Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles and Altered the Course of the Civil War

Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles and Altered the Course of the Civil War

by H. Donald Winkler

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The clever, devious, daring women who helped turn the tides of the Civil War

During America's most divisive war, both the Union and Confederacy took advantage of brave and courageous women willing to adventurously support their causes. These female spies of the Civil War participated in the world's second-oldest profession—spying—a profession perilous in the extreme. The tales of female spies are filled with suspense, bravery, treachery, and trickery. They took enormous risks and achieved remarkable results—often in ways men could not do. These are the bold, untold stories of women shaping our very nation. Stepping out of line and into battle, these women faced clandestine missions, treason, and death, all because of their passionate commitment to their cause.

These are the unknown Civil War stories you need to hear.

As stated on the grave marker of Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew:
"She risked everything that is dear to man—friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402254765
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 237,964
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

H. Donald Winkler is a professional journalist, historian, and retired university public-affairs executive. The recipient of 84 national awards, In 1991 he was cited by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for "professional endeavors that have strengthened the entire fabric of American education."

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From the Introduction

The stories of women spies are filled with suspense and seduction, treachery and trickery, romance and bravery. Women took enormous risks and achieved remarkable results-often in ways men could not. A quiet Quaker schoolteacher reported information to a Union commander that led to an important victory. Two women provided intelligence that prevented Confederates from breaking the Northern blockade of Southern ports. A teenage girl rushed intelligence to a marching army. Those with social connections invited enemy officers to parties where loose lips let slip critical information. Others galloped on horseback through enemy lines with information concealed in their bodices. They used disguises. They created ciphers. They intercepted military dispatches. They carried secret messages, medicines, and supplies on the rings of steel wires that puffed out a hoop skirt. And they provided accurate information about the enemy's fortifications, plans, troop size, and movements.

But the most potent tools in their arsenals were physical charms, flirtations, and the powers of feminine persuasion.

A twenty-three-year-old lady cultivated a sweet and subdued voice and hired a phrenologist to help enhance her ability to win friends and influence powerful figures. Spies charmed cabinet-level secrets out of lovesick admirers and bewitched countless officers. Allan Pinkerton, head of the Union Intelligence Service, wrote of the "almost irresistible seductive powers" of Confederate spymaster Rose Greenhow, a widowed mother of four. Pinkerton said that her "forceful, compelling style and abiding attractiveness to men were the underpinnings of her success." They made her an extremely dangerous enemy of the Federal government.

Not all of the women and teenage girls who spied in the Civil War were sexy and gorgeous, but many of them were. And that gave them a huge advantage in fulfilling their clandestine missions. Of course, they also were clever, devious, daring, and passionately committed to a cause.

Another advantage female spies initially had over their male counterparts was that they were less likely to be searched. It was a time when men prided themselves on being chivalrous, but as the war went on, women were searched more completely, even strip-searched. Mary Chesnut, a prominent Southern diarist, wrote: "Women who come before the public are in a bad box now. False hair is taken off and searched for papers. Pistols are sought for. Bustles are suspect. All manner of things, they say, come over the border (across the lines) under the huge [hoop skirts] now worn. So they are ruthlessly torn off. Not legs but arms are looked for under hoops."

Unlike soldiers, spies are defined as criminals in military law. A captured soldier becomes a prisoner of war, but a captured spy usually faces death. Captured women usually were confined in decrepit, unsanitary prisons for several months, and then ordered never to return to enemy soil. At first, a gentleman could not bring himself to order a teenager or a prominent socialite to be shot or hanged, and so women escaped such punishment early in the war. Later on, at least two women were sentenced to hang. One was rescued at the last minute; the other's sentence was commuted.

Despite the danger, women spies stayed active. The fate of more than one battle was decided, not by the valor of the soldier, but by movements generals were able to make through information these spies furnished. Several commanding officers testified, in hearty terms of approbation, to the efficiency and fidelity of the women spies who aided them.

To their credit, they had broken out of the confines of "a woman's place" in nineteenth-century America to participate in a profession perilous in the extreme. As the grave marker of Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew states, female spies "risked everything that is dear to man-friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself."

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction xi
1. Rebel Queen of Washington Spies: Rose Greenhow 1
2. Vanished without a Trace: Sarah Slater 29
3. "Singing as Sweetly as Ever": Olivia Floyd 39
4. Grant's Most Valuable Richmond Spy: Elizabeth Van Lew 51
5. The Spy Who Saved Ships: Elizabeth Baker 89
6. Double Trouble Sister Act: Ginnie and Lottie Moon 95
7. The Perils of Pauline: Pauline Cushman 111
8. The Heroine of Winchester: Rebecca Wright 135
9. A Glorious Consummation: Harriet Tubman 143
10. A Teenage Terrorist: Nancy Hart 159
11. "No Sacrifice Too Great": Antonia Ford and Laura Ratcliffe 169
12. Mosby's Merry Christmas: Roberta Pollock 195
13. A Secesh Cleopatra: Belle Boyd 201
14. The Clever Masquerader: Emma Edmonds 227
15. Trapped in a Sting Operation: Clara Judd 247
16. Sarah's Deadly Revenge: Sarah Lane Thompson 253
17. Hired to Find Herself: Loreta Velazquez 259
18. Beyond the Call of Duty: More Heroines 287
19. Did She Die for Their Sins?: Mary Surratt 299
Selected Sources 309
Index 319
About the Author 335

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Stealing Secrets 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
ProReviewing More than 1 year ago
Winkler's earlier 2008 book Goats and Scapegoats focused on the mistakes made during the Civil War by those who should have known better-the generals involved at the forefront of the conflict. In Stealing Secrets, Winkler goes behind the battle lines, and, in some cases, into the boudoir, in which men once more showed their vulnerability by trading their state secrets for the blissful, but tenuous, embrace of those who would betray their ill-placed trust. However, Winkler is keen to point out that he regards these tales of valor as just that. Underplaying the salacious and what many would consider to be the scandalous nature of the liaisons involved, he holds, rather, that the encounters that he describes were, in fact, a success story of the women involved, showing how they were able to impact on the course of the Civil War through their heroic actions. Winkler includes accounts of women who also took an active role on the battle front as such, including Harriet Tubman and Loreta Velazquez. In the course of his narrative, he is able to debunk many of the myths and much of the misinformation surrounding the women concerned. The focus of Stealing Secrets is both on the women, in relation to their own households and their network of relations, as much as it is on how their work impacted on the progress of the war. The emotional commitment of the women to those whom they supported is revealed with great honesty and clarity. The excerpts included from memoirs, journals and private correspondence make this an intimate collection of tales. The account is a vivid one, made all the more so by the inclusion of several black-and-white photographs and reproductions of excerpts of newspaper reports of the day, that help to bring the stories to life. Although dealing with what could possibly be an erotic subject at times, Winkler alludes to the sexual exploits of those heroines who gave their all for the sake of a cause in which they firmly believed in the most chaste of terms. In speaking of one of Rose Greenhow's lovers, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, for example, Winkler writes: "the powerful chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee was sharing more than tea and crumpets with a Confederate spy." Winkler is also not beyond making the occasional tongue-in-cheek statement, as in his allusion to the case of Senator Wilson's letters to Greenhow being kept confidential up until this day: "The Senate has a long history of taking care of its own." The narrative is told in a straightforward way, using sentences that are easy enough for even a child to understand. Winkler maintains the pace of his text throughout by including few footnotes and referring to published works in the most general of terms. However, that a great deal of research has gone into this work is clear, with the ten pages listing the various sources used attesting to the fact. The index, in keeping with the rest of the book, is comprehensive, but not unduly cluttered with inconsequential references. Stealing Secrets is an attractive volume that is well presented and written. Its accessibility of subject matter and style should ensure that it appeals to a wide audience, ranging from those who are interested in the course of the American Civil War to those who are intrigued by any works to do with espionage and the role of women in conflict.
mara13JC More than 1 year ago
It was amazing how much the women were invilved in the spy game. The women were very canny and used amazing ways to get messages to the other side.
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Except for 1 or 2 women in out history books 30+ years ago, I was very unaware of how important women were in helping create our early history.
quiltingjudy More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! What brave women of the North and the South.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do you like biographical accounts? If so you should like this. 298 pages of stories about ladies who did for the North while living in South during the Civil War. They are heroines in there own right. Ladies who had money and used if for the good of the North. Eash woman has her own persona. They knew such interesting people. Like U S Grant, Generals, Senators and such to whom they could smuggle information about the armies and etc. Each one has her own story, and that is how the book is written. I would say I am only one-third done, but am looking forward to reading about the rest of the ladies "Stealing Secrets" and how they managed to get the information to the other side. These are ladies who are true southern woman who have sympathies in the North. Information was sewn into there gowns or rolled into there hair. I still have a ways to go but feel this is a great book. Hope you can enjoy it too.
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winneconne More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book. It made a lot of sense and I guess shouldn't be surprising that the women were so involved. Women have kind of held the raines on most important matters. What surprised me was I e-mailed a friend of mine who does re-inactments of the Civil War. I told him about the one that actually let Lincoln win the war. Talk about a hornets nest. He made it clear that Lincoln read a lot of books and that's why he won. I didn't want to add fuel to the fire so I let it go but wanted to say " it would have been nice if he'd have read them sooner and saved a lot of lives on the battlefield." I e-mailed my sister in Texas after I watched a Lincoln special and it said he read a book and ended the war. Her response was "this isn't the place to argue about it" (she was at work). I didn't want to argue about any of it. I was just saying it made more sense to have a spy then to suddenly read a magic book. Be careful what you say about the book, the war is still hitting a nerve in people you may not have realized!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good reading. People interested in the Civil War would love this one.