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.
If history textbooks read like "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy", there would be a statistically significant rise in the number of history majors in colleges and universities around the world. No joke. Ms. Abbott amassed a huge collection of research. I thought the book was longer than it was, but of the 544 pages, the last several dozen pages included many citations and the bibliography.
Far be it from me to belittle the contribution made by our male soldiers. I honor their sacrifice in every degree. However, it is nice to know that 'his-story' also contains a fair amount of 'her-story', even if you have to go digging a little to find it.
Of the "Liar" (Elizabeth Van Lew), Temptress (Rose O'Neale Greenhow), Soldier (Emma Edmonds) and Spy (Belle Boyd) of Abbott's story, 3 were ladies of 'polite society' - who were not expected to sully their hands with the male business of war. People underestimated their desire to contribute to the war effort on their respective sides. But Emma Edmonds took a more direct approach, living as a man so she could become a soldier.
Imagine history as a representation of a family tree. The facts, figures and dates (etc) are the names of and information about the many generations of a family. But if that is all that appears on the blank wall, trying to figure out how all these people fit together can be very confusing. You need the lines connecting the names together in an orderly fashion. If it's a great history, the lines will connect in a way to show the trunk, the branches of the family and the twigs of the farthest generations.
"Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" is a prime example of this kind of history. Ms. Abbott's book should be in every library in the US, and be required reading at the high school and college level.
I can't wait to see what history (or herstory) she explores next!
Karen Abbott's forthcoming book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause. The new book will be published by Harper Collins on September 2, 2014. Abbott's previous books, Sin in the Second City and American Rose, were both New York Times bestsellers. Abbott is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine's history blog, Past Imperfect, and also writes for Disunion, the New York Times series about the Civil War. A native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots, Poe and Dexter.
(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)