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

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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 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."


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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 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."

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tom Darrow

    A decent collection of stories about female spies during the Civil War, which is a topic that hasn't been written about that much. A few problems with it, though. First, the scholarship is a bit sketchy, without direct citations in each chapter. Second, huge sections of the text are taken, in their entirety, from other books. In the end, maybe only 3/4 of this book is Winkler's actual writing. The third issue is that the stories get very repetitive. Young girl in small town hates the opposing si A decent collection of stories about female spies during the Civil War, which is a topic that hasn't been written about that much. A few problems with it, though. First, the scholarship is a bit sketchy, without direct citations in each chapter. Second, huge sections of the text are taken, in their entirety, from other books. In the end, maybe only 3/4 of this book is Winkler's actual writing. The third issue is that the stories get very repetitive. Young girl in small town hates the opposing side and does things, at great personal risk, to help out her side. I would have preferred more depth on fewer people. The final issue is the sexist nature of some of his statements, constantly referring to the women's attractiveness and feminine wiles. Generally speaking, this book is fine, but somewhat sloppily done.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kim Hampton

    A fantastic book about the women spies in the Civil War, both Union and Confederate. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about that part of history. Proof that women must not be underestimated!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I love books which introduce me to historical figures I’d never heard of before and this collection of biographies on female spies of the American Civil War did just that. It’s incredible that such remarkable women (in both positive and negative ways) have gone unknown to me for so long. I was amazed by the mistakes some of them made which lead to disastrous results and also by some of the things they successfully got away with. I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in the subject matter becaus I love books which introduce me to historical figures I’d never heard of before and this collection of biographies on female spies of the American Civil War did just that. It’s incredible that such remarkable women (in both positive and negative ways) have gone unknown to me for so long. I was amazed by the mistakes some of them made which lead to disastrous results and also by some of the things they successfully got away with. I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in the subject matter because I don’t normally read about American history but it was free on Kindle so I thought “why not?” and I am glad I did. It’s well researched and written without being hard to read. Definitely a “don’t miss” for anyone interested in women’s history, American history, or even just history in general! My only complaint is that there were so many women covered, the details on some were very short and I couldn’t remember all their names. I think I would have rather seen a more select group of figures covered more extensively.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scott McD

    I like the fact that I learned of the contributions of so many I've never knew or heard of. The author could have expanded on some of the chatacters he chose to write of, and left some his personal perspective out particularly with the last woman's experience he portrayed. I like the fact that I learned of the contributions of so many I've never knew or heard of. The author could have expanded on some of the chatacters he chose to write of, and left some his personal perspective out particularly with the last woman's experience he portrayed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sherri

    A collection of stories of some the women who were spies during the Civil War for both Union and Confederate sides. Some reviewers commented on how dry of reading this was of anecdote after anecdote of the same thing. Girl gets mad at one side, spies for the other. What is interesting is the lengths each went to, the espionage, the fear, and the use of womanly wiles, personality and conversation against chivalry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Maxfield

    This book took me a month to get through. My first impressions of this book included judgments like "dry," "spliced," "wandering," and "chauvinistic," so I took a break. During that recess, though, I found myself thinking a lot about the stories. I kept referring back to its Civil War details to frame other encounters with events of this era. (There were a lot in that 2-week period: TV shows, radio spots, other books, etc. Coincidence? I think not.) So I went back and finished it, because shallo This book took me a month to get through. My first impressions of this book included judgments like "dry," "spliced," "wandering," and "chauvinistic," so I took a break. During that recess, though, I found myself thinking a lot about the stories. I kept referring back to its Civil War details to frame other encounters with events of this era. (There were a lot in that 2-week period: TV shows, radio spots, other books, etc. Coincidence? I think not.) So I went back and finished it, because shallow insight into women's psyche aside, the research and facts are solid. I'm putting it in the same bin as "The Disappearing Spoon"-- the best textbook I ever read cover to cover. And the last chapter was the best, hands down.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Wonderful book for anyone interested in Civil War history. This book doesn't present Civil War history just as dry facts and numbers. You get the often unheard back stories of the women who tried to do their part for their cause. Each chapter is the story of a woman for either the North or the South and how she became involved in clandestine activities for the war. You are given information on not only how she entered the war as a spy but what happened to her after the war. Even if you are not a Wonderful book for anyone interested in Civil War history. This book doesn't present Civil War history just as dry facts and numbers. You get the often unheard back stories of the women who tried to do their part for their cause. Each chapter is the story of a woman for either the North or the South and how she became involved in clandestine activities for the war. You are given information on not only how she entered the war as a spy but what happened to her after the war. Even if you are not a huge fan of history, I think anyone would find this book interesting because it is told in an entertaining way and provides a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lady

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm sure mostly because it happened in battlefields all around where I live, but it still is a fascinating read. I like how each chapter was a new spy story, and I was amazed at the lengths these women went through to help during the Civil War. It's a shame there's not much written about them and what is written about them is virtually unknown. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm sure mostly because it happened in battlefields all around where I live, but it still is a fascinating read. I like how each chapter was a new spy story, and I was amazed at the lengths these women went through to help during the Civil War. It's a shame there's not much written about them and what is written about them is virtually unknown.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Margo Brooks

    A fine book if you want short biographies, but given the tantalizing subject matter, it was a bit dry. The format, bio after bio with no connections or comparisons made between different spies, was dull to read. Even so, there is value in this sort of catalog, even if that value lies in finding something to research more diligently.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    A very readable history of women who spied for the Union and for the Confederacy. I was impressed by the amount of documentation, by the strength of the information available (wow, these women really DID influence the course of the Civil War), and I found the stories very engaging.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    H. Donald 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: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War, 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, H. Donald 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: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War, 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, including Harriet Tubman and Loreta Velazquez, who also took an active role on the battlefront as such. 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 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 by 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: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War 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 with the role of women in conflict.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    This was an extremely interesting book and I very much enjoyed reading it! The Civil War is a period of particular interest to me to start, so I always enjoy learning more about it. This book focuses on females on both the Union side and the Confederacy who took on the role of spy for their respective governments. The stories of these women were fascinating and held my interest completely as I read through their stories. The author does an excellent job of highlighting the humanity of all these wom This was an extremely interesting book and I very much enjoyed reading it! The Civil War is a period of particular interest to me to start, so I always enjoy learning more about it. This book focuses on females on both the Union side and the Confederacy who took on the role of spy for their respective governments. The stories of these women were fascinating and held my interest completely as I read through their stories. The author does an excellent job of highlighting the humanity of all these women, and demonstrating that while today's reader likely understands it was the correct outcome for the Union to prevail, at the time both sides genuinely believed their cause and perspectives to be the right one. All the people in this book believed in what they were doing and felt it for the greater good. There are stories about women spying for both the Union and the Confederacy about equally, and all are told without judgement. It was also interesting to learn how completely the men - supposedly the stronger and more powerful sex - were deceived and fooled by these women, and how easily in many cases they were completely duped about their intentions and abilities. The activities and accomplishments the women highlighted here managed is nothing short of incredible, and made for engrossing reading! A number of the women successfully passed as men; in hospitals, in large gatherings, and even in battle, these women masqueraded as men and nobody realized it. The cleverness and intelligence of the women spies was fascinating, as was - in some cases - the utter ruthlessness of their motivations and subsequent actions. The old saying about hell having no fury like a woman scorned, while intended to refer to love, is also quite apt in the case of women trying to save their society and way of life. These women had no scruples or hesitation about doing anything to anyone that would support their side in this most ugly and vicious war. The other aspect of the book that I - as a Canadian - particularly enjoyed, was the multiple involvements of Canada during the Civil War which are detailed in some of the women's stories. While Canada, unfortunately, supported the Confederacy in the conflict, it was still so interesting to learn about the cross-border travels, the assistance and involvement provided in Canada to many from the Confederacy during the war. If you are interested in the Civil War, and/or enjoy learning more about strong, capable, intelligent women doing exciting things in a non-fiction form, I highly recommend this book. The author does an excellent job of making non-fiction engaging by making the women and their lives the foundation for telling the stories of the things they did for love of their - respective - countries.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Buchanan

    A very interesting look into a lot of women who were spies during the Civil War. Each with a strength and determination to succeed for their cause. Along with what they did to help shape the outcome of the war- as some plans did succeed. We often hear more about the generals and the war, not so much about the women who were doing their own work to further a cause dear to them. They were very resourceful using their feminine persuasions, charms and flirtations along with finding unique places to A very interesting look into a lot of women who were spies during the Civil War. Each with a strength and determination to succeed for their cause. Along with what they did to help shape the outcome of the war- as some plans did succeed. We often hear more about the generals and the war, not so much about the women who were doing their own work to further a cause dear to them. They were very resourceful using their feminine persuasions, charms and flirtations along with finding unique places to hide the messages they were carrying from hair, to hoop skirts, to a dental implant. I didn’t completely get fully into it until chapter two and by that point I was invested. Then when I hit the second to last chapter, it told a lot of short stories about more women that ranged in engagement for me. The author mentioned in the intro about one escaping the gallows and one being executed. I questioned that first one as there seemed to be a very small handful that escaped the gallows. By the end I’m going wow with the sheer amazement as to what these ladies accomplished & pondering over the last story about Mary Surat. This is a book that's going to stay with me for a while and I'm glad I took the time to read it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Preferred this book about women spies & collaborators, both North and South, during the American Civil War to Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Abbott. Each chapter was about a different woman which made the storytelling easier to follow than in Abbott's book. One thing I did like better with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy was the endnotes. This books give bibliography, but not endnotes. Especially of interest was chapter on Harriet Tubman and her work as spy and spy master, and her essential work Preferred this book about women spies & collaborators, both North and South, during the American Civil War to Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Abbott. Each chapter was about a different woman which made the storytelling easier to follow than in Abbott's book. One thing I did like better with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy was the endnotes. This books give bibliography, but not endnotes. Especially of interest was chapter on Harriet Tubman and her work as spy and spy master, and her essential work in carrying out the Combahee River raid. Another most interesting woman was Sarah Slater, in part because she was mysterious and was misidentified by those who wanted to capture her and because in the end, she vanished. Her connections to Kinston and New Bern, NC, and to Trinity College (Duke University) were unknown to me. She also had connection with the individuals involved in President Lincoln's assassination.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I really got into this book. The glimpses into each woman's life and why she chose to be a spy were fascinating. I learned more about the Civil War and the struggles of the people on the ground. I loved that insight so different from the major battles and the perspective of the people in power that I see most often. If you're interested in the Civil War or are simply curious about the role women have played in our nation's history, I'd recommend reading this one. I really got into this book. The glimpses into each woman's life and why she chose to be a spy were fascinating. I learned more about the Civil War and the struggles of the people on the ground. I loved that insight so different from the major battles and the perspective of the people in power that I see most often. If you're interested in the Civil War or are simply curious about the role women have played in our nation's history, I'd recommend reading this one.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ginny

    A bit of a chore to read. The short bios blended together and, while full of interesting facts, felt too dense to really do any of the women justice. (There’s something funny about a tagline that reads “How a few daring women deceived generals, impacted battles, and altered the course of the Civil War” when the majority of the featured women were Confederates. Like, I guess they didn’t alter the course that much 🤷‍♀️ )

  17. 4 out of 5

    Liz Cloos

    This book was a collection of interesting stories about female spies during the civil war. The author picks a fair variety of women to highlight, with contributions both big and small from both sides of the war. The biggest drawback of this book is the authors introductory descriptions of each woman. The descriptions were over sexualized and excessive. It was obvious that the author was a man.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Betty Hansford

    Very Informative Book This is a fascinating book, very interesting and educational. I think it proves just how capable and inventive women can be when necessary.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Grace Dunn

    I read this for a history class, I'm studying Rose O'Neal Greenhow. This book is a collection of stories about multiple women were Civil War spies, and was a very interesting read. I read this for a history class, I'm studying Rose O'Neal Greenhow. This book is a collection of stories about multiple women were Civil War spies, and was a very interesting read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    Cool book! Women are amazing. Our history is hidden but so worth digging up.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Olsen wagner

    Interesting to see the history, but still a dry read sometimes...I skipped around to diff stories instead of reading straight through.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    Very good

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Simpson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. For an aspiring historian, this book was a treasure trove of information. Organized by the name and stories of individual women, this book is an easy reference guide if you are referencing one person or a dictionary of Civil War era female spies if you are looking at the works as a whole. It is written in an engaging, story telling tone that make the content both easy to understand and realistic. Although at times, the book is repetitive as far as methods and similar stories, that is part of the For an aspiring historian, this book was a treasure trove of information. Organized by the name and stories of individual women, this book is an easy reference guide if you are referencing one person or a dictionary of Civil War era female spies if you are looking at the works as a whole. It is written in an engaging, story telling tone that make the content both easy to understand and realistic. Although at times, the book is repetitive as far as methods and similar stories, that is part of the history that was the Civil War spies. The methods that worked were used over and over again. The author does a very good job of introducing each women and giving adequate background information on her and her family as well as her personal and military exploits. The author also included stories about well known women such as Harriet Tubman who was most famous for the Underground Railroad but is often left out of the history books as the first and only women to lead a major military raid in United States history, and a fabulously successful one at that. Also included are two stories of women soldiers who posed as men in the Civil War; one who actually fought in hand to hand combat on the battlefields of Mananas Junction, Bull Run and Shiloh. The author ends the books with the astonishing story of Mary Stauut and her wrongful execution as the first female Civil War spy to be hung. This is a must read for history lovers and researchers alike.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia

    An interesting collection of the stories of a number of women who engaged in spying activities for both the Union and Confederacy. The author seems to have taken great pains to do thorough and detailed research although some of the information is questioned by other authors and sources. Even if only half of the stories are true, they depict bold and courageous young women, many of whom were in their teens, who passionately believed in the cause of whichever side they supported. They are women who An interesting collection of the stories of a number of women who engaged in spying activities for both the Union and Confederacy. The author seems to have taken great pains to do thorough and detailed research although some of the information is questioned by other authors and sources. Even if only half of the stories are true, they depict bold and courageous young women, many of whom were in their teens, who passionately believed in the cause of whichever side they supported. They are women who impersonated men and lived side-by-side with soldiers, women who used their feminine wiles to pry battle plans and strategy out of smitten soldiers, women who were couriers transporting supplies and medicine back and forth across the enemy lines Some were from wealthy and privileged backgrounds and some were simple country women. The most amazing thing is that the Civil War era was a time in the US where women were viewed only as mothers and home makers. They were dismissed as being in any way useful to the war effort, that is until these courageous women proved them wrong.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Stealing Secrets is a remarkable book for the remarkable female spies whose stories are told by Winkler. Some of the women delivered messages as a spy for either the North or the South in the Civil War. Others carried medicines, messages, arms and other things needed by the armies in their hoop skirts and/or rolled into small packets and hidden in their hair. Still others wore disguises and entered the lines as men. Revealed battle plans and campaigns made to fail were the specialties of these Stealing Secrets is a remarkable book for the remarkable female spies whose stories are told by Winkler. Some of the women delivered messages as a spy for either the North or the South in the Civil War. Others carried medicines, messages, arms and other things needed by the armies in their hoop skirts and/or rolled into small packets and hidden in their hair. Still others wore disguises and entered the lines as men. Revealed battle plans and campaigns made to fail were the specialties of these remarkable and courageous women. Well worth the time to read about this slice of history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Winkler has created a comprehensive and interesting guide to many of the forgotten heroines of both the Union and the Confederacy. These were women who took advantage of the strictures of society and played them to their fullest, gaining and carrying off vital information to their respective sides. These women influenced some of the greatest battles in the Civil War, and yet their names remain shrouded and obscure. A very informative read set at a great pace.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Desiree

    Being a huge fan of historical novels, I was drawn to this book since it is about women in history. I enjoyed reading about the impact women had on historical events and learning what role women played during those events. I must admit that as I reached the last few chapters of the book, I had to force myself to finish as it seemed to be a lot of what I had already read. Overall, I did like the book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Drusilla

    "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." Very factual. "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." Very factual.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    I read this for the local library book club. I enjoyed it alot at first, but then it became a lot of the same. And the book is just chapters on these women - in no discernible order. A more creative writer could have interspersed some of these stories together episodically to keep tension and mystery. But the stories themselves - and the women's lives and bravery or foolishness are definitely an interesting part of the war that most do not know. I read this for the local library book club. I enjoyed it alot at first, but then it became a lot of the same. And the book is just chapters on these women - in no discernible order. A more creative writer could have interspersed some of these stories together episodically to keep tension and mystery. But the stories themselves - and the women's lives and bravery or foolishness are definitely an interesting part of the war that most do not know.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

    Each chapter briefly describes a woman spy during the civil war and its done extremely well. I'm not a big reader of nonfiction so I'm always happy to find one I enjoy. I think I liked this because the writing is simple and direct and I didn't feel a need to know much going in. I enjoyed that each chapter covered just enough on each individual to inspire me to look up more. I learned things I didn't know before and now have a heater interest on lady spies in the Civil War. Each chapter briefly describes a woman spy during the civil war and its done extremely well. I'm not a big reader of nonfiction so I'm always happy to find one I enjoy. I think I liked this because the writing is simple and direct and I didn't feel a need to know much going in. I enjoyed that each chapter covered just enough on each individual to inspire me to look up more. I learned things I didn't know before and now have a heater interest on lady spies in the Civil War.

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