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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-209289-2
Hardcover, $27.99, 544 pages
Karen Abbott shows us a unique perspective of the American Civil War through the fascinating stories of four women. Two of them supported the cause of the Confederacy and two of them worked to keep the Union together.

Emma Edmonds ran away from her family, cut off her hair, and enlisted as a Union soldier. She became Frank and ended up working first as a medic, carrying injured soldiers off the battlefield and assisting the doctors in their care. It was brutal and bloody.

Her next job was as a postmaster, but she eventually came to the attention of the Secret Service, run by Allen Pinkerton. He had Emma, whom he believed to be a man, pose as an Irish peddler and as a black slave and infiltrate the Confederate lines to get information. She was a woman posing as a man posing as a woman- crazy!

Pinkerton also became involved with Rose, a Washington DC widow who used her feminine charms to seduce prominent Union politicians to get information to send to the Confederacy. Pinkerton worked hard to get evidence against her and eventually arrested her for espionage.

I was shocked that not only did Rose use her eight-year-old daughter to pass information to her spies, but when Rose was arrested, her daughter was held in jail with her. The conditions were horrible, and to subject a young child to that was unfair.

Elizabeth Van Lewis was from a prominent Richmond, Virginia family. She supported the Union, not a popular thing to do in Richmond. She used her superior intellect to organize a spy network through her work assisting Union prisoners held in a Richmond compound. 

She was able to recruit many spies, hide prisoners and send them back North, and get information to Union generals about Confederate troop movements. Jennifer Chiaverini wrote a historical fiction about Van Lew last year, titled Spymistress, that told Van Lew's story more in depth.

Belle Boyd was a young, headstrong teen when she shot and killed a Union soldier who was in her family's home. She loved the spotlight, and after escaping punishment for her crime, she became further emboldened and began to spy for the Confederacy.

She thought nothing of riding behind enemy lines to get the information to pass onto General Stonewall Jackson, who she had romantic feelings for.

I found it interesting that Rose and Belle both traveled to Great Britain in their quest to get England to aide the Confederacy. It was also fascinating to note that Pope Pius IX was the only world leader to recognize the Confederacy.

These women were brave and clever, using every feminine wile and intellect they had to advance the cause they held dear to them. Whether sewing secret messages in Jefferson Davis' wife's dresses or creating fake documents to fool the opposition, these women were remarkable and Abbott tells their stories with breathtaking interest.

Like many soldiers, the end of the war was difficult for them. The excitement was over, and it was difficult to return to their old lives. It was sad to find out how their lives ended.

Abbott brings these exciting women to life on the page, and I found their stories thrilling. Although this is a big book, I read it quickly, waiting to see what these brave women would do next. This is a book any history buff, but especially women, will enjoy.

Rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC for putting me on Karen Abbott's tour. The rest of Karen's stops are here.

Karen’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 2nd: bookchickdi
Wednesday, September 3rd: Lit and Life
Thursday, September 4th: Bibliophilia, Please
Friday, September 5th: Based on a True Story
Monday, September 8th: Dwell in Possibility
Tuesday, September 9th: Bibliosue
Wednesday, September 10th: Back Porchervations
Thursday, September 11th: WildmooBooks
Friday, September 12th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 15th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, September 16th: Ace and Hoser Blook
Wednesday, September 17th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Monday, September 22nd: Consuming Culture
Tuesday, September 23rd: Books on the Table
Wednesday, September 24th: Lavish Bookshelf
Thursday, September 25th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, September 30th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, October 2nd: The Feminist Texican [Reads]


  1. I have this in my pile -- I generally love books (fiction and non) that take place during the Civil War.

  2. I met Abbott in New York and she was so nice! I got the book but have passed it on to my mom because she enjoys that time period so much more than I do.

  3. These women sound incredible - I'm very interested to read their stories!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.