Confederate spy and, later, Memphis philanthropist, Virginia Bethel Moon was a student at an Ohio girls’ school when the Civil War began. After initial resistance, school officials finally acquiesced to her demands and allowed her to leave school and join her mother in Memphis. Previously, Moon had supported the abolitionist cause, but after the war commenced, she became more sympathetic to the Confederacy.
In the early days of the war, her sister, Lottie Moon, had carried dispatches and papers from Memphis to Cincinnati disguised as an Irish washerwoman, and Ginny Moon also began to carry Confederate documents behind the Union lines and traveled to Canada on a mission for the Confederate army. She then disguised herself as an Englishwoman and entered the city of Washington where, according to legend, she rode in a carriage with Abraham Lincoln.
Moon frequently funneled important information about Union troop movements to General Nathan Bedford Forrest; she was said to have swallowed an important message to Forrest to prevent it from falling into Union hands. She crossed Union lines with supplies and medicines for Confederate troops and once disguised herself as a Union mourner accompanying a loved one’s coffin, which was in fact filled with medicine. She was imprisoned in New Orleans shortly before the end of the war.
After the surrender, Moon returned to Memphis and engaged in local philanthropic projects. When her African American cook died, Moon took in the woman’s child and raised him as her own son, one of the many orphans she raised. Moon became a familiar sight on Memphis streets, and many thought she carried a revolver hidden in her ever-present umbrella. An early supporter of women’s rights, Moon claimed to have voted in a Memphis election before woman suffrage. Moon died in 1925 in New York City.