“Beautiful Deception” Exhibit at CSS Neuse


Spying is sometimes known as the world’s second oldest profession. Nineteenth century notions about a woman’s place and capabilities set the stage for hundreds of women to become spies during the American Civil War. “Beautiful Deception” is an exhibit at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center through January 2020 about some fabled Civil War era spies.


Details of the lives of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Emeline Pigott and Elizabeth Van Lew are examined. There is no additional charge to view this new exhibit.


“I am so excited to share the stories of women who played a significant role in contributing to the war effort in a creative way,” said Program Coordinator Rachel Kennedy.


Many women felt compelled to assist with the war effort beyond nursing and making clothes for soldiers. The exact number of women who served as spies during the Civil War is unknown, but estimates are in the hundreds. Female spies gathered information about troop locations, movements, artillery, supplies, generals in command, and headquarters locations, and also smuggled money, medicine, clothing and ammunition.


On display in the “Beautiful Deception” exhibit are images, artifacts, and newspaper clippings which tell the story of three famous female spies during the Civil War. Emeline Pigott and Rose O’Neal Greenhow were Confederate spies and completed spy missions in North Carolina. Elizabeth Van Lew was a Union spy from a prominent southern family, who ran an interracial spy ring called the Richmond Underground.


“Helping create this exhibit has given me a new appreciation and understanding of the roles women played during the Civil War. I am excited for visitors to come and see the interesting research we uncovered during this project,” said intern Brianne Hodges.


The CSS Neuse is the only remaining commissioned Confederate ironclad above water. It was part of a new technology that the Confederacy used to combat the superior manpower and firepower of the Union Navy. Learn about this technological advance and warfare in eastern North Carolina at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center. The Confederate Navy launched the CSS Neuse aiming to gain control of the lower Neuse River and New Bern, but ultimately destroyed the vessel to keep it out of Union hands.


The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center is located at 100 N. Queen St., Kinston, N.C., and open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: adults $5, senior/active military $4, Students (ages 3-12) $3, ages 2 and under free.


The CSS Neuse Center is within the State Division of Historic Sites, and along with the Division of State History Museums and the Office of Archives and History are part of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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