the course she was about to embark on. But she had done her homework well. She had the tools she needed. She was prepared to thrust herself squarely into the melee, in between two warring giants, come what may…


Depending on who you read, you can divine a lot of opinions on Rose's impact on the war. These opinions will range from her espionage efforts winning several major battles for the south and averting several other battles, to her knowledge being second hand and of little importance whatsoever. My feeling is that Rose's true contribution to the war was her adept handling of the press. And she had lots of help with this. When she supplied the information that resulted in a win for the confederacy at Bull Run, the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis sent her a note thanking her for her efforts and her contribution.

Of course the result of this was two-fold. In a time when women were predominately considered mentally inferior to men her knowledge and abilities infuriated, frustrated and demoralized northerners. It boosted the moral and bravado of the southerners. If you look carefully you'll see this theme present throughout Rose's campaign during the war. Detractors have pretty much proven that most of Rose's information did not really contribute to the outcome of any battles other than Bull Run. But the story of the Bull Run victory and Rose's involvement made for great press.

Picture a beautiful southern widow seducing information from northern officers. Then picture the charming young Betty Duvall, dressed in farm girl's clothes, riding through enemy lines with the contraband information rolled up in her long luxurious locks of jet black hair; Then picture her slight form standing before the southern general, demurely unrolling the secret information from her hair, just in the nick of time for him to regroup and win the battle. True or not, it's a beautiful story, one that legends are made of. And it set the stage for Rose's entire campaign. Her success came in making people BELIEVE that she, a "mere southern woman", had outwitted the northern war machine.
Betty Duvall

In fact she was so convincing that none other than President Lincoln, in a moment of frustration, commented that she knew more about what went on in his cabinet meetings than he himself did, and he was present! Of course the southerners in power encouraged this deception and added fuel to the fire as needed. For example, I give you President Davis's widely publicized letter to Rose thanking her for her efforts at Bull Run.


If she were a legitimate spy and attempting to do serious espionage, Jackson would, of course, deny any knowledge whatsoever of her involvement, as would have Rose. Spies are only successful as long as their anonymity is intact. No, Rose's impact on the war was not one of being an accomplished rebel spy. It was in her understanding of the power she could exert over the north through the press. After her house arrest, she continued to annoy the north and was ultimately moved to the Old Capitol Prison. She was denied paper and pens. Surely this would quiet the damnable secesh woman's pen! Yet, her messages still got through to the outside world, even as far as writing letters to northern newspapers, prominent northern politicians and even President Lincoln and his staff. Ultimately Rose's release from prison was a direct result of the pressure exerted on the Lincoln administration by both southern AND northern sympathizers. And this was brought about by Rose's careful press manipulation.

Left: A Washington Post article dramatizes Rose being arrested on her doorstep by Detective Pinkerton.
Right: A Post cartoon satirizes the arrest: The caption reads: PROBABLE EFFECT OF THE MODE OF CERTAIN RECENT ARRESTS  IN FASHIONABLE CIRCLES.

Southerner's in power also recognized this talent in Rose and that's the reason she was sent to Europe to aid the confederate cause. She was not sent as a public official, appointed to any office or post or even sent as a representative of the government. She was sent as a mere southern woman who had a story to tell, to light a fire and extract sympathy from the European people (and thus garner European allies.)   Her very demeanor, her astute grasp of politics and her ability to read and sway people and public opinion were recognized as traits desperately needed in a foreign emissary.

Rose was a folk hero, a pioneer. Her ultimate contribution to the world was in showing us that through the use of the press one person could make a difference. We all know the outcome of the Civil War, and we all know Rose's outcome as well. And one can't help but wonder, had Rose made it to shore that fateful night and survived the war, what role might she have played in the "reconstruction" of the south and perhaps of the entire United States?


When Rose was pulled from her watery grave near Wilmington, North Carolina, searchers found a copy of her book "Imprisonment" hidden on her person.
There was a note inside the book, which was meant for her daughter Little Rose.

The note reads as follows:

London, Nov 1st 1863

You have shared the hardships and indignity of my prison life, my darling;
And suffered all that evil which a vulgar despotism could inflict.
Let the memory of that period never pass from your mind;
Else you may be inclined to forget how merciful
Providence has been in seizing us from such a people.

Rose O'n Greenhow.

SOURCE: A note to Rose Greenhow, from her Mother, Rosatta Maria (Rose) O'Neale Greenhow. Written in London, Nov 1st 1863. Found on the body of Rose inside a copy of her book, MY IMPRISONMENT. The book and this insert was passed down through the family and then given to David Rankin Barbee, who donated it to the Library of Congress, where it resides today. Transcribed from a copy at Georgetown University's Lauinger Library, Special Collections Division by Bev Crowe and John W. O'Neal, II on 10/31/2002

Below are some excerpts from Rose's Obituary........

"The coffin, which was as richly decorated as the the resources of the town admitted and still covered with the Confederate flag, was borne to Oakdale Cemetery followed by an immense funeral cortege . A beautiful spot on a grassy slope, overshadowed by wavering trees and in sight of a tranquil lake was chosen for her resting place. Rain fell in torrents during the day, but as the coffin was being lowered into the grave, the sun burst forth in the brightest majesty, and a rainbow of the most vivid colour spanned the horizon. Let us accept the omen not only for her, the quiet sleeper, who after many storms and a tumultuous and checkered life came to peace and rest at last, but also for our beloved country, over which we trust the rainbow of hope will ere long shine with brightest dyes.

"The ladies of the Wilmington Soldiers' Aid Society would have performed the last office for anyone coming to them under similar sad circumstances, but with how much greater respect and affection for her who endured imprisonment, sickness, losses of various kinds, and finally death itself, through devotion to the holy cause which was the very main spring and breath of her existence.

"At the last day, when the martyrs who have with their blood sealed their devotion to liberty shall stand together firm witnesses that truth is stronger than death, foremost among the shinning throng, coequal with the Rolands and Joan d'Arcs of history will appear the Confederate heroine, Rose A. Greenhow."  (10)

In 2004 we visited Oakdale Cemetery. It was a muddy mess with trees down, leaves and bark stripped and debris everywhere. We actually drove through horizontal rain, the remnants of Hurricane Charley to reach Wilmington. I've been informed the cemetery has been cleaned up and the foliage is recovering nicely. As you can see from the photo on the right, the tranquil lake, mentioned in Rose's obituary no longer exists.


Probably the most well known of Rose's pictures is
this one from her book, MY IMPRISONMENT
The Brady Photo of Rose and Little Rose imprisoned is
probably the 2nd best known Picture of Rose.
This photo was found on Rose
when she drowned.
This drawing was found on the web,
no artist listed.

Yet another image found on the web,
no artist listed.
Rose in Europe. Rose in Europe. Rose in Europe.

(1) The Wild Rose of Wollaston Manor
from the mss of Mrs. Robert Greenhow by David Rankin Barbee. See a transcription at <http://www.onealwebsite/RebelRose/>
(2) See The O'Neal Genealogy Association Website for further information <>
(3) Prince George's County Marriage Index
(4) Ross, Ishbel. "Rebel Rose: The Life of Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy". New York: Harper, 1954
(5) Maryland State Archives at Annapolis. See Scanned images of the Trial of Jacob and transcriptions at <>
(6) Maryland State Archives at Annapolis. See Scanned images of the Will and Estate of John O'Neale and transcriptions at <>
(7) The Wooten article was found in the archives of The Montgomery County Historical Society at the Sween Library in Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland during a visit there in 2000 by John W. O'Neal, II and Bev Crowe. See a transcription at <>
(8) Ross, Ishbel. "Rebel Rose: The Life of Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy". New York: Harper, 1954
(9) Blackman, Ann. "Wild Rose, Civil War Spy, A True Story"
(10) Rose O'Neal Greenhow Papers  News clipping, October 1, 1864: News clipping, presumably from the Wilmington Sentinel, Describes Greenhow's funeral complete with details of the reactions of the Wilmington townspeople and the service itself. (Alexander Robinson Boteler Papers, Special Collections Library, Duke University)


Blackman, Ann. "Wild Rose, Civil War Spy, A True Story"
Burger, Nash. "Confederate Spy: Rose O'Neal Greenhow" New York: Franklin Watts, 1953. [Petersen]

Clinton, Catherine
, "Civil War Stories"  The University of Georgia Press, Athens and London, 1998

Farquhar, Michael. "'Rebel Rose,' A Spy of Grande Dame Proportions." Washington Post, 18 Sep. 2000, A1.

Fishel, Edwin C
; "The Secret War for the Union" Houghton Mifflin, Boston & New York, 1996.

Greenhow, Rose O'Neale
. "My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule in Washington" London: R. Bentley, 1863.

Johnson, George, Jr.
; "Rose O'Neale Greenhow and the Blockade Runners" Canada, ISBN 0-9649826-0-9

Leech, Margaret
, "Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865" Harper & Brothers, New York and London, 1941.

Ross, Ishbel. "Rebel Rose: The Life of Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy". New York: Harper, 1954.

On-Line World Wide Web Resources:

Ann Blackman's Wild Rose Site  <>
Duke U @ Chapel Hill   <>
Emily Lapisardi's Historical Impersonations Site <>
The Official Rebel Rose O'Neale Website  <>
The O'Neal Genealogy Association Website <>
The Order of The Confederate Rose <>
The Sons of Confederate Veterans <>
Shotguns Site <>
University of North Carolina <>