A Lady Smuggler at Vicksburg

After Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863, the city was held by Union occupation troops for the remainder of the war. With the city in Federal hands, supplies of all sorts flowed into the city by steamboat, and Union authorities had an almost daily struggle on their hands to make sure that none of these items made their way into the Confederacy to support the Southern war effort. Smuggling was common, and much of it was done by the ladies of Vicksburg, who would often attempt to exit Union lines with all manner of proscribed articles hidden about their person. The February 13, 1864, edition of the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), published a letter from a soldier only identified by the initials N.L.R, who served in the provost marshall’s office at Vicksburg. In this letter he detailed the capture on one female smuggler at Vicksburg:

Mr. Editor: As it is raining very hard this evening, and I have no amusements to pass away time, no pleasant associations – as the citizens are still inclined to look upon us as unprincipled men of no standing in society, and as having no business to be here ‘oppressing their rights,’ as they term it – I have concluded to remain at home and write you in regard to the doings in this department, and should you deem it worthy a place in the columns of your paper, it may possibly interest some of your many readers, knowing it to be from one of Cleveland’s sons who has been in the ‘Army of the Union’ since May 8, 1861; at least I trust it may.

But stop, I want to tell you how pretty the women carry on the smuggling trade at this point. A few days ago a young lady desired to enter our lines on Big Black river, and the Provost Marshal at that point, Captain John Raymond (an efficient officer and well worthy of the position he occupies) admitted her. He suspected her of being a smuggler, and had her sent to this office, in charge of Lieut. Verney, for examination before Col. Wilson, Provost Marshal 17th Army Corps. As the lady and the Lieutenant entered the office, the latter introduced her to Col. W., and told him that suspicion rested upon her as being engaged in the smuggling business, &c. She was requested to step into the private office, and had her basket and valise examined, in which were found a few letters. This aroused the Colonel’s suspicions, and he asked her if she had any more, and she said no. He immediately sent for Mrs. Kelly, the wife of a Lieutenant of our army, and had her examine Mrs. Armstrong’s person. Nicely buttoned to a belt fastened around her waist, and between her skirts, were found two little ‘Rebel Mail Bags,’ full of letters from all parts of Dixie, and some of them were rich, I assure you. I had the pleasure of reading a great many of them, and should judge from the tenor of some of them that Dixie is a hard place to make a living in. After all the letters were taken from her, she was released, I know not for what reason, except because we have no place appropriate to confine the fair sex. 

Wartime image of Union soldiers at Big Black River Station. The Big Black River was the unofficial dividing line between Union controlled territory and Confederate territory. As it was one of the major entry points into Vicksburg, the Union troops stationed at the Big Black River saw more than their fair share of smugglers, both coming and going.

She was very good looking, and appeared to be very intelligent, but ‘Oh! gracious,’ how tormented mad she did look when she went out of the office, and as she passed me, she turned around and said: ‘There I hope you are satisfied!’ I replied, ‘Yes marm,’ and away she flew, just as mad as a chicken in a slop-barrel.