"Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War"

Sep 23, 2014

On this presentation of ST, we welcome Karen Abbott, the bestselling author of "Sin in the Second City" and other books, whom USA Today has called a "pioneer of sizzle history." Abbott joins us by phone to talk about her newest volume, which tells the strange-but-true stories of four different women who risked everything to become spies, combatants, or informants during the Civil War. The book is "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War," and it's just out from Harper. As was noted of this work in a starred review in Publishers Weekly: "In this gripping book, Abbott tells the moving and fascinating story of four women who played unconventional roles during the Civil War: Belle Boyd, a boisterous flirt and Confederate spy; Rose Greenhow, a seductive widow also spying for the South; Emma Edmondson, who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Union army; and Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy spinster in the Confederate capital with Unionist loyalties. Meticulously researched and fluidly written, this book draws the reader in and doesn't let go until the four heroines draw their final breaths. Abbott provides an alternate view of this tumultuous time in history by featuring previously untold stories of the impact women and civilians had on the war effort, and she brings these individuals fully to life, with their passion for their causes (Elizabeth for abolitionism, Rose for the Confederacy), personal flaws (Rose was racist and self-involved, Belle was impulsive and vain), and heartbreak (Emma by two different men, Belle for an opposing spy). For example, in an era when men had trouble even picturing women in pants, Emma Edmondson enlisted as a man in the Union army and saw action in her roles as both spy and nurse. In the end, Abbott tells a remarkable story of passion, strength, and resilience."