OPINION

As it Were: Independence was guiding spirit of Lottie Moon

Ed Lentz
Guest Columnist
Lottie Moon

The American Civil War was a defining event in American history.  

The conflict involved most of the American population in one way or another for four years. Yet in that world of more than a century and a half ago, gender roles were well defined.  

Millions of men joined the military as others labored in the farms, mines and factories that provided the food, goods and guns needed by the armies. Many women minded the homes and staffed the hostelries, hospitals and camps.  

Few Americans were bold enough to disregard these traditional roles. 

And then there was Lottie Moon. 

Ed Lentz

Cynthia Charlotte “Lottie” Moon was born Aug. 10, 1829, and was the first daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Moon of Danville, Virginia. The doctor was a firm believer in the views of Thomas Jefferson that slaves should be emancipated. So he did just that when he moved his growing family to Oxford, Ohio, in 1834.  

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Lottie Moon grew up in the town that was the home of Miami University with three brothers and two sisters. The family home, which later became the home of the college president, still stands across from the main entrance to the campus.  

Moon was an independent girl and grew up doing quite well at riding, shooting and, more importantly, acting. Attractive and popular, she was courted and became engaged to a young lieutenant from Indiana named Ambrose Burnside.  

On her wedding day June 21, 1849, Moon asserted her independence. Asked by the minister whether she was prepared to wed Burnside, she paused, shrugged, said “No, Siree, Bobby!” and ran down the aisle. Six months later, she married a young attorney named John Clark and moved to his home in nearby Jones Station.  

Clark’s sympathies were with the South as America moved closer to conflict. So, too, were the views of most of the Moon family. After the death of Dr. Moon in 1856, Lottie stayed in Ohio, but her mother moved the rest of the family to Shelby County, Tennessee. Eventually, all three of Lottie’s brothers would fight for the Confederacy while her mother and sisters worked in Memphis hospitals. 

In the meantime, she and her husband concealed their loyalties to the South and became active in clandestine organizations like the Knights of the Golden Circle. With the outbreak of the Civil War, their home became a base station for supplies and a way station for rebel soldiers and Confederate spies. One of those spies was Lottie Moon herself. 

Her husband once remarked that she was the “smartest woman in the world.” She soon set out to do her best to prove him right. Her exploits during the Civil War became the stuff of legend. In October 1862, she attended a meeting of Confederate agents in Toronto, Canada, and returned to America with a forged British passport.  

Passing herself as a titled noblewoman, Moon approached War Secretary Edwin Stanton for a pass to Virginia, saying she had come from England “to take the waters.” Stanton obliged and permitted her to accompany him on a visit to the front lines with President Abraham Lincoln.  

Riding with the two men, she eventually feigned sleep, and Lincoln and Stanton talked war policy. Leaving the coach and riding to Richmond, Moon told Confederate President Jefferson Davis all that she had learned. Finding he had been duped, an outraged Stanton placed a reward on her head – $10,000 dead or alive. 

It never was collected.  

Moon evaded discovery and capture and for some time acted as a courier and spy for the South.  

She regularly visited the massive Union Army base at Camp Chase in Columbus and acted as something of a postmistress for men held at the prison camp. At one time she simultaneously was engaged to no less than 12 Confederate soldiers. She later noted that she simply wanted them to die happy.  

Traveling as an Irish washerwoman, she was stopped by Union soldiers at Cincinnati and taken to their commanding officer.  

Her attempt to pass as an Irish woman failed when she was recognized by the man who was now Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Despite the loss of a bride, he still was a friend of Moon and her family.  

Instead of having her hanged, Burnside said she could remain free if she promised to stay away from espionage and remain in residence at the fashionable Burnet House hotel in Cincinnati for the rest of the war. She agreed and did just that.  

After the war, Moon and her husband moved to England, where she became a roving reporter for American and British newspapers and later was the author of two popular novels. 

Lottie Moon, who died in 1895, was one of the ones who got away. 

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.