Nov. 1, 2021

40: Elizabeth Van Lew

40: Elizabeth Van Lew

The year is 1861 and America is in the grips of a bloody Civil War that will change it forever. In Richmond, the capital of the new Confederate States, Southern Belles and Ladies are sewing uniforms, throwing fundraising galas, and nursing injured soldiers, all with the support of young female slaves. They can’t go onto the battlefield but they’re doing the best they can to support their husbands, brothers, sweethearts, and fathers. 

But in the middle of all this Southern charity is one woman who separates herself from the pack, choosing to visit the Union prisoners in Libby Prison rather than the injured Confederates in the hospitals. She takes them books, food, and anything else that could comfort them, despite the fact that as a wealthy white Southerner, she is the natural enemy of the Yankee. 

And because she looks the part – expensive clothes, genteel accent, black servants – no one thinks to question her charity. That is their first mistake. Because this woman is not like her peers. She is not a loyal Southerner, nor is she pro-Slavery. Her name is Elizabeth Van Lew, and, by the end of the war, Ulysses S. Grant will call her the “source of the most valuable information received from Richmond during the war.”

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