Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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


Trained as a medievalist, I spent my professional career teaching, researching, and writing about western European literature and history from Homer through Mary Astell. When this daybook begins with daily entries, my posts will reflect my own background  and areas of expertise.

But I relish the opportunities for widening my horizons and learning more about women's history--I've just enjoyed listening to an hour-long interview with writer Karen Abbott, whose own work focuses on the American Civil War. Her new book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, details the exploits of four women whose roles are representative of the ways many women played a significant part in the conflict. 

Abolitionist and Spy Elizabeth Van Lew
Abbott's liar, temptress, soldier, and spy are Belle Boyd, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Sarah Emma Edmonds, and Elizabeth Van Lew. Abbot's interview with Tom Ashbrook, "A Secret History of Civil-War Women," is a fascinating recounting of the the stories of these four women--and of many other women whose stories are far less familiar than those of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman, or even Harriet Tubman. Though, as I have now learned, this "secret" history of Civil War Women is not-so-secret--there are many wonderful online sources and references available for those who are interested. (The National Archives has a very informative set of articles by DeAnn Blanton on women who fought as soldiers during the Civil War; to access this series, click here.)

In addition to her new book, Abbott has also recently published an engaging piece on Southern women on the homefront in The New York Times, "The Civil War and the Southern Belle" (18 August 2014).