Thursday, July 27, 2017

Elizabeth Stiles~Union Spy

1862, late October. The day started out as any other in the life of Elizabeth W. Stiles. Household chores to complete, her three, adopted children and her husband to care for, until a gang of men arrived on the Stiles farm.
Union uniform. 
Confederate uniform
The men, dressed in Union uniforms, approached Jacob Stiles and his friend Mr. Becker (or Baker). George Todd stepped up to Mr. Stiles and asked him where his politics lay. Mr. Stiles answered the man—Union. Todd raised his gun and fatally shot Jacob Stiles. Then to be sure the deed was complete, a former neighbor of the Stiles’ stepped to Jacob’s prone body, placed the muzzle of his gun to his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Elizabeth ran for the house and her children. But leader of the marauding gang, Charles Quantrill, and a few of his men, cornered Elizabeth in her home. As one of the men placed his pistol to her temple, Quantrill halted him, saying Elizabeth was too pretty to shoot. Quantrill’s gang left without any further killing.                            

Fearing for her children’s safety, Elizabeth moved her family to        
Boston Library, Fort Leavenworth
Fort Leavenworth. There she received a letter from General James H. Lane, Kansas Senator and friend of President Abraham Lincoln. The letter stated that President Lincoln had important work for Elizabeth to do. She accepted, moved to Washington D.C., put two of her children in boarding school, and took her daughter Clara (13) with her as she carried out her duties as a spy for the Union Army.
President Lincoln
Dressed as a pipe-smoking elderly, Southern woman, Elizabeth Stiles, a nurse and teacher before her career as a spy, traveled throughout the South gathering information for the North. Part of her disguise included her daughter, Clara, playing the part of Elizabeth’s granddaughter. The pair claimed to be searching for Clara’s father, a wounded Confederate soldier.
Elizabeth was arrested in Missouri on the suspicion of being a Union spy. During her incarceration, she convinced General Sterling Price that she was a Confederate spy instead of a Union spy and he personally equipped both Elizabeth and Clara with better horses, firearms, and supplies before he sent them on their way.

Throughout the year and half that Elizabeth and Clara worked as spies, they collected valuable information that contributed to the victory of the North, but more than the contribution of the information, Elizabeth’s story shows how the strength, fortitude, and intelligence of one woman can help change the world.

Elizabeth and Clara retired in November of 1864 after the President decided the pair had become too well known to the “rebel sympathizers”. 

She died July, 1898. When Elizabeth passed away, her beloved letter from President Abraham Lincoln was found among her belongings. A family member sold the letter to The Western Reserve Historical Society in the 1940's. 

If given the chance, would you be able to do this things Elizabeth did? Would you leave two of your children and put another in the path of danger? I admire Elizabeth for her bravery, but I'm not sure I'd make the same choice. How about you, what do you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and ideas.  


Award winning author, Michele K. Morris’s love for historical fiction began when she first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. She grew up riding horses and spending her free time in the woods of mid-Michigan. Married to her high school sweetheart, they are living happily-ever-after with their six children, three in-loves, and eight grandchildren in Florida, the sunshine state. Michele loves to hear from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and here, through the group blog, Heroes, Heroines, and History at


  1. My, oh my, what an extraordinary and brave woman. I'm not sure I could do what Elizabeth Stiles did even at the request of the President. Thank you for sharing this informative post.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Marilyn! I agree with you about not knowing if I could do what Elizabeth did. I wondered if her motivation was revenge for her husband's death, or a sense of patriotism, or what spurred her to make the choices she did. It's just fascinating to me.

  2. Wow!!! What a story. What I would like to know is how President Lincoln ever heard of her in the first place. I wouldn't think that offer would go to just anyone. How would he have heard? Great post, thank you!

    1. I agree, Connie, Elizabeth has a fascinating story. From what I read, it appears Elizabeth and her husband were acquainted with the Kansas senator who contacted the President. Also, before her husband died, she did a bit of local spying, so to speak, while she worked as a nurse. It seems she was good at extracting information from people and then she'd report it to the Union Army. Brave woman! Thank you for the comment, Connie!

  3. Wow! What a brave resourceful woman. Did you discover this doing research for -- maybe a Civil War spy novel???

    1. Lol, yep, Paula, I'm building a new heroine based on Elizabeth. :) She's so interesting that the character is easily taking shape! My HHH post next month is about the real-life man my new hero is based on. He's a Virginia born, (family) plantation owning, Union General. Yep, Union! People are so interesting! Thank you for the comment!