“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” tells the incredible stories of four women, two Confederates and two Union supporters, who risked their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to conduct espionage during the Civil War. Each woman took on many or all of the labels included in the title at one point or another during the brutal conflict. Rose Greenhow – based in D.C., Rose seduced Northern politicians to unearth secrets that she sent directly to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Rose also traveled to Europe in the hopes of garnering support there for the Confederate cause. Belle Boyd – born near Harper’s Ferry, WV, Belle was quite the Southern jezebel, entrapping men on both sides. Both Rose and Belle were imprisoned by the Union at various times for their actions. Emma Edmonds – from Canada cut her hair, lowered her voice, and assumed the persona of Frank Thompson, a Union soldier. Emma was sent across enemy lines many times and suffered debilitating injuries and serious illness during her time with the soldiers, but she remained a staunch supporter of the Union cause, donating all the proceeds of her memoirs to wounded Union soldiers. Elizabeth Van Lew – was a wealthy single woman with strong abolitionist views living in Richmond, VA, the Confederate capital. Elizabeth ran the Richmond underground, a vast network of spies that fed information back to Union generals.
I found these stories absolutely riveting. Of all, I think Elizabeth was my favorite. Elizabeth had everything to lose as a single female in hostile territory, and she was hated by her neighbors as well as her estranged sister-in-law, all of whom tried, in vain, to get her arrested on numerous occasions. Her brother John was forced into the rebel army despite Elizabeth’s pleas. She carried out her espionage largely at her own expense and was never fully compensated for her activities by the government, even after the war. She had a keen instinct and was fully aware of the dangers she faced as her underground network grew, exposing her to many strangers which only increased her chances of discovery. Not even when the rebels tried to burn down her house around her ears did she back down. She was rewarded, for a time, for her services by a grateful president, Ulysses S. Grant, but the hatred and animosity of her neighbors after the war made the end of her life a sad one. Unlike Rose, Belle, and Emma, Elizabeth never cashed in by selling her memoirs.
These stories of courage, intelligence, and instinct highlight some true female heroes. I will say though that I don’t recommend “reading” this an an audio book, as I did. There are far too many names and because the author skips between the four women, it can be difficult to keep all the characters straight. I highly recommend this book, but I believe the print version is the better way to go.
Amazon link is here.