From Spies! Women in the Civil War
Like Harriet Tubman, Nancy Hart never learned to read and write. Like Belle Boyd, she was a teeanager and an expert rider. She also killed a Union soldier.
Just 15 years old when the Civil War started, Hart lived in the western part of Virginia. A land of narrow valleys and rugged mountains, western Virginia was separated from the rest of Virginia by the Allegheny Mountains. There were no plantations and very few slaves. When Virginia seceded from the Unions, many people in western Virginia objected -- so much so that they formed a new state, known today as West Virginia. Although West Virginia joined the Union, there were many Southern sympathizers in the area, and Confederate troops did not give up easily.
Nancy Hart and her family supported the South. When Hart's brother-in-law was killed, she left home and joined the Moccasin Rangers, a group of pro-Southern guerillas. She could ride and shot with the best of men. Sturdy and fearless, Nancy Hart rode on guerilla raids.
After one raid, Hart was captured and taken to the Union camp. She charmed the soldiers and fooled them into thinking she was harmless. They released her.
That was a mistake, because Hart had spent her time in the Union camp learning everything she could about the troop strength and plans to defeat the guerillas.
The Mocasson Rangers conducted a series of raids until the summer of 1862 when their leader was killed. The group disbanded, and Hart married Joshua Douglas, a former Ranger. Enlisting in the Confederate army, Douglas went off to fight. Hart went into the mountains to spy on the Union troops.
Posing as a simple country girl, Hart spent about a year gathering military information. Then one day a Union soldier recognized her. Arrested again, Hart was taken to Summersville, a town occupied by Union troops.
Once again Hart charmed the Union soldiers. In particular, she charmed her guard. One day she talked him into letting her hold his gun. Smiling and talking, she raised the gun and pretended to take aim. Then she shot, killing the guard with a bullet through his heart. Racing inside, Hart jumped on the Union commander's fastest horse and galloped away. Union troops pursued her, but she outrode them.
A week later, just before sunrise, Hart returned to Summersville. This time she came with about 200 Confederate cavalrymen and chased the Union troops out of the town. In the process, Hart and the Confederates captured several Union officers and sent them to Libby Prison in Richmond, VA.
After the war, Hart lived a quiet life with her husband on a mountain farm. When she died in 1902, Hart was buried on a mountain crag. Her grave was marked with a pile of stones. Years later, her granddaughter went looking for Hart's grave, but Hart's grave was gone. Instead, a beacon tower stood on the spot, which had been leveled by a bulldozer.