Satisfy the female Civil War spies of Karen Abbott’s new book

Emma Edmondson
An 1865 depiction of Emma Edmondson dodging a bullet on horseback

Illustration courtesy of Janus Images

On September 17, author Karen Abbott reads from her latest, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, the little-known story of four female Civil War spies. A quick primer:

Rose O'Neal Greenhow
Rose O’Neal Greenhow

Allegiance Confederacy
Tradecraft This widow used her suitors to run a Confederate spy ring outside of her D.C. home. Her intel was responsible for the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run, kicking off the war.

Emma Edmondson
Emma Edmondson

Allegiance Union
Tradecraft One of 400 women who disguised themselves as men to fight, the Canadian farm girl assumed a new identity—Frank Thompson—when she crossed the border. She once shot off a Confederate captain’s nose.

Belle Boyd
Belle Boyd

Allegiance Confederacy
Tradecraft At 17, the “fastest girl in Virginia” shot a Union solider dead in her home after he threatened her mother, then turned to espionage, seducing her way into intelligence information.

Elizabeth Van Lew
Elizabeth Van Lew

Allegiance Union
Tradecraft An abolitionist spinster from Richmond, Van Lew hid Northern POWs in her attic and sent her maid to work for (and report back on) Jefferson Davis, all while flying the Stars and Bars in her foyer.

On the calendar: The writer discusses her historical account of Civil War espionage at the Margaret Mitchell House on September 17.

Image credits: Edmondson dressed as Private Frank Thompson: Library and Archives of Canada; Greenhow, circa 1861: Library of Congress;
Boyd: Library of Congress; Van Lew: Library of Virginia

This article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue under the headline “Shady Ladies.”