I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Friday, August 26, 2016

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

In this incredibly fascinating look at four women, two from the North and two from the South, Abbott examines their incredible feats and exploits during one of the most devastating wars in America.  She follows Belle Boyd, a seventeen-year-old Southern rebel, Mrs. Rose Greenhow, a conniving spy for the Confederacy, Emma "Frank Thompson", who served in the medical corp and as a spy for the North, and Elizabeth Van Lew, a Unionist from Richmond, who helped men escape from prison and helped a great spy network all under the watchful eyes of top Southern military men and even President Jefferson Davis.

Belle Boyd's first entry into the war was when in her divided town of Martinburg, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, killed a Union soldier who was molesting her mother.  Soon she was riding her horse Fleeter to deliver messages to different regiments and give them intel she gleaned with her grace and charm from Union soldiers during the various times her town was taken over by them (on one day the town changed hands thirteen times).  Belle wanted to be famous and "feared the enemy might forget her very existence unless she took measures to remind them."  She was instrumental in the Shenandoah Campaign and flew across a battlefield, her hat flying, to get news to Stonewall Jackson that the Union troops were few and that he should push ahead. Eventually her deeds would have her end up in prison in Washington D.C., where every whim she had was catered to.  She would be released on the condition that she not come north again, which she disregarded when her family became ill and her hometown was now West Virginia, a Northern state. 

Mrs. Rose Greenhow of Washington D.C. had two older daughters she sent to California for the duration of the war, but kept her eight-year-old daughter Little Rose with her.  Rose could romance a great deal of information from Senators and high ranking officers and was considered the reason the South won the Battle at Manassas (otherwise know as Bull Run).  She had a complicated network of female spies all around town.  Before the first year of the war was up she was captured by Pinkerton, the self proclaimed head of the "secret service" and a spy catcher.  They arrest Rose and her daughter (whom she also uses to pass along information) and put them in jail.  After a few months, she and her daughter are granted their freedom if she promises to not go back into the North.  This will be not the only thing she does for the Confederacy, though.

Emma, a nineteen-year-old woman from Canada, had been impersonating a man in order to get out of a planned wedding to a lecherous old man.  When the war started she immediately joined up, believing it God's will.  She mainly stays in the medical corps helping to bring soldiers off of the battlefield.  She also went undercover as a slave twice and once as an old woman to glean information about the South's military.  She was constantly in fear of being discovered as a woman, and she wasn't the only woman to fight as a man, there were many, but she still chose two different men to confide her secret to and they kept it.

Elizabeth Van Lew, her mother, and her brother, John, let their slaves buy their freedom and she even let her own slave, Mary Jane, receive an education at a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, before the war.  At first Elizabeth doesn't know how she can help.  She starts by visiting the soldiers in the hospital, bringing food and other items.  Soon, though she concocts a plan that involves one of the Confederate officers of the prison, who would pick a soldier out and then have him secretly put on a Confederate uniform and send them to her house, where they would hide out until they could be secreted out and given directions and messages about the military in Richmond on their way to the Northern side.  She even gets her maid, Mary Jane, who had an eidetic memory, employed at the Confederate White House to memorize Davis's papers and send the messages in Mrs. Davis's dresses that were to be mended.  The North would go through many Generals before Hooker (yes, the General whose army had so many prostitutes that that is where the name comes from) realized there was an excellent and effective spy ring right there in Richmond and began using it.  She was constantly under suspicion and had her house searched.  Most of her neighbors hated her for her views and what they suspected she might be doing.

These four women risked everything for their countries during a devastating war, where you never knew who to trust or who might be a spy trying to entrap you into giving yourself away.  They are heroes, just as the men who fought the war were.  They weren't the only women fighting this war, though.  Some women hid supplies and weapons inside their voluminous skirts ("One woman managed to conceal inside her hoop skirt a roll of army cloth, several pairs of cavalry boots, a roll of crimson flannel, packages of gilt braid and sewing silk, cans of preserved meat, and a bag of coffee...") across distances to get them to the soldiers.  Sadly, though, their life after the war wasn't as happy.  I highly recommend this book that looks into the lives of these four incredible women.

 Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Liar-Temptress-Soldier-Spy-Undercover/dp/0062092901/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472215091&sr=1-1&keywords=liar+temptress+soldier+spy+four+women+undercover+in+the+civil+war

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