The night creatures hadn’t started their mysterious conversations. It was too early. But it was something she was looking forward to. Her grandfather, Linzy Strader, leaned forward in his easy chair and expertly spit over the porch railing into the front lawn, as if he was aiming at something. Wiping the corner of his mouth, he smiled that soft smile at his granddaughter, Tricia Lynn, and resumed his contented enjoyment of his Navy snuff in the late July afternoon. To a young girl from the city visiting her grandparents, these were magical times in the rural wonderland of Road Run. The day had been full, searching for crawdads in the run which crawled slowly past the house, gathering eggs from the hen house, smelling the freshly cut grass and chasing butterflies. Soon the crickets would be screeching their night songs and the frogs on Oil Creek at the railroad cut would be croaking their sonorous calls. This was truly the land of make-believe and it was a hard place to leave.
To Tricia Strader, the time of the Civil War was long ago, another time. Little did she know that her interest and the interest in Civil War re-enactments of her parents, Frank and Vivian (Kuhl) Strader, would transport her back in time and acquaint her with a certain southern belle, a spy for the soldiers in gray, and provide a life-changing experience.
The decisive, war-ending victory both sides had hoped for did not happen. The leaders of both the Union and the Confederacy recognized that total victory would not come easily, or quickly. In the day before telephones and other sophisticated means of communication the importance of intelligence to provide information about what the other side was up to was vital to the prospects of victory.
In 1861 Belle Boyd was a young 18 year old vivacious southern belle, a strong believer in the cause of the South. When the war started, Belle was living in the Shenandoah Valley town of Front Royal where her father operated a hotel. This area of the Old Dominion was hotly contested by both southern and northern armies and occupation of Front Royal by one army or the other seemed to change on a weekly basis.
A hotel occupied by officers and decision makers was an ideal place to learn of an army’s intentions. Belle, using sharp ears and womanly guile, learned much of the intentions of the Union armies, and carried the intelligence to southern generals, including Stonewall Jackson and the “Grey Ghost,” John Mosby. The four years of Civil War was an exciting and dangerous time for Belle Boyd, and greatly romanticized by Civil War historians. Books have been written about her and movies and plays have made her legendary.
War re-enactments throughout the eastern United States led Tricia in 2001 to the Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where she auditioned for and was chosen to portray the role of Belle Boyd in historical era performances. Tricia has stayed busy performing the role of Belle Boyd in performances in schools and public libraries, as well as the role of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis,
Above Left: Belle Boyd
Left: Tricia as Belle Boyd
Above Right: Varnia Davis
Life certainly has been interesting for the young girl who made summer treks to the magical place of Road Run to visit her story-telling grandparents while they sat on their front porch on summer evenings, while the butterflies flew, the crawdad flicked its tail and moved from rock to rock and the smell of freshly cut grass was in the air. From chasing butterflies at her grandparents’ home on Road Run to having butterflies before a performance as Belle Boyd, life has been exciting for Tricia Strader.