Young Heroes

Charles Phillips

by Chase Payne from Colorado

Charlie Phillips’ story started off as a regular newsboy trying to sell newspapers. However, it eventually came to much more than just selling newspapers. Charlie observed the world around him and listened carefully, always trying to see what he could do to help. Charlie lived during a very difficult time in United States history: the American Civil War from 1861-1865. Charlie Philips’ many acts of courage showed his moral courage and bravery to help the Yankees against the Confederacy.

One day, while he is out delivering newspapers, he talks to some of the Confederacy officers. They told him many things about what the Confederacy was planning. His dad told him later that night that he was part of a spy organization for the Yankees. Charlie decided to tell his dad that he wanted to be a spy because he thought he would make a perfect one. His dad said he was too kind and young to be a spy.  

He went up to his room in a pouty mood that night, but his plan for the next day was to get a lot of good information from a soldier to impress his dad. He found out that the Confederates were going to move many Jewish women and children to a different location, and he thought that would be a perfect time for sabotage. So, he told all the information to his dad during dinner. His dad thought the information was so amazing and asked Charlie how he got it. Charlie said, “Just being a good newspaper boy.” 

His dad finally said that his son could join the spy group as long as he made sure to be secretive. The next day he was going to meet with Mrs. Van Loo who was supposedly a crazy lady but actually was one of the top Yankee spy organization leaders. She had to act crazy so nobody would think she was part of any organization. While he was meeting with Ms. Van Loo, he ran into two brothers he had known for a while, Jim and Tom Smith. They are also newspaper boys but work for the Confederacy. At first, Charlie doesn’t know this. He runs into them frequently, even at Mrs. Van Loo’s house. The brothers seem to be suspicious of Charlie. Tom was talking about how his dad is friends with one of the Confederacy officers and how they knew everything about the Yankees' attack, Charlie asks how they know everything, and Tom says that they have spies spying on the Yankee soldiers and they have all the intel. He also mentions that their father knows the Confederate General so that is how they pass it on. Jim tells his brother to be quiet as if Charlie isn’t supposed to know this.  

While working with the spy organization, Charlie learned many important things. Mrs. Van Loo taught him how to make invisible ink and how to read it using milk so that way they can deliver messages to the soldiers. Another thing he learned was how to split up the messages, that way if the Confederacy finds it, they only have half of the message, and most likely it will be a blank piece of paper, so they won't have all the plans revealed. In the end, Charlie found out that there was going to be a big movement and was able to meet General Grant to give him the information. In 1865, he was caught while guiding 19 Richmond mechanics through Confederate lines to a Union safe area. He was imprisoned for a month.   

Charlie's story impacted me because it showed me that no matter your age, you can do something to help the community no matter how small or how big it can be. It makes me want to figure out ways that I can help others in my community and hopefully show more moral courage. Just like Charlie, I hope to look around in my community and listen carefully to see how I can help and make a difference. Also, I’m hoping to inspire others to show moral courage just like I hope to one day. It's amazing how some people risk their lives in such ways to help others that I've never seen before. Finally, the freedom rights we have today have a lot to contribute from the people who risk their lives to get us the freedom we have today. I hope other people will read my essay in the future and feel the same way I did and feel the need to help the community. 



  1. Stuart, M. (1981). Of Spies and Borrowed Names: The Identity of Union Operatives in Richmond Known as "The Phillipses" Discovered. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 89(3), 308-327. Retrieved February 17, 2021, from

  2. Zullo, A. (2015). The secret agent: And other spy kids. New York: Scholastic.


Page created on 3/4/2021 4:45:09 PM

Last edited 3/5/2021 6:52:28 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.