Be inspired! Books about women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War

Yesterday’s 150th anniversary of the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to end the Civil War got us thinking about all the terrific Civil War-inspired books published over the last few several–specifically, those about women who disguised themselves as men to fight, or who went undercover and worked as spies. The result is this list of 10 books about these heroic women, including both novels and nonfiction.

We’ve featured some of these books and authors on the Literary New England Radio Show. Those books we haven’t read yet are definitely on our #TBR list–and maybe should be on yours, too! Check them out:

1. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Adult nonfiction. Best-selling author Karen Abbott tells the spellbinding true story of four courageous women–a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist and a widow–who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Abbott uses a wealth of primary source material and interviews with descendants to weave the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. Supporting cast of real-life characters include Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and Emperor Napoleon III. Hear Karen talk about the book in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.

2. Wild Rose: The True Story of a Civil War Spy by Ann Blackman
Adult nonfiction. “I am a Southern woman, born with revolutionary blood in my veins,” Southerner and Civil War heroine Rose O’Neale Greenhow one said. Fearless spy for the Confederacy, glittering Washington hostess, legendary beauty and lover, Rose risked everything for the cause she valued more than life itself. Biographer Ann Blackman tells the surprising true story of a unique woman in history, which includes her pleading the Confederate cause to England’s and France’s royal courts.

3. Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit
Middle-grade fiction. In 1861, when war erupted between the states, President Lincoln made an impassioned plea for volunteers. Determined not to remain on the sidelines, 21-year-old Emma Edmonds cropped her hair, donned men’s clothing, and enlisted in the Union Army. Posing in turn as a slave, peddler, washerwoman, and fop, Emma became a cunning master of disguise, risking discovery and death at every turn behind Confederate lines.

4. Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War by H. Donald Winkler
Adult nonfition. An overview of 36 women who spied for the Confederacy and the Union: “stories of women spies…filled with suspense and seduction, treachery and trickery, romance and bravery.” Civil War memoirs, journals, letters and newspaper articles and other sources were deftly used to bring these women’s incredible stories to life.

5. Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Adult fiction. She calls herself Ash, but that’s not her real name. She is a farmer’s faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. This is the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause. Hear Laird talk about his book in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.

6. The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini
Adult fiction. Best-selling author Jennifer Chiaverini’s enthralling historical novel inspired by the life of “a true Union woman as true as steel” who risked everything by caring for Union prisoners of war and stealing Confederate secrets: Elizabeth Van Lew. She pledged her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, and even as her actions threatened both her reputation and her life, her courage never wavered.

7. I Shall Be Near to You: A Novel by Erin Lindsay Mccabe
Adult fiction. An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman, Rosetta, who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband. Inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who actually fought in the Civil War, Rosetta cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of her husband’s pants and signs up as a Union soldier. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s while their marriage is tested by broken conventions and constant danger, and the two fight for their lives together. Hear Erin talk about her book in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.

8. An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864 by Sarah Rosetta Wakeman
Adult nonfiction. “I don’t know how long before i shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part i don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go. I don’t believe there are any Rebel’s bullet made for me yet.” Those are Wakeman’s words. Similar sentiments were expressed by tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers in diaries and letters. What transforms Wakeman’s letters is that this soldier was a woman–a simple young farm girl from central New York State who disguised herself as a man in order to fight. Rosetta did not survive the war. However, her letters provide a firsthand look at the personality and character of a woman who defied convention. The book was edited by Lauren Cook Burgess.

9. Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss
Middle grade nonfiction. A fast-paced, high-energy picture book that tells the true story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who at 19 disguised herself as a man to fight in the Civil War. She took the name Frank Thompson and joined a Michigan army regiment to battle the Confederacy. Sarah excelled as a soldier and nurse on the battlefield. She was so heroic, leaders asked her to become a spy.

10. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook Wike
“Albert Cashier” served three years in the Union Army and passed successfully as a man until 1911, when the aging veteran was revealed to be a woman named Jennie Hodgers. Frances Clayton kept fighting even after her husband was gunned down in front of her at the Battle of Murfreesboro. And more than one soldier astonished “his” comrades-in-arms by giving birth in camp. A lively and authoritative book on several of the women who adopted male disguises and fought as Civil War soldiers.

Colin Barrett, Jonathan Odell & Susan Wilson on tonight’s Literary New England Radio Show

On the Monday, April 6, episode of the Literary New England Radio Show at 8 p.m., we’ll highlight and give away two novels and a short story collection written by three acclaimed authors:

  • Colin Barrett on Young Skins. A multi-award-winning debut short story collection set in the fictional, rural town of Glanbeigh, Ireland–a desolate spot where buffoonery and tension simmer and erupt, and booze-sodden boredom fills the corners of every pub and nightclub.
  • Jonathan Odell on Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League. Inspired by Odell’s childhood in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, two young mothers–one wealthy and white and the other poor and black–have only two things in common: the devastating loss of their children, and a deep and abiding loathing for one another. As their relationship and beliefs grow, so does an unexpected friendship.
  • Susan Wilson on The Dog Who Saved Me. After his faithful canine partner is killed in the line of duty, Officer Cooper Harrison finds himself jobless, on the verge of divorce and in a self-destructive rut. Then he becomes an animal control officer back in his hometown, where he works to rescue a wounded and gun-shy yellow Lab gone feral.

Hosted by Cindy Wolfe Boynton. Check us out here on Tumblr for more book giveaways, author talk, event information and to listen to past episodes – book-tatstic updates posted regularly!

On Salem’s Witch House, Conversion Disorder & Witch Cake (though you may want to skip the slice of cake)

The Witch House (left), home of Salem witch trials judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only structure with direct ties to the 1692 trials that still exists in Salem, Mass. It’s now a museum. Mary Silbley, the most powerful witch in the WGN America television series Salem, lives in a house (right) clearly inspired by Corwin’s.

In the WGN series (Season 2 premiers Sunday, April 5), Mary Sibley is a main character. But the real-life Mary Sibley was only a minor one. Historical records show that the real Mary, a neighbor of Puritan minister Rev. Samuel Parris, encouraged Parris’ slaves Tituba and John Indian to make a witch cake, which was believed to have the power to reveal witches. Parris’ daughter Elizabeth and niece Abigail Williams were among the young girls barking like dogs, screaming wildly and acting up in ways that villagers believed could only be the result of witchcraft.

As the video here featuring an educator from the Salem Witch Museum explains, a witch cake was a form of old European white magic made out of rye meal and urine from the afflicted girls. The finished cake would be fed to a dog, with the belief that as the dog ate the cake, the witch would cry out in pain as the invisible, “venomous and malignant particles” sent from her body into the bewitched girls were mashed by the dog’s teeth. When this occurred, the identity of the witch would be revealed.

As we know now, all kinds of false beliefs and happenings contributed to the frenzy that became the Salem witch panic. One of the more fascinating aspects is the possibility of a medical condition called Conversation Disorder, which the Literary New England Radio Show talked about with best-selling author Katherine Howe when her latest novel, Conversion, was released this past July.

Hear Katherine talk about her book and Conversion Disorder in the Literary New England Radio Show archives, which she describes this way:

Conversion disorder is when you are under so much stress that your body converts it into physical symptoms. And when it happens in a group the term for that is “mass psychogenic illness.” But the term we’re more familiar with, the term that’s an old-fashioned Freudian term is “hysteria.”

Learning about Conversation Disorder was part of the inspiration for Conversion, which is set at a private school in Danvers, Mass. There, teen-age girls are falling into uncontrollable frenzies. As the media arrives, and the community scrambles to find someone or something to blame, a student who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit realizes what nobody else does: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic 300 years ago.

As Howe explains in our interview, the novel was inspired by several real-life events, including the Salem witch trials, of which she’s pretty much an expert. In addition to being a direct descendant of three Salem women accused of witchcraft, she is the author of The New York Times best-selling novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (about a young woman who discovers her ties to Salem) and the non-fiction The Penguin Book of Witches.
All of her books cast a spell 🙂

If you’ve enjoyed this article, check out the others we’ve posted as part of Literary New England’s 5-day Witch-A-Thon. Between now and Sunday, we’ve got witch book giveaways and lots of other frighteningly wonderful things going on!

Marisa de los Santos, Mary Norris & Charles Finch on tonight’s Literary New England Radio Show

Don’t miss the hour we’ll spend tonight at 8 pm with two New York Times best-selling novelists and a Common Queen. We’ll also give away the books we feature, as we talk with:

  • Marisa de los Santos. Her newly released novel The Precious One tells the story of half-sisters Taisy and Willow, told from their
    alternating points of view. Brought together by their father, it’s a
    book about family secrets, lost love and dangerous obsession.
  • Mary Norris. A copy editor at The New Yorker for more than 30 years, her warm and humorous memoir Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is not so much about a need for perfect grammar, but about a love for words and language.
  • Charles Finch. His stand-alone novel The Last Enchantments
    came out in paperback earlier this month. In it, a Yale grad whose work
    in politics leads to disappointment finds himself caught in a whirlwind
    of unexpected friendships, and romantic entanglements, that threaten
    his safe plans.

Hosted by Cindy Wolfe Boynton. Visit the Literary New England blog
for more book giveaways, author talk, event information and to listen
to past episodes – book-tatstic updates posted regularly!

Monday, 3/23 book giveaways and interviews with 3 fabulous authors: @OliverBooks, @sylviatrue & @the_carpentrix …

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Three books, written by three women, that are as different and compelling as their authors. Tune to the Literary New England Radio Show at 8 pm this Monday, March 23, in for book giveaways and conversations with:

  • Lauren Oliver on Vanishing Girls. An edgy, compelling YA novel by this New York Times bestselling author about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident, and who are searching to find both themselves and each other.
  • Nina MacLaughlin on Hammer Head. A warm and inspiring memoir about Nina’s decision to quit her job sitting behind a desk at a Boston newspaper and apply for a job on Craigslist to become a carpenter’s assistant.
  • Sylvia True on The Wednesday Group. A captivating and moving debut novel about five women who share never-before-told secrets, and bond over painful truths, when they meet at a support group for partners of sex addicts.

Hosted by Cindy Wolfe Boynton.  Check back here regularly for book giveaways, author talk, event information, to listen to past Literary New England Radio Show episodes, and for other book-tatstic stuff!

Rose Tremain, Tatjana Soli & Rachel Urquhart on tonight’s Literary New England Radio Show

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A seductive short story collection, a novel visit to paradise, and a paperback Oprah is cheering about: These are the books we’ll feature on the Monday, March 16, episode of the Literary New England Radio Show. Join us at 8 p.m. for author talk and book giveaways as host Cindy Wolfe Boynton interviews:

If you can’t listen live, be sure to download the episode as an iTunes podcast or stream from the Literary New England Radio Show archives.