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

H. Donald Winkler, Cumberland House

The Civil War is full of tales of deception practiced by enterprising femmes fatales engaged in what H. Donald Winkler calls “the world’s second oldest profession— spying.” He has gathered accounts of some of the more amazing exploits of about 20 of these indomitable ladies.

Some supplied information about the timing and location of troop movements, gleaned by listening to loose-tongued politicians or flattering and seducing gullible staff officers. Others smuggled messages, medicine, money and supplies through enemy lines. As members of the fairer sex, they were rarely stopped or searched.

Most of Winkler’s subjects spied for the Confederacy, including the doyenne of Washington society, Rose Greenhow, flirtatious teenager Belle Boyd and Lincoln assassination conspirator Mary Surratt. Others, such as Richmond socialite Elizabeth Van Lew and actress Pauline Cushman, used their wiles in Union service. In addition to covering the most famous spies, Winkler has delved into rarely tapped newspaper and magazine accounts, family papers, and local stories and legends. Thus he also introduces us to little-known women such as Rebecca Wright, the heroine of Winchester; Roberta Pollock, the teenager who warned John Singleton Mosby of a Union ambush; and young Olivia Floyd, the feisty Maryland messenger on the Confederacy’s spy chain between Richmond and Montreal.


Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here