Published by Harper Collins on 9/2/2014
Buy from IndieBound
As the former capital of the Confederacy, my city of Richmond, Virginia has a history that I’m very interested in, even if it didn’t always take the stance I agree with. I’ve done my fair share of historical tours, usually when I have family visiting from out of town, which have made me feel quite knowledgeable of my adopted little city and its past. Cue Karen Abbott with her ability to throw me off!
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is Karen Abbott’s newest non-fiction book, which focuses on four women who risked their lives to take part in the Civil War as spies. Abbott’s women came from both sides of the war and worked in various ways; undercover as a Union soldier, as a Confederate courier, and deeply engaged in Northern affairs to gather information for the South. Then there was Elizabeth Van Lew, a member of Richmond’s high society with the heart of her Northern bloodline.
I was already thrilled to be reading familiar street names, but stopped dead in my tracks at the mention of Church Hill. Elizabeth Van Lew lived in my neighborhood. I nearly had my shoes on with determination to find that mansion, but figured I should probably do a bit more reading first. Even without the Richmond connection, Elizabeth’s story was easy to get lost in as she seemed to cross so many lines we tend to see as solidly drawn. Though she was born in Richmond, her father sent her to Philadelphia to be taught in a Quaker school, which solidified her liberal upbringing. Back in Richmond by the time the Civil War broke out, Elizabeth was destined to take part in aiding the Union, despite her Confederate surroundings.
Sadly, the Van Lew house was demolished by the City of Richmond in the early 1900’s along with the Ballard House Hotel, which was also featured in the book. Though Elizabeth’s house is gone, a historical marker now stands outside the school that took it place just a few blocks from my house. Without Karen Abbott’s book, it’s likely I would have never noticed the sign or heard of Elizabeth’s amazing story. Along with being a well-researched, interesting look at several women involved in the Civil War, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy allowed me to get a closer look at the history right in my backyard.
Have you ever discovered a connection to a book while reading?