Book Review Thursday: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

LiarTemptressSoldierSpyIf you think you’ve read all the good books written about the Civil War, think again.  This one tells the story of women who served “their side” during the war.  Two were Unionists and two were Confederate and each believed they were on the right side of history.

Author Karen Abbott prefaced her book as a work of nonfiction, with no invented dialogue.  Everything is the book that is seen in quotes is something gleaned from a book, diary, letter or some other form of personal documentation belonging to these four ladies, with the exception of the “spy” Elizabeth Van Lew who thought it unseemly to write about and profit from what she had done to support the Union.  Instead, her stories have been passed down through her descendants.

One of them had a fantastic imagination, making her an exceptionally good liar I suppose.  Belle Boyd was seventeen years old at the beginning of the war and known as “the fastest girl in Virginia or anywhere else for that matter.”  A Southerner through and through, she fantasized about Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and corresponded with him regularly before his death.

The temptress, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, another Southern sympathizer, lived in Washington, D.C.  As a widow, she was free to flirt with and entice powerful men into her bedroom, thereby gleaning vital information from them to pass on to the Confederates.

Union soldier Frank Thomson was really Emma Edmonson, a Canadian woman who had fled her home before being forced by her family to marry an unseemly character.  After a stint as a Bible salesman, she decided to join the Michigan infantry.  I had already read some of her book and Abbott’s retelling followed Emma’s own narrative very well.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a Southerner living in Richmond with strong Unionist sympathies, so strong she was willing to play the role of spy (and risk capture) while living in Richmond, right under the nose of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Abbott admits that some elements are extrapolated from other sources as well, and she does a great job of making these four ladies and their stories come alive.  I was fascinated to learn about some of the techniques and spy craft utilized – cloak and dagger-type stuff.

These women and their stories came alive with their own actual accounts as retold by Ms. Abbott.  As historian and author Denise Kiernan wrote in her review, one certainly knows how the Civil War ended, but the book is so compelling you want to read to the very end to find out what happened to each of these women.

Anyone interested in Civil War history (and especially if you’ve never read anything about the women who served) will find this a great read.  Well worth your time and I highly recommend it.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.


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