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Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott
02-27-2019, 07:59 AM
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Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott
An interesting book about four women in the Civil War
Belle Boyd, Rose Greenhow, Emma Edwards and Elizabeth Van Lew

My copy is a softbound, $1 library book sale bargain with 420 pages of text with good endnotes.
An enjoyable read. Of the three, Elizabeth Van Lew is the only one who did not write a book and have her story published. But she did keep a diary.

Belle Boyd was a teenage spy - scout, who had an unrealistic opinion of herself,
Rose Greenhow was a Washington socialite who managed to tempt men of high position in Washington to divulge military secrets which she forwarded to the south, which quite likely helped the south win at Bull Run. She was very open about her loyalty to the south. She was supposedly quite a temptress and attractive, if so, her photograph does not reflect that. She is presented as being a real undercover spy.
Emma Edwards enlisted as a man, kept her disguise well hidden, revealing herself to only a few men who kept her secret. She served as a soldier, scout, spy and nurse.
Elizabeth Van Lew was a Richmond socialite, from a wealthy family. She was openly pro Union, helped mange a large very successful spy ring in Richmond, aided many escaped prisoners in Richmond's Castle Thunder. She was frequently followed, threatened and her home searched. Confederate authorities never came up with evidence to arrest her. She freed all of her slaves, supposedly had one servant working in the Confederate White House passing secrets back to her. To me she was the most impressive of the 4.

There is an Epilogue at the end of the book. Life after the war was difficult for all of these women. Rose dies before the end of the war

At first I wasn't to impressed with the book, because the author used sources (these women's own books) which were exaggerated accounts of their own activities and other partisan biographies. Abbott states in her opening note (page xv) "In any instance where the women may have engaged in the time-honored Civil War traditions of self-mythology, rendering the events too fantastic, I make note of it in the end notes or the narrative itself."
She used to many of those kind of sources and I find it a bit inconvenient to keep flipping to the back of the book to read the page notes. She addresses this around the 41 minute mark in her interview below

These women put their lives on the line and paid a heavy price for their efforts.
I did find a 54 minute interview of the author on C-Span, and came away with a better understanding of her approach and purpose for this book.

Overall I found the book to be enjoyable to read, but to many of her sources are questionable.
Here is the Amazon website for the book

Belle's, Rose's and Emma's stories in their own words are available on the internet
Belle Boyd -
Rose Greenhow -
Rose's European Diary -
Emma Edmonds -

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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