Union troops arrest Confederate spy Eugenia Levy Phillips
August 24, 1861
Born into an assimilated Jewish family in Charleston, SC, in 1819 or 1820 [sources differ], Eugenia Levy Phillips was raised by prominent and successful parents who mingled easily with Charleston's elite. Upon her marriage in the mid-1830s, she moved to Mobile, Alabama, where her husband, Philip Phillips, had a successful law practice. Philip Phillips served two terms in the Alabama State Legislature, then moved his wife and seven (soon to be nine) children to Washington, D.C., when he was elected to Congress in 1853. He declined to run for a second term, and instead went into private legal practice in 1855. Although a native Southerner, he remained opposed to Southern secession.
Eugenia Phillips, however, did not take her husband's opinions as her own. Like many Southern Jews, she was a strong supporter of the Confederate cause. While her younger sister Phoebe Levy Pember worked as a nurse in a Richmond military hospital (see This Week in History for August 18, 1823; and November 29, 1862), Phillips collaborated more directly with the Confederate military. Beginning in 1861, she aided Confederate spy networks and secretly passed material aid to Confederate troops. On August 24, 1861, Union troops raided the Phillips home; although they were unable to find direct evidence of treason, they placed Phillips under house arrest. At the intervention of Edwin Stanton, who later became Secretary of War, she was soon released and the family moved to New Orleans.
The Union army won control of New Orleans in early 1862, and Phillips was arrested in May after laughing during a funeral procession for a Union soldier. Although she maintained that she had been laughing at her children's antics and meant no disrespect, she was imprisoned with other Confederates on Ship Island, Mississippi. She defiantly told her husband not to intervene on her behalf, but he nonetheless secured her release several months later. The family moved to Georgia, where Phillips apparently toned down her outspoken support for the Confederacy, though without ever recanting her position. Phillips died in 1902.