It began on a steamy July Fourth, when, as John Adams had predicted eighty-five years earlier, there was much revelry and celebration in honor of its being Independence Day. However, the "rockets red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" were not welcome sights or sounds to the inhabitants of Belle's small town, for the year was 1861 and Martinsburg was in the secessionist state of Virginia (soon to be West Virginia, within two years).
Only the day before, Union forces had taken control of the town and the native Virginians were not taking kindly to the Yankee occupation of their hamlet. The Yankees, on the other hand, rejoicing over their recent conquest, were bound for celebration. According to many reports, liquor flowed freely in the streets, and drunken soldiers roamed the neighborhoods, firing their guns into the sky and through the windows of many homes, generally terrorizing the townsfolk, including the Boyds of Queen Street.
A small band of heavily-intoxicated soldiers, having been told of an 'upstart rebel girl' who had reportedly draped her bedroom walls with Confederate flags, set out on a quest to find her. Eventually, they found their riotous way to the corner of South Queen and Church Street where the home of Benjamin R. Boyd, merchant and father of Marie Isabella (Belle), stood. But Mr. Boyd was not a home.,Following the secession of Virginia from the nation, Ben Boyd, at the age of forty-five, had enlisted with the 2nd Virginia Infantry, Company D, as a private in the Army of the Confederacy. His unit would go on to be called 'The Stonewall Brigade,' led by none other than Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.Ben's enlistment left his thirty-five year old wife, Mary Glenn Boyd, to carry on the business, care for their four children, and defend their home. And so it was that Mary stood alone in the doorway of her home when the Union soldiers demanded entry. Resolutely, Mary refused.
Undeterred, the besotted men forced themselves into the entryway of the house, engaging Mrs. Body in fierce argument. As reported by Belle years later in her autobiography, her mother being a gentle woman of the South, she spoke sofly, yet firmly, denying the soldiers from fuirther disruption for she and her family, and hoping to avoid further intrusion of the Boyd household.
The soldiers were abusive, verbally, as Mrs. Boyd held firm to her position. Eldest daughter, Belle, the young woman for whom the soldiers had been looking, joined her mother at her side. The soldiers had produced a Federal flag which they demanded be flown from the Boyd home as a sign of their capture and resignation to Union authority. Mrs. Boyd indignantly refused, reportedly stating, "Every member of my household will die before that flag will be raised over us." While the soldiers continued their harangue, Eliza, a slave in the Boyd household, ascended to the second floor, tearing down the single Confederate flag that decorated Belle's bedroom wall. Fearing the Union soldiers might eventually gain access to the room and find the rebel flag, Eliza removed it and burning it immediately..As insults spewed at Mary Boyd, each raw word enraged young Belle to the point where she could no longer stand by idly. Known among friends and family for her brazen behavior and easily-lit temper, Belle's fuse was finally ignited by the insolent behavior and offensive remarks suffered by her mother.
Pulling a derringer from beneath the folds of her skirt, Belle demanded the Union soldiers retreat from her home at once. The most-outspoken of the group scoffed at the Boyd girl, advancing menacingly toward her. Such action would be to his mortal regret as Belle aimed the pistol at the soldier, pulling the trigger.Startled and suddenly sobered by the violent turn of events, the wounded man's comrades dragged him from the house and away from the unpredictable, renegade girl they had confronted. Belle and her mother hoped the incident would be the end of the troubles. But within minutes, hearing of their fallen Union brother, other soldiers surrounded the Boyd home and began preparing to burn it.
Terrified, Belle sent Eliza for aid from the officer in charge of the maddened rioters. Teh Boyd household was spared when help did arrive from headquarters, but Belle was not out of danger yet. Orders were issued for Belle not to leave the house until the commanding officer could visit her the following day. The man she had shot died of his wounds not long after the soldiers retreat from the house and an official investigation of the circumstances of the incident would have to be undertaken.It was a fitful night for the inhabitants of the Boyd house as the dreaded and unknown consequences of Belle's actions were contemplated. The killing of a Union officer would surely be met with serious punishment. Mary fretted for her headstrong, impetuous daughter, yet Belle remained reticent, confident she had done the right thing in light of the strained and threatening conditions of the moment.
And so it was, the next morning, July 5th, that the Federal officer and members of his staff visited the Boyd house to inquire of the previous night's events. Members of the household were interviewed, as were the surviving soldiers involved. Each of the participants offered report of their observances and actions. Upon hearing and reviewing the facts and stories, young Belle was vindicated, being told by the commanding officer that she had 'done perfectly right.
The release from responsibility did not release her from the danger of retribution, however. It was decided, as a result, that Belle and her family would be kept under watchful guard to avoid any further incident.