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Primary Source of the Month

General Stuart's New Aid, Harper's Weekly, 1863

General Stuart's New Aid (click to enlarge)
Harper's Weekly, April 4, 1863
By permission of HarpWeek, LLC

Women also served as spies during the Civil War. This cartoon, which appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1863, depicts female spy Antonia Ford. Ford's father was a prominent merchant who lived in Fairfax, Virginia and her brother was a lieutenant in Confederate J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry unit. Ford began her spying career in 1861, after Union forces occupied her home. She would listen to the Union's meetings and then make the dangerous journey to report the information to Stuart's forces. Stuart commissioned Ford as an honorary aide-de-camp for her services.

In 1863 Confederate lieutenant John Mosby captured Union general Edwin Stoughton when he was sleeping in the Ford home. Union forces suspected Ford had provided information that enabled the capture. Union officials sent another female spy, Frankie Abel, to Ford's house, posing as a refugee from New Orleans. Abel befriended Ford, then used the information she learned to expose her as a spy. Ford was arrested and held prisoner until a prisoner exchange on May 20, 1863. After Ford was released from prison she continued spying until she was arrested again. Prison was harmful to her health but it also allowed Ford to meet her husband, her arresting officer, Major Joseph Willard. Willard resigned from his commission and the two moved to Washington D.C. Ford never fully recovered from her time in prison and died in 1871 at the age of 33.

Harper's Weekly featured this cartoon on April 4, 1863 after Ford's first arrest. The cartoon depicts Ford riding towards a Confederate camp to report new information. The caption quotes Ford's commission from Stuart. Ford's story shows both the heroics and the hardships of spies as they assisted the causes they believed in.