Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

There are many books on the Civil War and the spies plied their trade during that war.  There are few books about women spies.  And there were many more woman spying than you would think for a time period when women were considered too frail and not smart enough to participate in war.  This book contains stories about 4 of these women - 2 Confederate sympathizers, 2 Union sympathizers.

The Confederate sympathizers were Bell Boyd and  Rose O'Neal Greenhow. Belle Boyd was a 17 year old with a bad reputation. Not a proper Southern lady at all. She was fierce, she shot to death a Union soldier who was attacking her mother in her home. She also seduced men on both sides to gain information and advantage.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a beautiful widow with a young daughter.  She had a reputation as a social climber and a loose woman.  She had numerous affairs with Union officers in order to gain information and she was not above using her young daughter to help her cause.  She once sent the young girl out alone with information to pass onto Rebel camps.

The two Union sympathizers were Emma Edmonds and Elizabeth Van Lew. Perhaps the most interesting of the group, Emma was very much a woman who had had a very unhappy childhood.  Her father had wanted a son so he alternately ignored or abused Emma. She was so unhappy she ran away from home and lived her life as a man, figuring that was the only way she could survive.  She enlisted in the Union Army as Frank Thompson. She never had to take a physical because the Army was so short of volunteers they were taking anyone who showed up. She was in some of the bloodiest battles of the war  moving between the 2 armies as a letter carrier for the Union.  She contracted malaria and that was the end of her undercover adventures.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy Richmond abolitionist. She pretended to be a proper southern lady as she amassed a large spy ring for the Union, including placing one of her former slaves in the Southern White house. And she did all this while having Rebel detectives following her every move.

The author  uses primary source materials: diaries, letters, war records and interviews with descendants to piece together these stories. The story line weaves from one of the women to another through some of the worst battles of the war: Manassas, Antietam and the siege of Richmond telling of the destruction these women wrecked on themselves and others.

Giving a different view of  Civil war history this biography of 4 very interesting women is just plain interesting.

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