Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy : Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
by Karen Abbott

Overview -

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and "pioneer of sizzle history" (USA Today ), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.  Read more...

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More About Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and "pioneer of sizzle history" (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women--a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow--who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O'Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies' descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & photos and 3 maps.

  • ISBN-13: 9780062092892
  • ISBN-10: 0062092898
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Publish Date: September 2014
  • Page Count: 513
  • Dimensions: 9.42 x 6.34 x 1.74 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.64 pounds

Related Categories

Books > History > United States - Civil War
Books > History > Women
Books > Political Science > Intelligence & Espionage

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-05-26
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this gripping book, Abbott (Sin in the Second City) 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. (Sept.)

BookPage Reviews

Working undercover in plain sight

You can get away with quite a lot if no one takes you very seriously. Like carrying military intelligence about the Union army through enemy lines to deliver it to the Confederates. Or hiding Union POW escapees in your attic while Confederate officers are boarding downstairs at your home. 

You get the picture: Women were largely dismissed as flighty, inferior creatures in Victorian times. That attitude helped several become some of the most effective spies of the Civil War. Again and again, the women who are the focus of Karen Abbott’s exciting Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War came close to discovery or death, only to be saved by their enemies’ sexism.

Not that Belle Boyd, Rose Greenhow, Emma Edmonds and Elizabeth Van Lew were ordinary women. They were all strong-minded, daring and difficult. Edmonds was perhaps the most astonishing: Escaping an abusive father in Canada, she masqueraded as a young man and joined the Union army. She kept up the game so well that she became an army scout, “cross-dressed” as a woman.

Confederates Greenhow and Boyd were flamboyant women who used sexual attraction in the service of their cause and were too indiscreet to retain their effectiveness. Pro-Union Van Lew, however, was a wealthy, circumspect middle-aged spinster. She carefully built a large, lasting spy and prisoner-escape network in Richmond, even infiltrating an African-American secret agent into Jefferson Davis’ house as a servant.

This is compelling material, and Abbott, best-selling author of Sin in the Second City, cross-cuts among the stories to produce dramatic cliff-hangers. Her depiction of Greenhow’s tragic end will move any reader, whatever one may think of the Confederate cause.


This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews