- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

Women historically have been able to pry information from men, by one method or another, and in the War Between the States, this was of great significance.
The best-known female Confederate spy may be Rose O'Neal Greenhow. One of the youngest and most overlooked, however, is Mary "Mollie" Edwards Pultz of Berkeley County, part of Virginia until West Virginia entered the Union in 1863 a divided state, with splits even between members of the same family.
The German Pultz family sailed from Rotterdam, Holland, in the late 1730s, part of the thriving Swiss Palantinate group seeking territory in the New World. German spellings of the name varied, and Mollie's branch used the "Pultz" spelling.
Mollie was born in 1843 near Middleway, then in Virginia, in a tiny rural area two miles south of town on the Summit Point Road, presently State Road 480. Her family's home lay across the road from acreage known as the "Beargarden Property." Her parents were Nicholas and Elizabeth Edwards Pultz, and her older sister also was named Elizabeth. Nicholas died when Mollie was 11; little more is known of the family.
At the war's outbreak, Mollie was 17, a girl described by friends as "very beautiful; tall, fair and queenly in bearing and manner an amiable disposition that ingratiated her with those of all ages" and possessing a keen sense of humor.
In the Shenandoah Valley, a spy network had been organized by Lt. Col. Thomas Jordan, formerly a quartermaster in the U.S. Army, who resigned before the firing on Fort Sumter to join the Confederacy. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard had recruited Jordan (who also went by the name of Thomas John Rayford) to organize spies for assignment to Washington and eventually made him a brigadier general.
Traveling throughout the area, Jordan carefully noted who was considered loyal to the Union or sympathetic to the Confederacy. Through this type of informal enlistment, Mollie was recruited. Some historians conclude that men in the area were for the most part pro-Union, whereas a disproportionate number of women appear to have been pro-Confederacy. The women were rather successful at it.
In summer 1862, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Union Gen. Philip Sheridan pursued each other up and down the Valley between the appropriately named North Mountain and South Mountain. During Port Republic, Cedar Mountain and other smaller skirmishes, both sides took temporary residence throughout Berkeley County where Mollie and others of her age and sex struck up friendships with the young men of both armies.
Mollie was thus able to glean information from Yankee soldiers and pass it along in seemingly innocent notes to her friends in the Confederacy or to one of Jordan's subordinates. Union officials did suspect her and, lacking proof, kept her under surveillance. Ultimately, a message did fall into their hands that contained information that convinced the Union that she was, indeed, a spy.
She was arrested during a church service. Payne's Chapel is a small brick church on State Route 28, just southwest of Middleway, across the Opequon Creek, roughly 11 miles from Martinsburg, W.Va. The July 1862 Sunday was warm and sunny, and Mollie and her mother had ridden to church on horseback. Worship was in progress when a group of Yankee horsemen appeared. Striding into church, one announced, "That is she," and the 18-year-old was quickly taken into custody.
While one version of the story recounts that she had to ride double behind one of her captors, this was a practice frowned upon at the time. It is more plausible that she was allowed to keep her horse to accompany the soldiers to nearby Charles Town. There, she was lodged for the night at the home of a doctor, awaiting a Valley Branch train to Washington the next day.
In the capital, she was taken to the infamous Old Capitol Prison, which was also housing suspected Rebel spy Belle Boyd (who was there for 30 days from July 19 to Aug. 28, 1862, thus substantiating that the two were incarcerated at the same time, along with Greenhow).
Mollie and Belle Boyd, 19 at the time, came from vastly different lifestyles. Born in Martinsburg, Belle had been educated at Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore and had made her debut in Washington society in winter 1860-1861. Mollie, from a rural area, had little advanced formal education and was less worldly wise than Belle. Although both were ardently pro-Southern, it appears that Mollie was more circumspect in her activities than was the wildly popular Belle.
The two learned of each other through friendly guards and the prison grapevine, and a lively exchange of notes ensued. There were few women at the prison, so officials accorded them substantial latitude and placed the notes under their doors. An old friend came to Mollie's rescue. Ward Hill Lamon, with whom she had attended school in the Valley, had begun his law practice in an Illinois firm in which Abraham Lincoln was a member. Lamon had been made military marshal of the District of Columbia. He interceded in Mollie's behalf, and she was paroled. Responsible for her was Carleton Hughes, a former schoolteacher who had taught both Lamon and Mollie.
Mollie's espionage case never came to trial, and Hughes and his wife called on the young woman often. She was also a frequent guest in their home. While there, she met Joseph Riley, uncle of the famed "Hoosier poet" James Whitcomb Riley. The large Riley family had divided allegiances in the war, but Joseph was a strong Southern supporter. Friendship deepened into romance, and he and Mollie were married a year or so later.
The Rileys reared a family, ultimately moving in 1873 to Cherry Hill, one of the historical sites on Broad Street in Falls Church. Joseph was a prominent resident, a noted ornithologist, and he was instrumental in the incorporation of Falls Church as a city in 1875. Mollie died on March 6, 1927, at age 83, Joseph eight years earlier, and both are buried in Oakwood Cemetery there. The Southern heroine maintained family pride throughout her life, and her tombstone reflects her entire name: "Mary Edwards Pultz, Wife of Joseph S. Riley."
As for many others, little documented evidence exists of Mollie's activities. Rather, letters and stories told by her close friends, confidantes and family members have served to keep alive the legend of the young woman.
Martha Boltz is a writer in Northern Virginia.


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