Elizabeth Van Lew was a well-born Richmond, Virginia resident known and loved by her community before the American Civil War. During the war she operated a widespread spy ring for the United States (from 1864 to 1865).
Van Lew was really a remarkable character. She established spy networks and collected information herself, and changed her personality to make others think she was off her rocker. She earned the “Crazy Bet” moniker for effectively posing as mentally ill by wearing old clothes and bonnets so that people would think that she was crazy.
She has been called responsible for “the most productive espionage operation of the Civil War” because of the rich take of information she provided on the Confederate government. She also made direct contributions to operations including those that resulted in the escape of union soldiers from confederate prisons. All this was done with extreme bravery. Had she been caught she would have been killed.