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

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

4.4 15
by Karen Abbott

View All Available Formats & Editions

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:

…  See more details below


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. 

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/26/2014
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.)
Kirkus Reviews
Four Civil War subversives—who happened to be women—garner a lively treatment.Having previously written on Gypsy Rose Lee (American Rose) and the Everleigh brothel in turn-of-the-century Chicago (Sin in the Second City), Abbott finds some sympathetic, fiery characters in these four women who managed to aid their causes, either North or South, in their own particular ways. Belle Boyd, a 17-year-old farmer’s daughter from Martinsburg, Virginia, which had voted three to one against secession, declared her loyalty to the Southern cause by shooting a Yankee soldier who dared to touch her mother, and thereby took advantage of the confusion and movement of troops to slip through the lines and pass secrets; she was in and out of jail during the course of the war. Emma Edmonds, having left the family farm in 1859 to reinvent herself as a man selling Bibles door to door, offered herself to the Union cause two years later, serving mostly in a medical capacity. According to Abbott, Edmonds was one of 400 women, Northern and Southern, who posed as men. Rose Greenhow, a comely widow and grieving mother of some means in Washington, D.C., fashioned herself as a spy for the Southern cause, learning code, passing messages wound in her servants’ hair and inviting all kinds of late-night gentlemen callers; Greenhow would eventually go abroad to drum up sympathy for the Confederacy in England and France, turning her charms on Napoleon III and others. A wealthy Richmond spinster, Elizabeth Van Lew had deep Yankee roots in her family and was unique in that she cultivated intricate subterfuge right under her Southern neighbors’ noses—e.g., passing Confederate troops movements to Gen. Benjamin Butler. Abbott proceeds chronologically, navigating the historical record through quotes and personal detail.Remarkable, brave lives rendered in a fluidly readable, even romantic history lesson.
Erik Larson
“With this book, Karen Abbott declares herself the John le Carré of Civil War espionage—with the added benefit that the saga she tells is all true and beautifully researched.”
Deborah Blum
The subjects of Karen Abbott’s gripping story Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy leap up — and almost off — the page… an irresistibly good tale of Civil War espionage and a reminder that the heroes of our history are often found in the most unexpected places.
Gilbert King
“Karen Abbott’s powerful narrative is first rate American history about a fascinating, little-known chapter of the Civil War, as well as a compulsive, thrilling saga of espionage. Brilliant storytelling, highly accessible, and impossible to put down.”
Lydia Netzer
“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a masterwork of suspenseful plots and unforgettable characters rendered in exacting, gorgeous detail-a brilliant new take on the heroines and villainesses of the Civil War.”
Robert Hicks
“With Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott has taken history and written it with the eloquence of good fiction. Halfway through her book, I decided Ian Fleming could not have invented better spies…nor have written about them with any more suspense.”
Michael Korda
“Abbott…[reveals] in such vivid detail the extraordinary lives of women who involved themselves so dangerously in the Civil War. This is that rare work of history that reads like a novel — and a really good one at that — and in which the truth is more thrilling than fiction. ”
Amanda Foreman
“Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy by Karen Abbott is a masterpiece of narrative storytelling, backed by impeccable research and extraordinary material. I was gripped by every page.”
Megan Abbott
Thrilling, illuminating, heart-pounding. Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy reads like a crackling espionage novel...Karen Abbott brings to vivid life four of extraordinary and audacious women, and runs glorious roughshod over all our traditional notions of the role of women in the Civil War.
Joshilyn Jackson
“Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and paced like an edge-of-your-seat-novel—-I love this big, ambitious, unstoppable book.”
Los Angeles Times
“Not for nothing has Abbott been called a ‘pioneer of sizzle history.’ Here she creates a gripping page-turner that moves at a breathtaking clip through the dramatic events of the Civil War.”
Wall Street Journal
“Engrossing…Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is conscientiously researched and smoothly written and structured.”
USA Today (four stars)
“A revelation... Abbott profiles four [women], sometimes weaving, sometimes stacking their stories together into a compelling narrative.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“Eloquent… A riveting psychological inquiry and probing examination of the courage, incomparable patriotism, stamina, and agility of four women who repeatedly risked their lives to serve their citizenry... Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy [feels] like an operatic espionage novel, where deception, betrayal, love, and redemption are interspersed with gripping combat scenes and perilous rescues.”
Washington Times
“Compelling... Karen Abbott stitches together a patchwork narrative as complex as a pieced quilt, combining the colorful, unrelated tales of four women who fought in the Civil War as surely as Lee and Grant… [her] high achievement lies in her Augean compilation of published and archival material.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, full of so many titillating dramas and details, you could be forgiven for periodically checking the back of the book to make sure it’s nonfiction.”
Washington Post
“Abbott’s prose is vivid, especially when she writes about battles and the terrible costs they exact.”
“Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is the kind of page-turning book you can get so absorbed in that you keep forgetting it’s nonfiction.”
Library Journal
In this riveting work, Abbott (Sin in the Second City) tells the story of the Civil War through the eyes of four women who dared to risk everything to serve as spies for their respective causes. Unlike biographical works such as Larry G. Eggleston's Women in the Civil War that devote a chapter to each subject, these women's tales move from one account to the next throughout the years. The result is a highly entertaining narrative with the pace and tone of a novel, albeit one told from the singular viewpoint of women who had an unusual amount of access to both Union and Confederate military and political leaders. Of particular interest are references to Mary Bowser, whose placement inside Jefferson Davis's household by her employer Elizabeth Van Lew is a missed opportunity for a broader perspective on undercover activities. Extensive research drawn from analysis of personal papers, newspapers, and official records provides authentic dialog, and the author takes great care in noting discrepancies or questionable claims. VERDICT This fresh perspective on what is perhaps a familiar story will cause readers to ponder the fine line between traitors and patriots. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Barbara Ferrara, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA

Read More

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.25(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.60(d)


Meet the Author

Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City, American Rose, and, most recently, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian magazine, Salon, and other publications.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a fascinating look into women's roles in the Civil war. It was so interesting I could hardly put it down. I would recommend this book not only for Civil War buffs but for everyone.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Karen Abbott shows us a unique perspective of the American Civil War through the fascinating stories of four women. Two of them supported the cause of the Confederacy and two of them worked to keep the Union together. Emma Edmonds ran away from her family, cut off her hair, and enlisted as a Union soldier. She became Frank and ended up working first as a medic, carrying injured soldiers off the battlefield and assisting the doctors in their care. It was brutal and bloody. Her next job was as a postmaster, but she eventually came to the attention of the Secret Service, run by Allen Pinkerton. He had Emma, whom he believed to be a man, pose as an Irish peddler and as a black slave and infiltrate the Confederate lines to get information. She was a woman posing as a man posing as a woman- crazy! Pinkerton also became involved with Rose, a Washington DC widow who used her feminine charms to seduce prominent Union politicians to get information to send to the Confederacy. Pinkerton worked hard to get evidence against her and eventually arrested her for espionage. I was shocked that not only did Rose use her eight-year-old daughter to pass information to her spies, but when Rose was arrested, her daughter was held in jail with her. The conditions were horrible, and to subject a young child to that was unfair. Elizabeth Van Lewis was from a prominent Richmond, Virginia family. She supported the Union, not a popular thing to do in Richmond. She used her superior intellect to organize a spy network through her work assisting Union prisoners held in a Richmond compound.  She was able to recruit many spies, hide prisoners and send them back North, and get information to Union generals about Confederate troop movements. Jennifer Chiaverini wrote a historical fiction about Van Lew last year, titled Spymistress, that told Van Lew's story more in depth. Belle Boyd was a young, headstrong teen when she shot and killed a Union soldier who was in her family's home. She loved the spotlight, and after escaping punishment for her crime, she became further emboldened and began to spy for the Confederacy. She thought nothing of riding behind enemy lines to get the information to pass onto General Stonewall Jackson, who she had romantic feelings for. I found it interesting that Rose and Belle both traveled to Great Britain in their quest to get England to aide the Confederacy. It was also fascinating to note that Pope Pius IX was the only world leader to recognize the Confederacy. These women were brave and clever, using every feminine wile and intellect they had to advance the cause they held dear to them. Whether sewing secret messages in Jefferson Davis' wife's dresses or creating fake documents to fool the opposition, these women were remarkable and Abbott tells their stories with breathtaking interest. Like many soldiers, the end of the war was difficult for them. The excitement was over, and it was difficult to return to their old lives. It was sad to find out how their lives ended. Abbott brings these exciting women to life on the page, and I found their stories thrilling. Although this is a big book, I read it quickly, waiting to see what these brave women would do next. This is a book any history buff, but especially women, will enjoy.
wyvernsea More than 1 year ago
Excellent story of four women and how the Civil War affected their lives in unexpected ways. One chose to dress as a man to fight in the war. One chose to hide Union soldiers and help transport them back home. Two chose to spy. Two were on the side of the Union and two on the side of the Confederacy. I learned so much from reading this book as it went into great detail and was non-fiction based on much research and history. I never quite grasped the reality that 10,000 men could lose their lives in one day in such awful, desperate measures. As a transplant to the South, much of the Southern frame of mind became clearer through my reading of this book. The author graced us with a Skype visit at our book club and that was such a highlight. We were able to ask questions that she so graciously answered. I look forward to reading her other books and she has one in the works! 
richard11 More than 1 year ago
A different look at the civil war. Women played a bigger role than often thought. Well worth the time.
efm More than 1 year ago
Well written and enjoyable, learned a lot of interesting things.
LM_Bookreader 9 months ago
I originally found this book through Book Bub and was drawn to it due to the descriptions of the women who were underestimated by men during the Civil War. Remarkable women in history always pique my interest and this book did exactly that. Also, my book club was planning to visit Charleston and I believed Liar Temptress Soldier Spy would be excellent as another point of view of the south during this time period. The book was everything I hoped for with the book and the ladies fascinating. I was impressed by the way the author moved back and forth between the women and their stories as the war progressed with the book always keeping my interest to see what would happen next. After reading the book, I visited the author's website; and found it to be an amazing resource to go along with the book and through the website I was able to email Ms. Abbot to invite her to video chat with our book club to discuss the book. She was generous with her time and our chat with her increased our understanding of the four ladies even more so as she discussed her process and research in bringing this book to life. Ms. Abbot was very gracious and a wonderful resource to us. We all agreed we loved the book and were impressed with Ms. Abbott and look forward to reading more of her work. I definitely recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book kept my attention. I loved all 4 womens storylines. I struggled with jumping between characters but once I was hooked on one character, I wouldn't put the book down so I could learn more about that character. Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So wonderful to read of females furing this time period
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous 4 months ago
I have just started your book I am impressed with your writing and imagery - however, it bothers me to see you use the term "civil war " it was the war " between the states " .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks put it on the book plz