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Temptress for W.Va. tourism
Question of the Day
On one hand, there are battlefields, on the other, there's Belle Boyd, teenage temptress and Confederate spy.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is betting Boyd is the sexier Civil War story and that tourists will want to visit the Martinsburg, W.Va., home of the notorious "siren of the South" who used her feminine charms to spy on Union soldiers for the Confederacy.
The Belle Boyd House in the state's Eastern Panhandle is one of 150 lesser-known Civil War destinations that the commission is highlighting on a 13-state map that was released last week, pointing the way to that footnote to history and plenty more.
Timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the war, the guide is aimed at helping states cash in on the growing popularity of cultural heritage tourism and to get those tourists beyond such well-trod battlefields as Gettysburg, Pa., and Antietam, Md.
"Our story here is that there are a lot of jewels in Appalachia, and a lot of great stories about families and communities that we should stop and take a look at," said Earl F. Gohl, co-chairman of the federal agency.
The map and guide were released at Independence Hall in Wheeling, where some Virginians were so horrified by talk of secession when the war erupted in 1861 that they held their own constitutional convention and formed the breakaway state of West Virginia two years later.
Boyd, who once boasted in a letter to a cousin of her 106-pound "beautiful" form, supplied Union secrets to Stonewall Jackson, who made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp.
She was arrested and imprisoned twice, then released while suffering from typhoid. The Confederacy sent her to England as a courier, but she was captured before she could complete her mission. Historians say she eventually married a Union naval officer and lived in England until 1866.
Boyd published a memoir and worked as an actress, then became a lecturer. She died in Wisconsin in 1900 while on a tour touting her adventures.
Her story is one of many that are often missed, Mr. Gohl said. The guide hopes to draw back the curtain on her house and other locales.
Those include Mississippi's Corinth Contraband Camp, where slaves fleeing Southern plantations sought refuge with federal troops. Union Gen. Grenville Dodge took them on as teamsters, cooks, laborers and, eventually, security officers. That led to the creation of the 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment of African Descent.
Then, Mr. Gohl says, there is Altoona, Pa., where President Lincoln convened the states' governors and consulted on the Emancipation Proclamation.
The guide will be a free insert in the spring issue of American Heritage magazine, and copies have been distributed to tourism agencies in West Virginia and the 12 other Appalachian states - Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Edwin Grosvenor, editor-in-chief of American Heritage, said the map has more information and more stories than many magazines, and those stories help make the Civil War relevant to new generations. Many schools have stopped teaching about the conflict, he said, and visits to even famous destinations such as Gettysburg have dropped during the past few decades.
"People really are forgetting about the Civil War," Mr. Grosvenor said. "The sacrifices the people made - the women, the children, the elderly - they're really extraordinary. ... It was so cataclysmic and affected so many people, and it's important to remember that."
Although there is enough Civil War history to fill a library, Mr. Gohl said, relatively little focuses on the lives and lifestyles of noncombatants between 1861 and 1865. The commission and the states opted to focus on farms and factories, railroads and restored houses, even a sprawling cave where soldiers hid out for three years.
"There's another story here - how people lived, how culture developed," Mr. Gohl said.
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