Stories about espionage during the Civil War abound. Documentation, however, is often wanting, while legends of what occurred survive through the generations.
One such tale involves sisters Ginnie and Lottie Moon, natives of Ohio who were sympathetic to the Southern cause. Ginnie, the younger of the two, was a ball of energy who felt it her duty to raise the morale of the Confederate troops.
She accomplished her goal in a unique, if unorthodox, way, by becoming engaged to 16 different boys in uniform at the same time. Rebecca D. Larson records in “Blue & Gray Roses of Intrigue” that, when questioned, Ginnie’s response was “If they died in battle, they’d have died happy.”
Ginnie served her cause in a number of ways, at times including as a courier through Union lines with important messages or carrying contraband goods. Though it was dangerous, she was willing to risk capture to complete her assigned mission.
Like most women of the period, Ginnie spent time making quilts for the boys who had gone off to war. These quilts supplemented the inadequate number of blankets and warm clothing available for Rebel soldiers.
Quilting remains popular today. Two quilt guilds in Sussex County — Delmarvelous in Georgetown and Ocean Waves in Lewes — carry on the tradition by making quilts for men and women serving our nation in uniform.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation has as its mission to “cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts.” In this area, the Serendipity Quilt Shop in Dagsboro serves as a base for volunteers who make quilts for distribution to these heroes.
Military personnel taking part in the annual “Operation SEAs the Day,” the warrior family beach week in Bethany Beach, also receive quilts.
Jean Dubois wrote in an article titled “The Confederate Quilter” in the July-August 1994 issue of QRN, a quilting magazine, that Ginnie Moon, while living in Memphis, Tenn., was visiting, along with her mother, with sister Lottie at her home in Oxford, Ohio — where she lived with her husband the Rev. Franklin Pinckney Clark, a Confederate sympathizer. The visiting women stayed a lengthy period of time while diligently making quilts.
Union authorities, suspicious that the Moon sisters engaged in espionage, decided to infiltrate a counterspy into the Clark home. The personable individual was successful in gaining access.
Ginnie’s actual mission while in Ohio was to deliver messages to Confederate sympathizers and acquire medical supplies that were scarce in the South. The unidentified agent observed that the women spent an inordinate amount of time making quilts.
On the scheduled return trip to Memphis by riverboat, Ginnie was carrying responses to the messages she delivered and a quantity of medications she had acquired. Prior to departure, a customs officer came aboard to inspect the passengers’ luggage.
The officer checked a large stack of quilts that Ginnie was transporting and found them to be unusually heavy. Tearing one open, he discovered vials of drugs quilted into the batting.
Ginnie claimed, without skipping a beat, that her mother was an addict and consumed a large amount of drugs each day. The suspicious inspector observed that Ginnie’s skirts and petticoats were also quilted.
When the officer attempted to check her clothing, Ginnie produced a Colt revolver and threatened to shoot if he persisted. He wisely backed off and turned her over to the provost marshal to have a woman check her person.
In her clothing, Ginnie had quilted 40 bottles of morphine, seven pounds of opium and a quantity of camphor. More incriminating, she was carrying 50 letters to various Confederate officers.
Despite this evidence of wrongdoing, the vivacious and personable Ginnie managed to obtain release on parole. Her “sentence” was simply to report daily to federal authorities.
If there is a moral to this story, it may well be that quilters are special people. By dedication to a cause through hard work and a warm heart, recompense sometimes comes in unusual ways.
Thomas J. Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” available at Bethany Beach Books and Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him at email@example.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.