Thursday, December 4, 2014

Karen Abbott's "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy"

Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City, American Rose, and, most recently, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, which was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal and Amazon.

Abbott applied the “Page 99 Test” to Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy and reported the following:
From page 99:
At night, after the last snap of snare drum and game of cards, Belle Boyd crept about Union camps gathering unattended sabers and pistols, and depositing them at a temporary hiding place in the woods, just far enough from the enemy pickets. A network of rebel ladies joined her, weaving arsenals through the steel coils of their hoop skirts, passing each other balls of string to secure the weapons tight. One day the 28th Pennsylvania Regiment, encamped near Harpers Ferry, discovered a cache of 200 sabers, 400 pistols, cavalry equipment for 200 men, and 1,400 muskets, all stashed inside barns and outhouses and buried underground, awaiting transfer to Southern lines. "I had been confiscating and concealing their swords and pistols on every possible occasion," Belle confessed, "and many an officer, looking about everywhere for his missing weapons, little dreamed who it was that had taken them, or that they had been smuggled away to the Confederate camp, and were actually in the hands of their enemies to be used against themselves.
Page 99 of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy describes the clandestine activities of Belle Boyd, a 17-year-old Confederate spy living in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. In an attempt to "starve" the South of food, coffee, sugar, medicine, material, weapons and anything its people—civilian or military—might need to survive, the Union blocked 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline, rendering goods prohibitively expensive or impossible to find. In response, Belle and other rebel women devised ways to smuggle necessities across the lines to Southern soldiers. The women often tied goods to their crinolines, the rigid, cage-like structures that could reach a diameter of six feet. One woman managed to conceal inside her hoop skirt a roll of army cloth, several pairs of cavalry boots, a roll of crimson flannel, packages of gilt braid and sewing silk, cans of preserved meats, and a bag of coffee—the contraband tally for a single crossing. To me, this practice represented one of the most fascinating aspects of women's roles during the Civil War, illustrating how they used their gender as both as physical and psychological disguise. While hiding behind social mores about women's proper roles, they could hide evidence of their treason on their very person, tucked beneath hoop skirts or tied up in their hair. Authorities slowly began to realize that women were capable not only of significant acts of treason, but of executing them more deftly than men.
Visit Karen Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

The Page 99 Test: American Rose.

--Marshal Zeringue