A Secret History Of Civil War-Era Women

Download Audio

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Think Civil War and you’re likely to think boys in blue and gray.  Horse, cannon, cutlass and men at war.  But the Civil War pulled women in to its web of conflict as well.  Some in most daring, dramatic fashion.  On the backroads and battlefields, and in darkened parlors where secrets, battle plans, and urgent messages made their way.  A new history tells the stories of four women who soldiered and spied, for the North, for the South.  Bold and daring women.  This hour On Point: “ Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy - four women undercover in the Civil War.”
-- Tom Ashbrook


Karen Abbott, author of the new book "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover In The Civil War." Also author of "Sin in he Second City" and "American Rose." (@KarenAbbott)

From Tom's Reading List

Jackson Clarion-Ledger: Stories of Civil War women show fighting spirit — "There’s a lot of cross-dressing in these pages. Apparently, a woman in pants was so beyond anyone’s imagination, some 400 women in both the North and South posed as fighting men. So many authors have written so much about the Civil War, and yet, readers remain ravenous for more. Perhaps, our present-day warring forces us to look back and consider past aggressions."

New York Times: The Civil War and the Southern Belle — "In the beginning of the war, Southern women wanted their men to leave — in droves, and as quickly as possible. They were the Confederate Army’s most persuasive and effective recruitment officers, shaming anyone who shirked his duty to fight. A young English immigrant in Arkansas enlisted after being accosted at a recruitment meeting. 'If every man did not hasten to battle, they vowed they would themselves rush out and meet the Yankee vandals,' he wrote of Southern women."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The burning of Atlanta, seared into America's memory — "The fall of Atlanta 150 years ago this week was pivotal to the outcome of the Civil War. It increased the odds that Abraham Lincoln would be re-elected president on the Republican Party platform to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. The immediate effect was to destroy a key Confederate railroad center and manufacturing center, thus depriving Southern armies of vital supplies needed to carry on the war."

Read An Excerpt From "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" By Karen Abbot


"Listen to the Mockingbird" by Stuart Duncan and Dolly Parton

"Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel" by Chris Thile and Michael Daves

"Battle Cry of Freedom" by Bryan Sutton

(All songs from the 2013 album, "Divided and United: Songs of the Civil War.")

This program aired on September 2, 2014.


More from On Point

Listen Live