Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Belle Boyd was a loyal Confederate who shot a Union officer in her parlor. She then went on to be a spy who reported to Stonewall Jackson.
Rose Greenhow was a Southern socialite who used got information from her powerful Union lovers and also used her daughter to pass messages for her.
Emma Edmons cut her hair and enlisted in the Union Army as Frank Thompson. After serving as a nurse she was chosen to act as a spy – sometimes going “undercover” as a woman.
Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy spinster in Richmond who ran a large spy ring to pass messages from the Confederate capital to the north. She was even able to place a former servant of hers in the Confederate White House to read Jefferson Davis’ papers while she was cleaning.
All of these women were brave but I enjoyed reading about Emma and Elizabeth most. That was partially because they were on the side of the Union and partially because the other two were just so awful. Â Belle Boyd seemed to be mostly focused on keeping herself famous. Â If she had lived today she’d be getting herself on reality tv shows.
I don’t understand how Rose Greenhow kept getting Union officials to sleep with her and tell her secrets in the middle of a war. Â Were the men really that stupid or did they just underestimate women that much? Â She was just a hateful person and she trained her daughter to be hateful too.
If Elizabeth Van Lew’s story sounds a little familiar it may be because I recently reviewed Jennifer Chiaverini’s The Spymistress which is an historical fiction version of her story.
I really enjoyed this book. Â It would be great for anyone interested in Civil War history or women’s history.
I’d actually heard about some of these stories from a documentary on PBS a couple years ago- specifically the women who cross-dressed to be soldiers during the Civil War (like Emma Edmons). Excellent review!
Wow Belle and Rose were certainly some unsavory women, that’s for sure! I agree with your comment about the reality shows – you’re so right!
Thanks for being a part of the tour.