Information about Elizabeth Van Lew and her home in Richmond, VA during
the Civil War.
Once located on the south side of Grace Street, between 23rd & 24th, this
beautiful mansion was the home to Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union spy in Richmond
during the Civil War. Her home was reputed to be the meeting place for other
Richmond Unionists, as well as a hiding place for escaped prisoners. Van Lew
made little effort to hide her Union proclivities, though why she was not
apprehended along with other known Unionists is not known. After the war, she
was appointed postmistress of Richmond by U. S. Grant, then President. She was
resented in Richmond, and died a destitute woman - her large fortune having been
expended in her wartime spy efforts. She is buried in Shockoe cemetery under a
large boulder donated by "Boston friends." Her home was demolished in
1911, and Bellevue Elementary School now stands in its place.
1863; prisoner's account of harsh treatment in
Richmond. Notes that while at the General Hospital (GH#1) he was
well-treated; at the tobacco warehouse he was not. Also notes that "a
lady named Van Lew" helped provide for him while in prison until she
was stopped by prison authorities
7/17/1883; "The Richmond Spy,"
excellent description of Elizabeth Van Lew's efforts and anecdotes about
the Richmond spy ring, Libby escape, etc. Extensive mention of Erasmus
Ross, Libby's clerk as a Van Lew spy.
4/20/1893, 4/27/1893, 5/4/1893; excerpts from
accounts of a Federal scout describing his encounter with John Van Lew,
Elizabeth's brother, at Cold Harbor, in which John Van Lew tells the scout
that if he can get a message to her, she will provide information from
Richmond. Also accounts meeting with a fleeing employee of John Van Lew,
in order not to serve in the Confederate army
9/28/1899; “A Union Man in Richmond” part eight of serialized account.
Describes the capture and execution of Timothy Webster, the Libby Prison
escape (mentions prisoners being aided by Van Lew, and good feeling amongst
the Unionists toward her), a shooting of a prisoner at Libby, “the clerk” of
Libby being involved in trading with the prisoners (Ross), and being shot at
while near Locust Alley. St. Charles Hotel mentioned.
Parker, David B. (72nd NY), Parker relates that
he was sent to the Van Lew house on April 3rd, 1865 to provide her
protection. Van Lew invites him to dinner where he meets several
"prominent Confederate officials", including Erasmus Ross, clerk
at Libby Prison. Continues with post-war details of Van Lew's service as
postmistress of Richmond.