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tv   The Civil War Socialite Secessionist Spy  CSPAN  November 26, 2021 5:01pm-5:46pm EST

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online store. browse through our latest collection of c-span products, apparel, books, home decor and accessories. there's something for every c-span fan, and every purchase helps support our non-profit operation. shop now or any time at >> well, hello and welcome to this history happy hour on rose o'neal, socialite, successionests and spy. and as i start out this talk i want to begin with just a few questions. what motivates someone to risk everything for a cause? is it strong passions? is it a reckless nature, a longing for adventure or a desire for notoriety?
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and i think when we look at rose o'neal greenow, all of these may have been motivating factors in her life. this is the earliest picture of rose greenow. here she is in her 30s. when she first came to washington, d.c., though, she was about 15. this was in 1828. and rose's widowed mother, eliza, had sent her and her sister, ellen, to live with their aunt. and mariah ran a boardinghouse, hills boardinghouse, and it was located then old brick capital building. this is the building the u.s. congress had used after the british burned the u.s. capitol
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in 1814. they primarily catered to southern politicians, and one of those was john c. calhoun from south carolina. rose formed a lifelong friendship with calhoun. and as she did with many politicians in washington, d.c., calhoun was among the closest. rose stood out for her beauty. she had thick, long, dark hair, chestnut eyes, a pale olive complexion. a good figure, so she was curvaceous and also flirtatious, which attracted many men to her including married men. their wives were not too happy about that. we don't know really anything about rose's education. presumably she had acquired one before she came to d.c.
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i'll mention she came from montgomery county, maryland, where her family owned a small plantation. rose's eldest sister, suzanna, had married a man from a prestigious family in georgetown. so when rose and ellen come to d.c., suzanna kind of provides entry into upper levels of d.c. society. in the boardinghouse rose is immersed in a world of politics. within five years rose's sister ellen married james madison who's a nephew of dolly madison. so this is another avenue into d.c. high society. rose herself did not marry until may 1835 when she was 22 years
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old. she married dr. robert greenhouse. i can show you the church in which they were married, st. patrick catholic church. now, robert was not a catholic. he was an episcopalian. robert has an interesting connection, at least to me, because he was a richmonder. he was born in richmond. in fact, his mother was killed in the tragic theater fire. robert was educated at william and mary and then went to nautical school in new york. but his true passion was culture and voyage. he spoke spanish, french, german and italian. so when he came back to the states, he got a job working as a translator and a librarian in the state department in washington, d.c. robert was 13 years older than
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rose, but they do seem to have had this very close marriage, really kind of a partnership. and rose very often is the one who is kind of pushing them forward in society. they had a total of eight children, but tragically five of them died quite young, so there are only three girls that survived rose. they were invited by martin van buren to visit him in the white house. they threw a party to honor the supreme court chief justice roger b. tawny and of course maintain this friendship as i mentioned earlier with calhoun. robert became quite close to him
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as well. rose was very much a staunch southerner and someone who believed in slavery. she unashamedly voiced opinions about the inferiority of, quote, the negroes. she had no problems believing that she was far superior as a white person. she was very much a product of her culture. and it could be that her father's death had also influenced her because her father who was a man who liked to drink in crowds one night was coming home very, very late, was thrown from his horse, and his enslaved body servant, a man named jacob, was accused of finishing him off, of striking a blow to his head with a rock. even though jacob protested, declared his innocence, he'd gone for help, he hadn't fled, but he was executed nonetheless.
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rose herself gave credit to her -- for her views to john c. calhoun. and this is what she wrote. she said i am a southern woman born with revolutionary blood in my veins, and my first crude ideas of safe and federal matters receive consistency and shape from the best and wisest man of the century, john c. calhoun. and even before the war rose was involved in entry to aid the expansion of slavery. in the summer of 1849 general narcisco came to robert and talked about his plan to invade cuba and give to the united states so it could be admitted as a slave state. she was so intrigued she
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arranged to have one-on-one breakfast with lopez, and then she recorded all this to john c. calhoun who was very enthusiastic about this endeavor. president taylor, though, quashed the expedition. he felt like it violated neutrality. but i think that shows you a little bit about rose and just how she was very much involved in what her husband was doing, very much involved in trying to expand slavery. rose by the time of the civil war was widow. her marriage ended rather tragically and rather suddenly. robert was off working as a law agent for the newly created u.s. land commission in san francisco, california, when he was coming home one day. he fell off a plank road with a drop about 6 feet. he injured his leg and hip on february 17, 1854. didn't really think a lot about this. it didn't seem like a life
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threatening injury. but within 6 weeks he was dead from infections. so he died on march 27th. how rose discovered this news is unknown. this is seven years before the telegram, seven years before western union. so she certainly didn't get the news instantly. it either came by letter, or perhaps she saw it in the newspaper. here is an account from the journal, march 31, talking about robert's death. rose upon learning of her husband's death made a trip out to san francisco, and she actually ended up suing the city and being awarded $10,000 in damages. additionally, the u.s. congress gave her $42,000 as compensation for robert's salaries and incidental expenses. now, despite these large settlements, you know, in a
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state of $52,000, which should have been sufficient for her to live on for some time, within three years rose was in dire financial straights. she did like to spend a lot and intertape on a grand scale, so that had something to do with it. she also may have had bad investments on stock. she was forced to rely on support. her eldest daughter florence had married moore who went out west and became a prosperous miner. he assisted her financially, and rose eventually moved into a house on west 15th street near the white house. now, one of rose's closest friends was james buchanan. her husband's death didn't change her activity in society.
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she was delighted by his victory in 1856, and this allowed for access to the highest levels of d.c. society. in spite of the fact rose is an adamant supporter of slavery and the south, she entertained both northerners and southerners. and a number of prominent northerners frequented her home. colonel darwin keyes who was a secretary to william scott, senator steward who was a new york senator and abolitionist, and senator henry wilson of massachusetts who was an abolitionist as well. and he was also a -- president of the military affairs committee. so he was in a powerful place, not a handsome man. he was described as having a
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launch paunch. he was also a married man, but it was rumored that he and rose did have an affair. and in the national archives there are over a dozen letters from what is supposed to have been or what is thought to have been henry wilson. he signed them with the letter "h." in these letters he expresses his love. he expresses his desire to be with her. he apologizes when he's not able to come to her home. he doesn't reveal any national secrets in these letters. now, i don't think it's a mystery that rose becomes a spy. so i'm getting a little ahead of the story, so i will mention there's some question about why wilson. did she actually get information out of him that she then relays to confederates? did she use his name simply to make her information sound more
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reliable? or as anne blackman, rose's biographer, argued was she trying to trap him because of his abolitionist views? i'll mention, too, there are some historians who don't believe these letters were written by henry wilson at all. and they attribute them to horace white who was in the war department. a bit of a mystery there. as the election of 1860 approached, it looked like rose was going to be in this prime position. she was going to be a good friend of the next president, it seems. she was close to joe lane who was considered, also with john brokenridge who became the candidate for the southern democrat and who was buchanan's vp. and rose was also the aunt of
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rose adell who had married stephen douglas and stephen douglas is the candidate for the northern democrat. of course none of that happens. abraham lincoln is elected. and in 30 years of democrat rule in d.c., rose despised lincoln. she referred to him as the beanpole and was certainly unhappy about lincoln's election. not only did abraham lincoln's election cause or lead to the breakup of the union as the deep south states after he wins, but the election divided rose's family. her niece and her husband stephen douglas who befriends lincoln even though prior to lincoln's election douglas was one of his rivals.
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her son-in-law becomes a captain in the u.s. army. and it's interesting, moore actually asked rose to help him. he wanted to be sent to ohio to raise a regiment. and he second degree rose to use her influence, and she did. she wrote to the secretary of treasury, salmon chase, and moore was able to do as he had hoped. now, rose was recruited as a spy in the spring of 1861 by captain thomas jordan. he was a left pointer. he was a quartermaster in the u.s. army, and he was planning to leave the army and side with the confederates. he wanted to create a spy ring, and he recruited rose to do that. and then taught her a cipher. and so this is the cipher here in the national archives.
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and he coordinated with her for her messages to be sent to his alias, which was thomas rayford. rose's home bim a meeting place for successionists. he had decided to stay in december, but she's also the sister of phoebe gates who was the -- one of the matrons during the war. one other member of the spy ring was a 15-year-old girl named betty duval. and it's betty who's actually the one to deliver rose's fateful message. now, rose, on july 9th sends a message to general boregard.
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he sent the general to confirm this, and then on july 16th, rose gave that conifer haitian. she said the march was scheduled for tonight. so beauregard automatically wired jefferson davis with this news. jefferson davis then was able to send joseph johnson from the valley to reinforce beauregard. rose was not in the city when the battle of manassas bull run was fought on july 21st. she was actually in new york city. she had gone to take her daughter, lela, to board a steamer. she decided to send lela, her
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middle daughter -- her middle surviving daughter, i should say, out west to join florence. and she kept with her only her youngest little rose. but when rose returned to the city, she saw this as a confederate victory and a victory that the women had helped to achieve. she said the southern women of washington are the cause of the defeat of the grand army. they are entitled to the laurels won by the brave defenders of our soil and institutions. they have told beauregard when to strike. so that really reveals how proud rose was of what she had done. and she continued to send messages to beauregard. she sent nine messages, and all one of them was a map around. and rose also was outspoken in her hatred of lincoln.
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she was obviously pro-confederate, so in this sense she did nothing to kind of keep her identity hidden. it wasn't like elizabeth van lou who kind of played the game. and because of that her neighbors became very suspicious. they watched comings and goings from her home. so they reported to the assistant secretary of war, thomas scott. and scott then called in allan pinkerton who was kind of the head of security for mcclellan's army and had run a detective agency. on august 23rd pinkerton arrested rose as she returned home from a walk. and rose and other members of the spy ring were jailed in her home. one of those was eugenia philips. of course little rose is there with her. so they're all under this kind of house arrest.
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and throughout this rose continues to send out messages. sometimes she'd prescribe guards to get this done. she claim she wove tapistries with yarns that had color coded meanings. i'm not sure if that is absolutely accurate or not, but she did manage to keep getting messages out. and in the official records rose was charged with being a spy, and, quote, furnishing the insurge want generals with important information relevant to the movement of union forces. rose, another thing she did was to make use of the press. and she in november had written a letter to the secretary of state william seward. remember they were friends. and in this letter she complained about her poor treatment, compared herself to marie antoinette.
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and rose wrote her situation was even worse. for seven days i and my little child was absolutely at the mercy of men without character or responsibility. rose was able to smuggle a copy of this letter because seward didn't respond to it, so rose smuggled a copy of this letter out. friends were able to get it in the richmond newspaper, the richmond wig. and the wig had a lot of fun kind of making jobs at steward and talking about his reaction to this letter. the paper reported on rose and the fact she was continuing to get out information, which really made pinkerton even more frustrated. he had the windows of her house
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boarded up. he went up in and made sure there was not a scrap of paper see so she wouldn't have anything to write on. and the paper is of course reporting on all this. and here's harpers weekly january 18, 1862. they report that of course she's been carrying on secret correspondence with the enemy and that she was going to be sent to fort lafayette. that's a bit incorrect. instead rose was sent to old capital prison. and here's a photograph of rose with her daughter there. now, old capital prison had been her aunt's boardinghouse. old capital prison was rose's first home in d.c., and it becomes her last home. now, by the time she is placed in the prison, this place is run-down. it's dirty. initially it had been used to house confederate soldiers. now it's a place for disloyal
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citizens, for spies, for blockade runners, for deserters. rose was placed in a room on the upper floor that overlooked a courtyard. bars were placed on her windows. and throughout this rose responds in a very hostile, imperious, theatrical manner. she treats the guards as if they're servants. she looks down on the other prisoners. she does everything to aggravate them. so as a result of that, the u.s. officers who are overseeing the prison, you know, don't take kindly to this. so they do give out passes to people who want to come see the famous spy. matthew brady or one of his photographers were allowed to come in and take pictures of her. so this photodprf and then this other one right here, which was very similar. so this kind of thing happened.
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so he had created a two-man u.s. commission relating to state prisoners. he came to visit her on march 17th and told her basically she should refrain from theatrics and insults, he would see she was quietly released. that's not what rose wanted. rose wanted justice, and she demanded that, so she ended upcoming before the commission for a hearing. the other member of the commission was edwards, a new york superior court judge. and they had been releasing a stream of prisoners on the condition that they take the oath of allegiance to keep out
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of the fight and refrain from providing aid or comfort to the enemy. so pretty simple. and he made it clear to rose that's what lincoln wanted. he had said it had been proposed that we make this suggesttion to you and see if you'd like the accept it. you would think after being in prison for seven months rose would be ready to take this offer, but, no, she was not ready to back down. and she said in other words, you mean to tell me if i do not accept this i will be forcibly exiled? and that's what she wanted to make the lincoln government do, to forcibly send her south. and she said it is exiling me to use any force to send me south from my home. so then the commissioners proceeded to question her, and they ask her about the cipher that had been found in her home. and she said she had never used it. they ask her about letters in
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which she had reported troop numbers, and she said she didn't recall them. she wouldn't swear it, but she thought that they were false. she said she was not accountable for her guests. and then as she gives this very intriguing statement, she says if mr. lincoln's friends shall pour into my ears such important information, am i to be held responsible for all that? could it be presumed i cannot use that which was given to emoo by others? if i do not, i would be unjust to myself and my friends. it is said that a woman cannot keep a secret. i am a woman, and a woman usually tells all she knows. well, after a while the commission decided, okay, we'll send her back to old capital prison. so she went back to the prison. and then on april 3rd, rose received word that the commission would exile her. so she wrote to the governor,
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military governor-general woodson and said, okay, i will accept banishment under protest, but i won't promise that i'll stay gone for the entire war. i might come back before that. then she asked for clemency, time and freedom to make the necessary arrangements adding of course if this is granted me, break open the treasury or do any small act which you may suppose comes within my limited power to perform it. well, that certainly did not please the military governor, so he just ignored it. and then finally rose got tired of waiting, so on april 14th she said, sir, i am ready to leave the prison to go south according to the decree of the commissioners to that effect.
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so she acquiesced. and by this point i think the government was tired of dealing with her. she was not freed until may 31st at 2:00. so by that point she was then sent the flag of truth vote to norfolk and then onto city point, and by rail she came from petersburg up to richmond. and it was rose -- little rose, and there was also another prisoner who was released with her. she had been imprisoned for ten months, five in her house and then over four in old capital prison. now, when rose arrived in richmond it was on june 4th. it was right after the battle of seven pines. the first -- the battle right outside of richmond and mcclellan had gotten almost to the gates of the city bringing
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his massive army. so the city was filling up with wounded. it's in this environment rose arrived. jefferson davis did come to visit her, and according to rose in her book she said that davis told her but for you there would have been no battle of bull run. now, whether he actually said it like that or not, who knows. he certainly did give her credit. he did appreciate her service. in fact, he had judah benjamin pull 2,500 from the secret service fund for rose as an acknowledgement of the valuable and patriotic service rendered to you by our cause. no, by you to our cause. there we go. so he was grateful for that. he also wrote to marina and told her madam changed and has an air of nerves shaken by mental
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torture. rose spent about a year in richmond, and there's very little information on what she did while she was here. mary chezna kind of gives the indication there was a lot of gossip about rose, that the way she had acquired information in d.c. through affairs and sexual favors was really looked down upon. for a woman in richmond it doesn't appear greeted her with open arms. it's thought rose spent most of the time that she was in richmond shaping the journal that she had kept as a prisoner, shaping that into a -- into a book. and then jefferson davis kind of in an attempt to get recognition decided that rose might make a pretty good emissary, that if he sent her over to europe, maybe
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she could do something that the confederate commissioners had not been able to accomplish. so rose left for europe on august 5, 1863, leapt out of the port of wilmington, north carolina. she brought little rose with her. and she brought 480 bales of cotton this from the government. this cotton was to be used by white gold to pay for her expenses while she was in europe. and she spent about a year in europe, a lot of time spent in london but also time in paris as as well. and during this year she signs a contract with a publisher and ordinary to her majesty and had her book "my imprisonment in the first year of abolition rules in washington." it took about three months.
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rose, while she was in england, arranged the release of a naval officer who had been taken from alabama. she worked with charles francis adams who was the u.s. minister to the court of st. james to get that accomplished. she decided to put little rose in a convent. the convent in paris, which is now the museum. so if you've been there to look at the masterpieces, you have been where little rose spent some time. one thing that rose was able to arrange was a meeting with napoleon iii, and anne blackman makes a point in her book, that the french emperor agreed to see an american born woman for
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policy talks. this is an unusual role for a woman at the time, and here she is meeting with the emperor. she doesn't use flattery on him. she tried to persuade him to recognize the confederacy. when napoleon questioned the south military strategy, and he also didn't want to act unilaterally. he would not act unless great britain did, and rose did not have any success in convincing palmerson, and she did not have any success in convincing palmerson to do that. she thought of going to rome to get recognition and finally decided against that. so on july 30th she went to talk to little rose and to say good-bye to her because she had
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decided to return to the confederacy. and he wrote there's a desperate struggle in which my people are engaged is ever present, and i long to be near to share in the triumph or to be buried under the ruins without home, without nationality. so on august 10th, rose boarded the condor which was a sleek blockade runner and left out of the spanish port and then went to -- and halifax. and the goal was to make it back to wilmington. about 3:00 a.m. the condor encounter blockaders off the coast of fort fisher. the nippon fired a broadside and
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seeing another ship ahead and thinking it was another blockader swerved to miss it, and captain wright ran the ship aground upon a shoal. the shipwright saw had actually been the wreck of another blockade runner. the ship is in this position where it's stuck on the shoal, but it was protected by the gun support. so captain wright was not all together worried. he felt like he would be able to once the tide kind of came in he would be able to get the condor into port in wilmington. but rose was panicked. she was terrified she'd be captured again. she'd already spent almost 10 months in prison and she did not want that to happen. she was a persuasive woman and a woman who typically got her way.
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the captain agreed to lower a boat. she sent a pilot, a couple of crewmen with the boat with the officer rose had negotiated for his release. and then judge holcombe who was a confederate commissioner to canada. so they were all lowered into the sea, and about the time almost instantly when the boat hit the ocean, there was a big swell that came up and capsized it. now, everyone accept rose was able to make it back to the boat. rose wasn't. and i think if you look at this picture of her, you get one idea. part of the problem was her clothing. she's wearing a very heavy, heavy dress, so that weighted her down. and in addition to this, she had a pouch with dispatches for --
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from the commissioner's mason and slidel and also in that pouch she had 400 gold sovereigns that was the equivalent about $2,000 at the time. these coins probably weighed around 6 pounds. and this pouch was attached to rose's neck by a chain. so she is weighted down with that gold. and because of that was unable to make it back to the ship. now, her body was discovered a few hours later by a confederate sentry. he's said to be the shortest man with the longest name in the confederate army. o'connor evidently found the body, saw this pouch, looked inside it, saw all the gold and buried it because that's what
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you do when you find a treasure. he had planned to go back later and get it for himself, but there are two reasons or two stories about why he didn't. one said he just got afraid he'd be discovered, so he unburied it and reported it to his commanding officer. the other story is that when he found out who the body was, who the woman was, that she was a heroine of the confederacy and bringing the money, she decided to turn it in. regardless of that the money does end up being turned in. and it was thomas taylor supervising the salvage of the nighthawks. that was the other that had run aground or wrecked. thomas taylor was the one that discovered rose's body on the beach. and he in writing about this said a remarkably handsome woman she was with features which
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shows character. rose's body was taken to hospital number 4. there was an honor guard stationed at the door. people came by to view or to pay their respects to rose. there was a masse held for her and then she was buried at oakdale cemetery. in 1888 the association erected a marble cross at her grave. so there we have it. so if we think about rose as a spy, she did that great service before the battle of manassas bull run. beauregard when he wrote about this years later mentioned that he had other -- had that same information from other sources. so she wasn't the only source of
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information, but she did help to confirm and confirm when this movement was going to take place. so that was valuable information. she was very open about her beliefs and what she did, so she wasn't as effective as she could have been. where she was effective was in the pr department. she was able to generate a lot of sympathy, a lot of support in great britain. and in france there were people that truly admired her. she didn't succeed in getting recognition for the confederacy, probably couldn't have. but she was, you know -- this was at least a possibility perhaps for this confederate with her. so there you have it. i did have a few questions that in. one was about the -- and the
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jackal and whether that was accurate. i haven't seen it so i cannot speak to the hat. there was a question about little rose and what happened to her. she did end upcoming back to the states after the -- after the war ended. she went onto marry a man who was a westpoint graduate and an officer in the u.s. army even though they did eventually get divorced. i believe she had one child. there was a question about what happened to the men who had provided rose with information. as far as wilson went, henry wilson, there were no repercussions for him even though they did find all those love letters in rose's house and knew that he was connected to rose. wilson continued to serve on the military as chair of the military affairs committee. and in 1872 he becomes general
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grant's or president grant's vice president. so nothing really happened to him. when pinkerton was spying on rose there was a military officer -- pinkerton ended up following and then the officer had pinkerton arrested. pinkerton then was able to smuggle out a note. in the end, this officer who is not named was arrested. so there were -- there were some people involved who were arrested. and a lot of the women in the spy ring ended up being exiled like rose. well, thank you for joining me for this history happy hour on rose o'neal greenow. and as always if you're interested in our other programs that we have coming up, please visit our website at
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