History Is Not Her-Story


by Cara Young, Opinion Editor

In recognition of Women’s History Month, today’s review will be concerning “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War” by celebrated sentence crafter Kate Abbott. Even while falling under the Historical nonfiction genre, some details and descriptions are clearly romanticized or dramatized, yet always within a reasonable and respectable way. The book itself was very well toned for the time period it described, and maintained an air of quiet paranoia and grim foreboding.

“A clever woman . . . equally at home with Ministers of state or their doorkeepers, with leaders and the led, ”

Perhaps the most well known woman in this novel is Rose Greenhow. A seductress with powerful connections in Northern political circles, she is able to extract information and send it along complicated routes via a much needed network of spies to be delivered to Southern officials.

“She managed all of this, one admirer mused, without even being beautiful.”

Much to the same tune as southern bell, Bell Boyd, who turned confederate spy after shooting the union soldier threatening her mother, using her feminine allures to sweet talk information about troop moral and marching orders out of lonely men.

“I longed to say to them, ‘be not like dumb driven cattle’. . . .They kindly informed me that… they were going to protecting us women.”

On the union side from the south is Miss Elizabeth Van Lew, a never married spinster, used her Richmont mansion and socialite status to aid the Union’s POWs and smuggle more than just information for the north. She gave everything; time, money, security, and longevity of her family name to aid these men fighting for survival in her town.

“Up to the present that hand has been engaged in getting an education.”

While all four women carried important information during the war, Emma Edmonds, posing as Union soldier Frank Thomas, also fought in, delivered information through, and nursed soldiers in some of the bloodiest, corpse riddled fields the Civil War ever birthed. During which she was found out as a female and forced to desert, making Frank unable to qualify for pension and benefits after the war.

I, however, must say that overall this book is sorrowful one. Not only does Abbott depict a time of divided hearts, minds, and families among our nation, but provides a hefty reminder of issues we still struggle with today. Societal problems such as sexism, racism, and age discrimination were prominent during this Civil War period and have not diminished.

Graphic by Cara Young 

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