Mary Elizabeth Bowser: A Union Spy in Jefferson Davis’s House

In the final months of the American Civil War, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, knew that critical information was somehow being leaked to the Union Army under General Ulysses S. Grant. He was right about the leaks, but was never able to identify their source.

That’s probably because it never occurred to him that the person who was getting information to the Federals could possibly do so.

The CIA’s image of Mary Elizabeth Bowser. Source:

She was Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a free African American woman who was posing as a slave. Bowser infiltrated the Confederate White House as a servant known, according to some accounts, as Ellen Bond.

To Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis’s wife, Ellen Bond was not only a slave, but a not too bright, illiterate one. In reality Mary Bowser was just the opposite. Not only was she well educated, but she had a photographic memory, and could repeat verbatim whatever she read.

So, as Ellen Bond dusted Jefferson Davis’s desk, Mary Elizabeth Bowser was reading and memorizing the papers she found there. When Ellen Bond served dinner to visiting Confederate generals, Mary Elizabeth Bowser was taking quiet note of everything they talked about.

So effective was Mary Elizabeth Bowser in her espionage for the Union, she was inducted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1995.

You can read the full story of how Mary Elizabeth Bowser spied for the Union right under Jefferson Davis’s nose at: Mary Elizabeth Bowser: Union Spy In The Confederate White House.

Ron Franklin

© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin

About RonElFran

Ron Franklin is pastor of Covenant Community Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
This entry was posted in Jefferson Davis, Slavery, Spies, The Confederacy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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