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History Walking Tours of Old Wilmington

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Our leisurely tour takes us back in time as we talk about:

Three of the most historic homes in Wilmington. History of Wilmington's down town and how it developed. Cape Fear River and it's importance to the area. Wilmington during the Civil War, what life was like. Victorian customs, Folklore and Much More...

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History Walking Tour by Tour Old Wilmington​ NC
Tours Daily, Call for tour times!
910 409 4300

Adults, (13 & up) $12
Kids 12 and under, FREE with Two Paying Adults.
Single Adult Tours, $25

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History Walking Tours

History Walking Tours
Open Year Round

3rd Graders on Tour!

3rd Graders on Tour!
History Walking Tour for all ages!

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Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Rose O'Neal Greenhow
Original name: 
Maria Rosetta O’Neale


Montgomery County
Maryland, USA
Sep. 30, 1864
North Carolina, USA
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The "Rebel Rose" of the Civil War. "I employed every capacity with which God has endowed me, and the result was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect." Rose O'Neal Greenhow. She was born Maria Rosetta O’Neale in Montgomery County, Maryland to John O'Neale and Eliza Henrietta Hamilton and was orphaned as a child. When she was a teenager, she was invited to live with her aunt who ran the exclusive Congressional Boarding House in Washington, D.C. and was introduced to important figures in the Washington area. O’Neale was considered beautiful, educated, loyal, compassionate, and refined. Many were surprised when she accepted the marriage proposal of Dr. Robert Greenhow, a quiet physician and historian, who worked in the U.S. State Department and married him on Tuesday, May 27, 1835. Their marriage record lists her as Miss Rose Mariea O’Neale. Through her husband, she came to meet the leading southern politicians of the day, including Jefferson Davis, who was to become the first and only president of the Confederate States of America.

The Greenhows had four daughters: Florence, Gertrude, Leila, and little Rose. Dr. Greenhow died in 1854, soon after little Rose's birth. As the country moved toward war, Greenhow continued to host parties for both southern and northern politicians, but she made her views clear, that she was a southerner first, last, and always. A young lieutenant from Virginia named Thomas Jordan knew that Greenhow was probably the best-placed southerner in Washington and, after meeting with her, he proposed that she spy for the Confederacy, acting on behalf of Gen. Beauregard and she accepted. On July 9 and 16, 1861, Greenhow passed on secret messages to Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard containing critical information regarding the 1st Bull Run (known in the South as the Battle of Manassas) campaign of Union General Irvin McDowel.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited Greenhow's information with securing victory at Manassas for the South. On August 11, 1861, she was able to send a report several pages long, detailing the complete Washington defense system. Every fort in the Washington area was described in detail, along with the number of guns, their caliber and range; weak spots in the earthworks; regiments identified by state origin and their strengths; the level of troop morale; number of officers and their experience; the political beliefs of the officers; the number of muskets issued to each regiment and the number of shots and grape issued for each weapon; the number of mules for freight-hauling available and the condition of the animals; itemized lists of wagons, ambulances and stores for each fort. 

This was the kind of information she delivered. She was arrested as a spy by Allan Pinkerton on August 23, 1861. Mrs. Greenhow was kept a prisoner in her home, which had been labeled "a clearing house for spies." Her home was officially made her prison by government decree on August 30, 1861. When guards discovered a Confederate plot to free Greenhow, the government acted, ordering her and her daughter, "Little Rose" transferred to the Old Capitol Prison on January 18, 1862. For five months, she and her daughter remained at the Old Capitol Prison, however, even her imprisonment did not deter her from continuing to provide information to Southern loyalists. This prompted Federal authorities to banish her south.

On June 2, the New York Times recorded her release and removal under close custody. On June 6, 1862, she and her daughter arrived in Richmond to wildly cheering crowds. Asked by the government to act as a courier to Confederate diplomats, she assumed the role of blockade runner and traveled to England and France. In September 1864, she boarded a blockade-runner, the Condor, bound for North Carolina. Spied by a Union gunboat in the waters just off the coast near Wilmington, North Carolina, the Condor raced ahead up the Cape Fear River hoping to avoid confrontation. Instead, the Condor ran aground on a sandbar. Desperate to escape, Greenhow boarded a lifeboat that capsized in the rough water and drowned.

In the afternoon of Saturday, October 1, 1864, her body was carried in a long funeral procession through the streets of Wilmington, a guard of honor accompanying her horse-drawn casket which was draped with a huge Confederate flag. Thousands of soldiers marched behind it, led by Admiral Hampden and many other Confederate officers, to Oakdale Cemetery. A squad of Confederate soldiers fired their muskets over her grave as the guns of Fort Fisher boomed in her honor. 

Note: A great white stone was later placed above her grave, purchased by the Ladies Memorial Association of Wilmington. On it bears the legend: "This monument commemorates the deeds of Mrs. Rose Greenhow, a bearer of dispatches to the Confederate government. She was drowned off Fort Fisher from the blockade runner ‘Condor' while attempting to run the blockade on September 30, 1864. Her body was washed ashore at Fort Fisher Beach and brought to Wilmington."
 (bio by: Debbie)

Family links:
  John O'Neal (1770 - 1817)
  Eliza Henrietta Hamilton O'Neal

  Robert Greenhow (1800 - 1854)*

  Rose Greenhow Duvall (1853 - ____)*

*Calculated relationship

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