My Cart

Mary Louvestre, a Union Spy?

Today I am sharing what I hope will be the first of many stories about women associated with Monitor. Let me tell you the amazing story of Mary Louvestre.

Louvestre was a former slave, working as a housekeeper in Norfolk for one of the engineers transforming USS Merrimack into CSS Virginia. Though she worked for a Confederate, Louvestre hoped for Union victory. After she overheard her boss discussing Virginia‘s importance to the Confederate war effort, Louvestre realized the damage a Confederate ironclad could do to the Union blockade. She bravely stole a set of the ship’s plans and fled north. Her journey was likely perilous, but upon her arrival in Washington, D.C., Louvestre secured a meeting with officials in the Department of the Navy and shared details of the ship’s potential and construction status.

This was not the sole account of Virginia the Department of the Navy had, but it demonstrated the need to rapidly complete Monitor. On 8 March 1862, before Monitor arrived in Hampton Roads, Virginia was able to wreak havoc on the Union fleet stationed near Fort Monroe. And without Louvestre’s intelligence, there could have been several weeks of uncontested Confederate control of the port; meaning the Confederates would have been able to potentially receive much needed supplies from Europe. But, this was thwarted by a single courageous woman who saw an opportunity to help a cause she cared about.

This is a rather short story, but, really not much is known about this incredible woman. There is even debate over whether her name is Louvestre or Touvestre. The information shared here is sourced through the CIA. Other, more detailed, accounts, likely exaggerated or fictionalized, exist as well. While every story cannot be trusted, one thing is for sure — Louvestre did a pretty amazing, and daring, thing!

Scroll to Top