Unlike a traditional war novel, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott seeks to uncover the important although unusual role of women during the Civil War. It tells the four unique stories of women who chose to serve their respective sides of the war as spies.
On the Union front, we meet Emma Edmondson and Elizabeth Van Lew. For the Confederacy, Belle Boyd and Rose O’ Neal work to advance their efforts and undermine the Union. The methods each of these women employed to advance her cause took advantage of each ones unique feminine abilities. Whether posing as a man and fighting in the ranks, using feminine “charms”, simple social connections or the help of a child, each woman took dangerous risks. I did think it was interesting that women made excellent spies, because the culture of the day dictated that women were the more genteel species and somewhat incapable of treason. As such, they were able to slip across enemy lines, convey encrypted messages and enlist the sympathy of men in a way that was easily unnoticed. Sadly their efforts have been generally ignored in the historical accounts of that time.
This book was as exciting as it was unusual. Some parts of the stories had an air of fiction, but, the author does tell us that she uses factual documents as much as possible to assemble the pieces of each of these accounts. Each one lived an exciting life and took dangerous risks on behalf of her cause. It did make me wonder why this was the first I had heard of their efforts and why our history books give greater weight to the effort of men than women. That said, both novice and expert historians will appreciate the unique perspective offered in this book as it gives further nuance to the struggle of the War Between the States.
At times I did find the storyline difficult to follow as each woman’s story is told in pieces with the author jumping back and forth between each one. In the audio version, this is a bigger issue as it is more difficult to back track if the details become confused between each storyline. Overall the book was very interesting and well worth the read.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Audible.com. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.