Frank took the oath of llegiance to the United States…He assured himself that this ha a calling, that he wa to do what he could ‘ for the defense of the ight, ’ and that if he was careful no one would discover his secret: Frank Thompson was really Emma Edmondson, and ad been posing as a man for two years… ”- Karen Abbott, Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil WarAnyone who has spent time around children knows that they ask really fundamental questions.
ecently, I was watching n episode of Blood& Fury, a Civil War documentary, with my six year-old daughter, Emilia.
While we sat on the couch, Emilia asked: “ Were there any girls in the Civil War? ” “ Sure, ” I said confidently.
Curiously, my mothe found a discarded page from her diary that said: “ his is my Dad [ ’ s ] favorite thing [: ] it is the Civil War. ” ( Note: This is not entirely true.
inally, a bit angr with my attempts to clarify the U.S. Sanitation Commission, Emilia blurted out: “ No, I mean did any girls fight in he war? ” Yes, I answered resolutely.
And when Emilia asked me to xplain, I sort of trailed off… Like I note, kids test our basic assumptions of what we want.
I pride myself in Civil War knowledge, and et it only took a six year-old five minutes to derail that knowledge train.
That ’ s what led me to Karen Abbott ’ s Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, the retellin of four remarkable women and their experiences in the American Civil War. Importantly, none of these four women conformed to contemporary gender norms.
four women that we follow are Confederates Belle Boyd and Rose O ’ Neal Greenhow, and Unionists Emma Edmonson ( a.k.a., Emma Edmonds, a.k.a. Frank Thompson) and Elizabeth Van Lew. Belle Boyd is a name you might recognize, which is how she will have anted it.
The oung irl at the begi of war, she killed a Yankee that insulted her mom, and then made a name for herself as a spy, though her exploits seem more the product of self-promotion ( and th great, alliterative name) than the accumulation of actionable intelligence.
She was most motivated by fame, excitement, and the whims of her passions, attested to by the act that she basicall ended up marrying two different Union men.
On the Union side, we have Emma Edmonson, a young oman who enlisted as a woma, managed to remain undetected, and served in a ariety of roles, including nurse, spy, and postmaster.
The wealthy gir who lived in Richmond, she ha a Unionist and abolitionist who risked her life and dispensed her fortune attempting to help Union soldiers escape from Libby Prison.
Abbott tells their stories in chronological fashion, alternating chapters as the war progresses.
Boyd, Greenhow, Edmonson, and Lew all wrote memoirs, providing first person accounts of their war years.
Nevertheless, at times, it seeme like Abbott was simply paraphrasing these memoirs, right down to the ragged transitions and glaring plot holes.