|Frank Stringfellow Camp #822|
Frank StringfellowAn Account of the Confederate Career of Frank Stringfellow Adapted from Stringfellow of the Fourth: The Amazing Career of the Most Successful Confederate Spy, by R. Shepard Brown
Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow was born on June 18, 1840 and grew up in Culpepper County. The family home, called The Retreat, was near Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan River and had been acquired by the family in 1832. His primary education was acquired in Albemarle County. In 1857 Stringfellow enrolled in Episcopal High School in Alexandria. Following his graduation in 1860 he went to Mississippi to teach Latin and Greek. He returned to Virginia in 1861 to serve the Confederate States of America.
Stringfellow's acceptance into the Confederate army is an interesting story in itself. Because he weighed only a little more than a hundred pounds (on five-foot-eight-inch frame) at that time, he was rejected by The Little Fork Rangers, the Madison County troop, the Goochland County Dragoons, and the Prince William County troop. Stringfellow decided he would try the Powhatan Troop (Company E of the Fourth Virginia Cavalry). To make his point, he went to the area where the company was in bivouac, captured three pickets at gunpoint, and marched them to the tent of the Company Commander. Telling the Commander that he could do the same to the Yankees, he finally convinced the authorities that he had something to offer and was sworn into Confederate service on May 28, 1861. This began a remarkable career for Frank Stringfellow.
Stringfellow's first assignment was to slip into Alexandria after it had been occupied by the Yankees to obtain information on Northern troop movements. He did this successfully, skillfully eluding capture. He knew Alexandria well and his fiancée, Emma Green, lived there. After leaving Alexandria, Stringfellow was dispatched to carry messages to Stuart during First Manassas. When Stringfellow found Stuart, he asked if he could join him and served directly under Stuart during that engagement. Hearing about Stringfellow's other exploits and having observed him in action, Stuart asked Stringfellow in September to serve as his personal scout. Stringfellow accepted the offer. Serving as scouts in this same command, among others, were other men who became well-known such as Redmond Burke, Will Farley, and John S. Mosby. Stringfellow was well-acquainted with all of them. Farley and Burke, in particular, were responsible for Stringfellow's training as a scout.
Stringfellow fought at the Battle of Dranesville in November, 1861 and had other engagements while following his duty as a scout in the Northern Virginia area. From January to April, 1862 he was back in Alexandria, undercover posing as a dental apprentice, collecting intelligence for the Confederacy. He had a close call at the end of this service and had to make his way through enemy lines after his escape. Following this he returned to scouting and picket duty. Stringfellow served with Stuart at Seven Pines. He was with Stuart in the famous ride around McClellan's army in June, 1862. Stuart cited Stringfellow for gallantry in an engagement at Cold Harbor during the Seven Days battles in late June, 1862. In July, 1862 he was put on independent scout duty by Stuart in order to reconnoiter Pope's army. In August, he located a large wagon train at Catlett's Station and led Stuart to it, almost capturing Pope in the process. Left behind at Cedar Run to watch enemy troop movements, Stringfellow was discovered by Yankee troops and performed one of his many spectacular escapes.
In the winter of 1863 Stringfellow returned to Alexandria to gather intelligence, having set up communication lines throughout Fairfax County. He was spotted in Alexandria, however, after he had been there only a short time. He managed to escape by hiding under the hoop skirt of a Confederate sympathizer when pursued by Federal troops. Shortly after leaving Alexandria, angered by the killing of two of his men, he and a troop of about thirty-five Confederates attacked about fifty Yankees in house, killing and wounding many of them and taking about twenty-five prisoners. Only one Confederate life was lost in this engagement.
In June, 1863 Stringfellow had another one of his amazing escapes. He was dining with some friends in their home near the Bull Run Mountains when they were surprised by Federal troops. Stringfellow was well known to the Yankees by now and an active target of their search. This group had orders to kill him on sight. Aided by a black female servant, Stringfellow was able to find a tight spot in the attic to hide in. The Yankees searched high and low in the house and barely overlooked him. He then slipped out of the house, commandeered a horse from a Federal he surprised and made his escape. His luck ran out later that month, however, when he was captured and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington City. He was exchanged as a Captain in August. Later that month he led a raid with eleven other Confederates on a Federal Headquarters and almost succeeded in capturing another Yankee General.
In late September Stringfellow was on patrol with two comrades. While they were asleep four Yankees surprised them. Continuing to feign sleep until he could get his revolver out, Stringfellow was able to kill one Yankee while a compatriot killed another. The other Confederate was shot but the remaining Yankees took off to alert their camp. The two Confederates separated, pursued hotly by the Yankees. Stringfellow escaped by hiding under a fallen cedar tree while the Yankees searched all around him. The two Confederates were then able to reunite and escape.
In late 1863 there was fighting around Stringfellow's home in Culpepper County, The Retreat. His mother was wounded in the foot and taken by the Federals in order to treat her injury. She was being held in a house that was in an area serving as a Federal regimental headquarters. Stringfellow got Stuart's permission to try to get inside the Federal encampment. On his way there he was surprised by Yankee troops and ended up swimming across a freezing river to escape after he had killed two of his pursuers and his own horse had gone down. Shot at by the Yankees, he feigned being hit and it was reported that he had been killed. Nevertheless, he got inside the Federal camp and found his mother. He got a woman's dress and bonnet from his family's female servant who was still with his mother. The two of them then went into the house where his mother was. He stayed there for several days tending to his mother before slipping out again and heading back to Confederate lines.
Early in 1864 Stringfellow captured a Yankee Captain who carried with him a pass for a Southern girl of Stringfellow's acquaintance. The Captain was hoping that the girl would attend a dance at his invitation and the pass would be used to get her there. Stringfellow borrowed the girl's dress and had the girl and her mother coach him on impersonating a female. The girl's father then drove him in a buggy to the end of Confederate lines where Stringfellow then went on alone. At the dance he got much useful information about Northern troop movements. One Yankee Major took a "romantic" interest in him. Another Lieutenant, having become suspicious at Stringfellow's intentions but still not suspecting his disguise, took him outside and told him he thought he was a spy. Stringfellow, saying that he appreciated the Lieutenant's attentions, asked him if he would turn around a minute while he prepared himself to demonstrate to the Lieutenant his appreciation of his kindness. When the Yankee did so, Stringfellow took out his derringers and told the Lieutenant he was his prisoner. He then took him out in the buggy, forcing the Lieutenant to act as if he was escorting his "date" home from the dance. Stringfellow then took his prisoner back to Confederate lines.
Stringfellow's last assignment came from Jefferson Davis himself. In March, 1865 he again impersonated a dental student, but this time in Washington itself. Gathering intelligence, he moved around from hotel to hotel. One hotel of his was full of detectives. One of these, a woman, had suspicions of him. In an attempt to trap him, at dinner one evening she proposed a toast to Abraham Lincoln. When everyone but Stringfellow had raised a glass she asked him why he wouldn't drink to Lincoln. In response, Stringfellow proposed a toast to "Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America." Stringfellow left that hotel soon after for new lodgings. When he was finally trying to get out of the city he was picked up by Federal troops who took him to a prison for further investigation, still not sure of his identity. Stringfellow again escaped from the prison before his identity was determined. It took him twenty-one days to get back to Virginia. By then the war was over.
By the end of the war, Stringfellow had been designated by some of his enemies as "the most dangerous man in the Confederacy." There was a reward of $10,000 offered for his capture. Unable to remain in the South with feelings so high at that time, he escaped to Canada, reaching that country in the summer of 1865. During the spring of 1866 he wrote to his beloved Emma that he was undergoing a transformation,
I begin to realize that a new life is opening up to me - that "man does not live by bread alone - but by every word that proceedeth from the Father."
In 1867 Stringfellow returned to Virginia taking up residence at "Wakefield" in Fairfax County. After many months of preparation, he entered the Episcopal Seminary of Virginia, graduated and was ordained in 1876. He served in many churches throughout Virginia, including becoming the first chaplain of the Woodberry Forest School for Boys in Orange, Virginia. In 1898 Stringfellow wanted to serve as a chaplain for the armed forces during the Spanish-American War. He was rejected as being too old. Stringfellow responded by writing to President William McKinley for help and asking for him to intervene. Stringfellow quoted a letter he had from President U.S. Grant. Shortly after the battle of Cold Harbor, during a mission with the purpose of capturing the Yankee Commander, Stringfellow had been close enough to Grant to shoot him in the back but had not been able to bring himself to do this. After the war Stringfellow wrote to President Grant about this incident. Grant in response wrote to Stringfellow thanking him and promising that he or any future president would be happy to grant any request of Stringfellow's. Thus, Stringfellow was allowed to become a U.S. Army chaplain at the age of 57. He returned from the war and continued his ministry until his death.
Frank Stringfellow died on June 8, 1913 from a heart attack. He is buried beside his wife Emma in Ivy Hill Cemetery, Alexandria.
> Next Meeting
> Heritage Alerts
> Contact Us
> Join the SCV
Historical Preservation Efforts | Outside Links