by Karen Abbott
Genres: Historical, Non-Fiction
Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies. After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives. Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & photos and 3 maps.
I rarely read non-fiction but from time to time, a book comes along that speaks to me. I am a history buff, a History channel junkie and have a particular fondness for early American history. Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy by Karen Abbot screamed read me, when I discovered it was about four woman undercover during the civil war.
Abbot chronicles the lives of four very different woman during the civil war from both sides of the divide and pieces together a factual account of their deeds. Brilliant, factual and seamless Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy was a joy to read.
- Belle Boyd- was a feisty one and no more than a teen when the war began. This little lady had spunk, spoke her mind, was fearless and eventually seduced men into telling secrets that she shared with the Confederacy. She gained notoriety for shooting a union solider.
- Emma Edmonds -escaped her father’s home to avoid being forced into marriage. She dressed as a man and joined the Union Army as Frank Thompson. Later she was recruited to serve as an undercover spy. At one time, she even posed as a woman. Can you imagine?
- Elizabeth Van Lew- a privileged Virginian, used her home to hide Union Soldiers. An opinionated and outspoken abolitionist this spinster impressed me by placing a spy in the White House. She was quite clever and hide folks right under the enemies’ nose.
- Rose O’Neal Greenhow- was another seductress who used her feminine wiles to seduce Unionist for the Confederacy. She along with her daughter were later imprisoned.
Liars, Temptress, Solider, Spy was brilliant crafted as the author took us back and forth between the woman while keeping the events of the war in chronological order as she weaved in their stories. The descriptions of the each woman listed above only scratches the surface of what these women did for their beliefs. Along the way, Abbot weaved in details and tidbits that kept me fascinated. For instance, did you know that over 400 women disguised themselves as men and fought in the civil war? Some women enlisted alongside their husbands. Most were single and faced poverty they were lured by the pay offered to soldiers. Soldiers earned between eleven and fourteen a month. Abbot’s non-fiction unfolded like a well-crafted story and flowed flawlessly allowing me as the reader to slip in and lose track of time. Despite its five hundred and forty-four pages, I consumed this in a single day.
Fans of women in history and the Civil War will find Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy to be a wonderful addition to their library.
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