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Featured: A Union Spy

Happy Women’s History Month!

I realize that this is the last day of March and that makes this write-up a late celebration of the heritage month. But, to be completely honest, I really struggled with how I wanted to approach this blog. There are so many awesome women and deciding on one story to share was incredibly difficult.

Here’s the thing, though, who says this has to be the only occasion we talk about women’s history in relation to Monitor? After much deliberation, I finally had an “ah-ha!” moment; so, today I am sharing what I hope will be the first of many stories about women associated with Monitor.

Let me tell you about Mary Touvestre:

Touvestre 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, Touvestre hoped for Union victory. After she overheard her boss discussing Virginia‘s importance to the Confederate war effort, Touvestre 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., Touvestre 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 Touvestre’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 Touvestre or Louvestre. 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- Touvestre did a pretty amazing, and daring, thing!

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