Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Note: This is an update to a review that I wrote on an old blog of mine that never went “live”. I copied and pasted it here when I first started this blog, but I felt that I never really did this book justice, so I decided to re-write my review and re-post it. So, here we go – take two…

We all know about the history of The Civil War. It’s been over 150 years since America was divided by war on its own soil, and over the decades there have been a multitude of books, documentaries, and movies that tell the story of the war, and analyze the reasons behind it.

So what makes this book different? It tells the true story of something that may not be so widely known; that there were women who, for various reasons, decided that they wanted to help the war effort, or even fight in the war themselves.

There’s not a lot known about the over 400 women who disguised themselves as men and fought side by side with male soldiers, some who even fought alongside their husbands in order not to be separated from them, but over the last few years we’ve seen more articles and books written about these women. But not every women who wanted to help the war effort was cut-out to fight as a disguised male, so hundreds more turned to spying. And they were pretty good at it. Being the “weaker sex” they were often overlooked as a threat to the other side, and using a variety of resources, including good old fashioned feminine wiles, they were able to move vast amounts of information and resources to the front lines.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy tells the stories of four women. Three who spied, and one who fought.

Although a bit slow to start, I found each story fascinating, and was pretty surprised at how effective these women were. I enjoyed the personal stories of the four women the most, and although the descriptions of the war strategies and battles took away from their stories a bit, it was an important part of the book – to pull it all together and let the reader see how crucial these women actually were. This book surprised me in a couple of ways.

First, the story of Emma Edmonds who disguised herself as a man and fought in the Union Army under the name of Frank Thompson. I think this one was my favorite. Not just because of the courage it took, but there were parts of her story that were heart breaking as well.

Then there were the three spies. These three women pulled the wool over the eyes of some pretty high ranking soldiers, and I was surprised at how some of these men didn’t see what was going on right under their noses. And even if they suspected them of spying, how they either overlooked them as inconsequential, or how they just couldn’t find the evidence to stop them. The three spies are:

Belle Boyd, who at seventeen killed a Union soldier, which gave her the bravado to spy for the Confederate army. She was a bit bratty and full of herself, but at that young age she knew what she wanted to do.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow would do anything to help the Confederacy, including using her very young daughter to help smuggle information. I liked her the least. She was so full of herself, and I think was the most ruthless of the three.

Elizabeth Van Lew was the most clever of the three. Of the three spies, I liked her story the most. She didn’t have the brashness of the other two, and was a bit of an outsider. Other than Emma Edmonds, I think she pulled off the best scheme of the bunch.

I won’t go into the details of how each of these stories played out, each one is different, but it’s a fascinating read. Also, the Epilogue was a nice way to continue their stories even after the end of the war.

If you’re interested in learning more about these liars, temptresses, soldiers and spies, there are quite a few nice articles on the Internet, which I will link to below.

And, as always, feel free to leave a comment.

3 responses

  1. I’ve read that some women, disguised as men, fought in the civil war along side their husbands to be near them, but now I wonder if this was happened more often I thought and for various reasons… Not just to be near their husbands. Sounds like an interesting historical read from a different perspective 🙂

  2. Sounds very intriguing. I would definitely be interested in reading this book. It is new information about how they went to war with their husbands. Their effectiveness does not surprise me. Woman have caused entire empires to fall with their so called womanly wiles!