Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Powerful and gripping this story of four remarkable women who filled unconventional roles during the Civil War is unputdownable from start to finish.  Karen Abbott’s research is impeccable, her facts indisputable yet the story reads very much like a novel as it flows so smoothly alternately focusing on each woman.  Most fascinating for this reader were the direct quotations taken from diaries and letters written at that time.  In addition, the narrative is filled with historical figures - Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Allan Pinkerton and more.  Yet it is the courage and passion of these daring four women that gives the story breath and life.

Belle Boyd was but 17-years-old when she shot a Union soldier in her home.  She was boisterous, hot tempered and an avowed rebel who became a courier and spy for the Confederate army.  She was an inveterate flirt who used her charms to seduce men and gain information.  She later lived through imprisonment while continuing to defy the Union by any means possible.

Rose Greenhow was an attractive widow and Washington D.C. hostess with many influential friends.  She used her position to acquire information about the Union’s military plans and passed it along.  She openly defied and sometimes ridiculed Pinkerton’s operatives who were attempting to catch her, yet she was imprisoned along with her young daughter.  At one time President Jefferson Davis even sent her to Europe to lobby for the South.

This quartet of valiant women came from different backgrounds and regions.  Young Emma Edmondson escaped a Canadian farm and her cruel father who had promised her to an elderly neighbor.  She crossed the border into Michigan where after dressing as a man and taking the name of Frank Thompson she enlisted in the Union Army.  She worked as a nurse and courier, most often at only arm’s length from the unspeakable battlefield horrors.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy Richmond spinster who supported the Union cause.  She carefully displayed a Confederate flag in the foyer of her spacious home while she was hiding Northern prisoners in a secret room until her free black servants could assist their escape.  She placed one of her servants in the home of Jefferson Davis.  The maid who had an amazing memory would gain Confederate intelligence and pass it back to Elizabeth.  Even though threatened with death Elizabeth continued her efforts on the Union’s behalf.

Each of these women was willing to sacrifice all, even their lives to further the cause in which they believed.  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is true, beautifully written, and not to be missed.

- Gail Cooke

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