As a woman, what would make you go to war in 1861? To be beside your husband? Pure loyalty to the cause? Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy delves into the history of four courageous women who took part in the Civil War. High spirited seventeen-year-old Belle Boyd began packing a Colt 1849 pistol. When early in the war, Union soldiers invaded their home and were beginning to stronghold her mother, she shot and killed one. They then turned their attention to her. “She heard herself speak before she had a chance to contemplate her words: ‘Only those who are cowards shoot women,’ she said, and spread open her arms. ‘Now shoot!’” Belle (Siren of the Shenandoah) was best known for her work as a Confederate Spy providing valuable information to Stonewall Jackson.
Emma Edmondson is of real interest to me as I had many years ago been surprised that as many as 300 – 400 women went to battle for both sides – Union and Confederate. She became Frank Thompson, a Union soldier serving as a private for Company F, 2nd Michigan Infantry and began serving in the nation’s capital. His comrades knew that “despite his slight stature and oddly smooth face he had enjoyed a reputation as a ladies’ man before the outbreak of the war, squiring them around town in the finest horse and buggy …” Emma served for two years without being detected. She also served as a spy and was very clever with her disguises.
The other two women to which this novel focuses is Rose O’Neale Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew. Rose O’Neale, a Washington, DC socialite, became a Confederate spy using the friendships she’d attained with generals, senators, and high-ranking military officers to send encoded messages about the Union’s movements. Elizabeth Van Lew had requested and been given permission to bring items of comfort – books, food, and clothing — to the Union prisoners of war being held in Richmond, VA. She would later help prisoners to escape.
The novel details each year (1861 – 1865); the battles of the war; and the generals that led them. However, it is primarily a story of these women. It is told as a story, yet per the author’s note, any of the quoted script was taken directly from “a book, diary, letter, archival note, or transcript …” There is no “invented dialogue.” It is quite comprehensive (433 pages). There are actual pictures of these women and additional images throughout the novel. Even though it was told in story format, at times it felt a bit stiff like reading a textbook instead of fiction. I loved how these women became very creative about hiding messages. They’d sew ciphered notes in the hems of their skirts, or roll them within their hair. Rating: 3.5 out of 5.