Study Up For 'Think': Female Spies Of The Civil War | KERA News

Study Up For 'Think': Female Spies Of The Civil War

Sep 8, 2014

Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis are some of the more prominent names in American Civil War history. Yet, it wasn’t an all-boys club on the war front. There were other heroes – in this case, heroines – who were moving chess pieces on both sides of the war.

Hundreds of women volunteered as spies during the Civil War, and more posed as male soldiers. Karen Abbott profiles the lives of four women who spied and schemed in her book Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. She joins ‘Think’ host Krys Boyd at 1 p.m. to discuss their exploits.

Espionage was not a centralized operation at the time of the Civil War, but the period was known for developing the beginning stages of American spy efforts. According to The Intelligencer: The Journal of U.S Intelligence Studies, American officers learned about intelligence-gathering from studying military history, so spy efforts at the time were disorganized.

Two innovations in espionage came from the war: wire-tapping and overhead reconnaissance. Historians had difficulty tracking down some of the spies’ identities and the information traded. The Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin burned all of the intelligence records he could find, and Union intelligence records were sealed in the National Archives until 1953.

Three of the women profiled in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy published their experiences. Emma Edmonds wrote Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, a fictionalized account of her time serving as a Union private; Belle Boyd wrote Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison, and Elizabeth Van Lew wrote My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington.

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