From the Richmond Times, 9/26/1900, p. 5, c. 2
DEATH OF MISS VAN LEW
Richmond Woman Who Aided Grant During the War.
Sent Messages to the Union Commander From the Confederate Capital. Aided the Men
Who Escaped From Libby Prison – Received and Annuity from Bostonians for Years.
RICHMOND, Va., Sept. 26. – Miss Lizzie Van Lew, who acted as a spy here for the Federal Army during the civil war, died yesterday. The most notable events in Miss Van Lew’s eventful career were aiding Colonel Straight [Streight] and other Federal officers in tunneling out of Libby prison, the constant information which she furnished General Grant when he was near Richmond, and saving the body of Colonel Dahlgren, who was killed in one of his raids around Richmond. These and other services rendered the Federal cause made Miss Van Lew the lifelong friend of General Grant. She was eighty-three years old at the time of her death and one of the most active women in the county.
Miss Van Lew’s best and most sympathetic friends were Bostonians. She was the recipient of a snug annual sum which was contributed by some New Englanders. A Bostonian, Colonel Revere, who was a great admirer of Miss Van Lew, was instrumental in securing this annuity for her.
Miss Elizabeth Van Lew was the daughter of a wealthy Northern man, who for a great many years was one of the principal hardware merchants of Richmond. He bought a square of ground on the hill near old St. John’s Church and made it one of the finest homes in Virginia. The house is in fine old colonial style, with spacious piazzas looking toward the river, from which there is a vista through fine old trees with glimpses of the James as it winds its way down past the fortified place known as Drewry’s Bluff.
Miss Van Lew was a Union woman all during the war, and took no care to conceal the fact. She was constant in her ministrations to the prisoners confined in the Libby, and unknown to the Confederate authorities was in frequent communication with General Grant’s army. She sheltered, or caused friends of hers to shelter, several of the men who escaped through the Libby Hill tunnel.
At the evacuation of Richmond General Grant, who was then at City Point, despatched one of his aides to Richmond specially charged to take care of Miss Van Lew and when he became the President he made her Postmistress of Richmond, which office she held for several terms. Afterward Miss Van Lew held a modest post in one of the departments in Washington. She then returned to Richmond.
During the war the communication with General Grant were kept up through a trusty colored slave. Miss Van Lew’s father owned a farm below Richmond, on the James River. This negro was employed there, and made constant visits here to Miss Van Lew. In the heavy soles of a pair of brogans was an opening into which dispatches could easily be placed. Whenever Miss Van Lew wished to communicate with General Grant the letters were prepared and entrusted to this old colored man. He placed them in the soles of his shoes and trudged back to the farm. From there he found little difficulty in making his way through the Confederate lines to General Grant’s headquarters at City Point. In this way Miss Van Lew often informed General Grant of important military movements around Richmond.
During the war Miss Van Lew owned a handsome little pony. At that period the Confederate Government was pressing horses into service for cavalry and transportation purposes. Feeling that suspicion pointed to her and that the Government would not hesitate to seize her favorite little steed, Miss Van Lew secreted her pony in the fourth story of her house, where she kept it for months.
After Miss Van Lew lost her place in the War Department at Washington her friends were anxious for her to apply for a pension. They declared that she had during the war rendered such services to the Union cause as to entitle her to recognition. It was proposed that this subject should be brought before the Grand Army, and that resolutions should be passed calling upon Congress to allow Miss Van Lew a liberal pension. The matter, however, was never pressed.