Sunday, May 15, 2016

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott (Audio Review)

I have a huge interest in the Civil War; especially the women who lived during such a turbulent time.  If I could do my education all over again, I would probably continue studying Civil War America, and most definitely would pursue a doctorate with a concentration in women of the South.  

But life took me in another direction.  So  instead I'll be content reading interesting books like Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy  by Karen Abbott.  What an enormous amount of work Karen Abbot much have put into this history book about four women:  Elizabeth Van Lew, Emma Edmonds, Belle Boyd, and Rose Greenhow.  These women were spies during the Civil War, and what they did was nothing short of amazing.  

Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy spinster in Richmond, VA.  Her family were abolitionists, and she ran a huge spy ring for the North during the years of the Civil War (1861-65).  Using her inheritance, she bought slaves and set them free, often having them work as paid house staff.  She sent her freed (no one knew outside the home her "slaves" were actually freed people)servant Mary Bowser to the Confederate White House to work for Jefferson Davis.  Mary Bowser was another famous spy for the North.  She saved countless Union soldiers from horrific prison conditions by helping to maintain a vast underground system to move escaped Union prisoners back to Washington D.C..  All of this under the ever-increasing animosity of her fellow Richmond citizens, who knew she was a Union sympathizer and ostracized her in Richmond society.  

Emma Edmonds was a Canadian who joined the Michigan forces for the Union and disguised herself as a man quite successfully from 1861-63.  She took part in battles, was recruited as a spy, and kept her secret the whole time.  She only finally "deserted" the army when she came down with malaria and knew she needed to get to a hospital.  Her only recourse was to leave her male identity behind and start life over again as a female nurse. 

Belle Boyd was a young 17 year old Rebel who shot a Union soldier for harassing her mother in their home.  She used her coquettish ways, womanly wiles, and sweet talk to carry messages to Stonewall Jackson's camp; send troop movement information to various generals, and spent time in a Union prison after being caught with suspicious documents.  She was defiant and didn't try to hide her affection for the Southern cause from anyone.  

Rose Greenhow was a widower living in Washington, D.C. with her young daughter Rose.  She used her position in Washington society to spy for the Confederates, pass information she charmed out of Union generals along to Southern contacts, and also spent time in a Union prison for spying.   She even had Alan Pinkerton tailing her around Washington and peeking in her windows.  

Each of these women were remarkable in their fierce devotion to their beliefs, even if they were on opposite sides.  We sometimes forget how ingenious women can be when placed within the strictures of societal norms.  Emma may have been the only one to see actual fighting, but they were all in a dangerous game that could have seen them all shot or hung if convicted of spying.  They used all their smarts, wits, and charm to work around the system and made a large impact on both sides of the Civil War.  Battles were fought and won because of these women.  Men were saved because of these women.  

I listened to the audio of this book and thoroughly enjoyed it.  A mixture of diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles give this a strong historical background, yet it was never tedious or dull.   I loved it!  

Rating:  8/10 for a look at four remarkable women who stood up for what they believed in and never wavered in their fight for their cause.  

Available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio.

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