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Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles and Altered the Course of the Civil War

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  • Posted December 26, 2010

    Women Can Not Only Be Deceptive, But Heroic Too

    Winkler's earlier 2008 book Goats and Scapegoats focused on the mistakes made during the Civil War by those who should have known better-the generals involved at the forefront of the conflict. In Stealing Secrets, Winkler goes behind the battle lines, and, in some cases, into the boudoir, in which men once more showed their vulnerability by trading their state secrets for the blissful, but tenuous, embrace of those who would betray their ill-placed trust. However, Winkler is keen to point out that he regards these tales of valor as just that. Underplaying the salacious and what many would consider to be the scandalous nature of the liaisons involved, he holds, rather, that the encounters that he describes were, in fact, a success story of the women involved, showing how they were able to impact on the course of the Civil War through their heroic actions. Winkler includes accounts of women who also took an active role on the battle front as such, including Harriet Tubman and Loreta Velazquez. In the course of his narrative, he is able to debunk many of the myths and much of the misinformation surrounding the women concerned.

    The focus of Stealing Secrets is both on the women, in relation to their own households and their network of relations, as much as it is on how their work impacted on the progress of the war. The emotional commitment of the women to those whom they supported is revealed with great honesty and clarity. The excerpts included from memoirs, journals and private correspondence make this an intimate collection of tales. The account is a vivid one, made all the more so by the inclusion of several black-and-white photographs and reproductions of excerpts of newspaper reports of the day, that help to bring the stories to life.

    Although dealing with what could possibly be an erotic subject at times, Winkler alludes to the sexual exploits of those heroines who gave their all for the sake of a cause in which they firmly believed in the most chaste of terms. In speaking of one of Rose Greenhow's lovers, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, for example, Winkler writes: "the powerful chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee was sharing more than tea and crumpets with a Confederate spy." Winkler is also not beyond making the occasional tongue-in-cheek statement, as in his allusion to the case of Senator Wilson's letters to Greenhow being kept confidential up until this day: "The Senate has a long history of taking care of its own." The narrative is told in a straightforward way, using sentences that are easy enough for even a child to understand. Winkler maintains the pace of his text throughout by including few footnotes and referring to published works in the most general of terms. However, that a great deal of research has gone into this work is clear, with the ten pages listing the various sources used attesting to the fact. The index, in keeping with the rest of the book, is comprehensive, but not unduly cluttered with inconsequential references.

    Stealing Secrets is an attractive volume that is well presented and written. Its accessibility of subject matter and style should ensure that it appeals to a wide audience, ranging from those who are interested in the course of the American Civil War to those who are intrigued by any works to do with espionage and the role of women in conflict.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2012

    Great read!

    Do you like biographical accounts? If so you should like this. 298 pages of stories about ladies who did for the North while living in South during the Civil War. They are heroines in there own right. Ladies who had money and used if for the good of the North. Eash woman has her own persona. They knew such interesting people. Like U S Grant, Generals, Senators and such to whom they could smuggle information about the armies and etc. Each one has her own story, and that is how the book is written. I would say I am only one-third done, but am looking forward to reading about the rest of the ladies "Stealing Secrets" and how they managed to get the information to the other side. These are ladies who are true southern woman who have sympathies in the North. Information was sewn into there gowns or rolled into there hair. I still have a ways to go but feel this is a great book. Hope you can enjoy it too.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2012

    if you like the civil war recommend

    It was amazing how much the women were invilved in the spy game. The women were very canny and used amazing ways to get messages to the other side.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    A view seldom.shared.

    Except for 1 or 2 women in out history books 30+ years ago, I was very unaware of how important women were in helping create our early history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2012

    Recommended

    Very good reading. People interested in the Civil War would love this one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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