Frank Stringfellow :
Lean Keen Spying Machine
Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow was
born on June 18, 1840 at The Retreat near Raccoon Ford
on the Rapidan River. The Retreat was his family home.
He graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria
in 1860 and went to Mississippi to teach Latin and Greek.
When the War erupted he returned to Virginia
to serve the Confederate States of America.
Stringfellow wanted to serve but he had some
difficulty persuading the Army that he was physically
capable. After all he was only 5 feet 8 inches and weighed
around 100 pounds. He was rejected by The Little Fork
Rangers, the Madison County troop, the Goochland County
Dragoons, and the Prince William County troop. But what
Stringfellow lacked in physical brawn he made
up for in brains. He targeted the Powhatan Troop, Company
E of the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, then captured 3 of
their soldiers at gunpoint and marched them to the Company
Cammander’s tent. The Commander was persuaded
that the young man had some skills to offer and they
swore him in on May 28, 1861.
He began right away with spying and his first assignment
was to report on Yankee troop movements in and around
occupied Alexandria, VA. He knew Alexandria well as
his fiancée, Emma Green, lived there. Stringfellow
soon caught the eye of J.E.B. Stuart at the Battle of
First Manassas. Stuart had heard of Stringfellow
and asked him to serve as his personal scout. Stringfellow
became acquainted with other well-known scounts such
as Redmond Burke, Will Farley, and John S. Mosby. In
fact Farley and Burke had a hand in training Stringfellow.
Stringfellow moved in an out of battle and in
and out of undercover. He fought at the Battle of Dranesville
in November, 1861 and then from January to April, 1862
he was back in Alexandria, posing as a dental apprentice,
collecting intelligence for the Confederacy. His job
included reading the paper and passing on information
to a courier each night. In those days troop movements were actually
published in the newspaper. One day a man with his face
wrapped in a towel raced into the dentist’s office
with Stringfellow and horrified those in the
waiting room with howls of excruciating pain. He left
still holding the towel to his face. But the man was
a fellow agent with so urgent a message it couldn’t
wait to go through the usual nocturnal channels of communication.
One of the people in the waiting room was a federal
officer who never guessed he had just witnessed a classic
scene of espionage. But this dental position ran aground
when the dentist’s wife began to show more than
friendly interest in Stringfellow. The dentist,
already aware of his assistant’s true identity,
noticed his wife’s seeming infatuation and promptly
reported Stringfellow to Union authorities. Frank
the spy fled for his life.