Born at Martinsburg, West Virginia, she was the oldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca Glenn Boyd. Her career as a spy occurred after a band of Union army soldiers tore down a confederate flag hung outside her home in 1861 and replaced it with a Union flag. To make matters worse, when one of the soldiers cursed at her mother, Belle was so angry that she shot him down. Though she was exonerated by a Board of Inquiry, Union sentries were posted around the home and at her father’s hotel in Front Royal, carefully scrutinizing her activities. Little did they know, she was watching and listening to the soldiers just as thoroughly. Listening to their talk and charming at least one of the officers into revealing military secrets, she passed on valuable information, via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, to Generals Turner Ashby and “Stonewall” Jackson during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862. For her contributions, Stonewall Jackson awarded her the Southern Cross of Honor and made her an honorary captain and aide-de-camp on his staff.
However, she was betrayed by her lover and arrested on July 29, 1862. Held for a month in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, she was exchanged a month later. She then went into exile with relatives but was again arrested in June 1863, this time spending several months in prison, before being released in December. Suffering from typhoid fever, she then went to England to try to regain her health in 1864. There, she met and married a Union naval officer named Samuel Wylde Hardinge who died in October 1866 when his ship went down.
She then became an actress in England before returning to the United States in 1869. that same year, she married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans and, after a divorce in 1884, married Nathaniel Rue High the next year. in 1886, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy. She died while touring in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin on June 11, 1900, at the age of 56.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.