Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

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


Published September 2nd 2014 by Harper

Hardcover, 544 pages


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a nonfiction book that tells the stories about 4 women and their roles in the Civil War. These were 4 amazing women – though I feel rather unpatriotic saying that two spies for the confederacy were amazing.  But they were all four incredibly brave and strong in their convictions.  Abbott claims in the introduction that she’ll use only primary source material though she did deviate from that at times and put herself into each woman’s mind.

The women in LTSS are:

“A rebellious teenager with a dangerous temper; a Canadian expat on the run from her past;a widow and mother with nothing left to lose; and a wealthy society matron who endured death threats to change the course of the war.”

 I don’t remember ever reading anything about roles that women actively took in the Civil War.  The sheer audacity of Rose Greenhow, Emma Edmonds, Elizabeth Van Lew and Belle Boyd was just astounding to me.  I honestly was expecting Belle Boyd to be shot in the first scene described in the book – when she pulled a gun on Union soldiers threatening her mother – how her poor mother survived hearing about her exploits throughout the war I do not know.  I was terrified reading Emma Edmonds’ stories of a woman dressed as a man and fighting for the North.  I was so sure she would be discovered at any moment.  Rose Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew were on opposing sides but they both put their love of their country above all else.

I loved the way Abbott changed perspectives between the women throughout the book, yet always stayed in the same window of time relating to the war.  I really have not read a lot about the Civil War since mandatory reading in history class, and I had forgotten what I had learned about the scale of the war in bloodshed and death.  Reading the sections about Emma Edmonds (the soldier of the title), definitely reinforced the reality of the war.  Its particularly jarring when you’re reading about the bloody deaths in contrast to the parties taking outings from Washington to watch the battles.  The number of bodies and the horrific wounds these men (and women) endured is just astounding.  Clearly I need to visit my new brother-in-law for a tour of some Civil War battlefields and education.  Interestingly enough, when Holly and J were married this summer they took us on a private tour of the canals of Richmond.  The tour guide actually mentioned Elizabeth Van Lew and how helpful she was to the Union.  I loved having that personal reference while reading this book!

If like me, you haven’t read a whole lot about the Civil War this is a fantastic book to get a wide range of stories from both the North and South perspective.  The changing perspectives made this book read quickly and kept me waiting to catch up with each of the women.  The experiences that these women lived through are brought to life by Karen Abbott and are beyond any fictional tale I can think of.

4 stars!

Thank you Harper and edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

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