Hart, Nancy (c. 1846–1902)

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Hart, Nancy (c. 1846–1902)

Confederate spy. Possibly born in 1846, probably in Virginia; died in 1902; married Joshua Douglas (a soldier turned farmer), around 1862.

Many of the unsung heroes of the Civil War were women and some were in the dangerous business of spying, among them Nancy Hart. She was born around 1846 and raised in the western part of Virginia, where there were no plantations and few slaves, but her parents were nevertheless Southern sympathizers. Hartwas still a teenager when her brother-inlaw was killed inbattle, promptingher to leave homeand join a group of pro-Southern guerrillas dubbed the Moccasin Rangers. A sharpshooter and an excellent equestrian, Hart had no difficulty keeping pace with the men on raids, but she also capitalized on society's "weaker sex" attitudes when necessary. Captured during one raid and taken to a Union camp, she lulled her captors into thinking she was harmless. They let her go, but not before she had committed to memory vital information about troop strength and battle strategy which she then shared with her compatriots.

Following the death of their leader in 1962, the Moccasin Rangers disbanded, and Hart married a fellow soldier, Joshua Douglas. When her husband enlisted in the Confederate army and went off to fight, Hart took to the mountains where she began spying on the Union troops. After a year under cover, she was caught, arrested, and taken to the Union-occupied town of Summersville. Once again, she charmed her guard, convincing him to let her hold his gun. With the weapon in her possession, she shot him through the heart, then mounted the Union commander's horse and rode off, leaving her pursuers in the dust. She returned a week later accompanied by 200 Confederate horse soldiers who swept the town clean of Union troops.

Following the war, Hart and her husband retired to the mountains and took up farming. She died in 1902 and was buried in a mountain crag marked by stones. Years later, when her granddaughter tried to locate the grave, it was gone, replaced by a beacon tower. There is at least one extant photograph of Hart, housed in the West Virginia State Archives. It was taken during one of her imprisonments, supposedly at the request of a smitten Union soldier who wanted a keepsake. Hart had initially refused to pose, claiming she did not have the proper clothes, but the determined soldier outfitted her with a borrowed dress and a chapeau fashioned from a Union soldier's hat done up with feathers and ribbons. Despite the finery, Hart appears grim-faced.


Coleman, Penny. Spies. Betterway Books, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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