Belle Edmondson is famous for smuggling goods and information through Union lines around Memphis during the Civil War. Born into a large family in Pontotoc, Mississippi, in 1840, she moved with her family to Holly Springs in 1856, attending Franklin Female College, and then to Shelby County, Tennessee, in 1860. In 1862 she worked as a nurse, tending Confederate soldiers injured at Shiloh.
The diary Edmondson kept in 1863–64 reveals the tension between the everyday life of a young woman of some means and the new demands of wartime. On one hand, Edmondson recorded the typical activities in a fairly wealthy southern household—sewing and visiting, courting, praying and attending church, and dancing and playing cards. On the other hand, Edmondson recorded her support for the Confederacy, criticizing Union military men, discussing escaped slaves, and above all worrying about the safety of her family and friends. Religious and military discussions often intermingled: “I worship Jeff Davis and every Rebel in Dixie.” The diary also offers intriguing information about wartime travel, as she was concerned about military forces, strangers, and the rising and falling of creeks and rivers. She mixed wartime hardships with the unhappiness of her personal life in a short tribute to the persistence of women: “We have had a miserable day. I am inclined to think woman can drink to the dregs any cup of trouble which is given her.”
A few 1864 diary entries mention Edmondson’s work smuggling contraband goods—clothing, items for Confederate uniforms, money, and letters—through Union lines in Memphis. In one, she noted that she had “brought a great deal through the lines this eve.” On another occasion she pinned several articles of clothing inside her hoop skirt and “all my buttons, brass buttons, Money & c in my bosom.” Union forces arrested some of her friends for smuggling in March 1864 and decided to arrest her later in the spring. Edmondson thus fled the Memphis area in favor of Waverley Plantation near Columbus.
Edmondson died in 1873.
- Catherine Clinton, Tara Revisited: Women, War, and the Plantation Legend (1995)
- Belle Edmondson Diary, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Belle Edmondson, A Lost Heroine of the Confederacy: The Diaries and Letters of Belle Edmondson, ed. Loretta and William Galbraith (1990)
- Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (1996)
- Elizabeth D. Leonard, All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies (1999)