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

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Sourcebooks, Inc., Sep 1, 2010 - History - 352 pages
2 Reviews

Clandestine missions. Clever, devious, daring. Passionately committed to a cause.

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.

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."

Told with personality and pizzazz, author H. Donald Winkler uses primary Civil War sources such as memoirs, journals, letters, and newspaper articles, plus the latest in scholarly research, to make these incredible stories come alive.


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This book certainly covers fascinating topic areas. Not always easy to read, it might be better for civil war aficionados, but it's still a great read if you're looking for something new to learn about. Also strange how almost all of the women talked about were Confederates... maybe there just weren't as many spies on the Union side?? 

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Historical nonfiction has never really been my genre of choice. I love fiction for its ability to keep my attention with a lively narrative arc and complex characters and for its way of transporting me to a different world. This book had all of those elements. And best of all, it's true.
In "Stealing Secrets," author H. Donald Winkler spent countless hours researching stories of women and girls who served as spies for either the Union or the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Female spies used all of the tools at their disposal, including some that men could not use, informing their respective sides of troop movements and even thwarting what could have been crucial war-changing events. They tucked coded letters into their skirts, dressed as men, pretended to be grieving widows and seduced enemy officials to get and pass information.
I'm not a Civil War scholar, but I wouldn't think many would know that there was a prototype submarine the Confederacy was testing that was thwarted after a female spy alerted the Union of how to spot and disable them.
A quibble: When Winkler describes men --- generals and captains, but also family and friends of the spies --- he refers to them in later references by their last names. For the women, including the spies he profiles, he uses their first names or even the nicknames given them by the press at the time. It's a step up from referring to them as "Mrs. (husband's name)," but it's still unfortunate that the spies he promotes as "altering the course of the Civil War" weren't afforded the same gravitas as their male counterparts.
Overall, the book was well done with enough interesting side notes to make the lengthy tome worth reading. Winkler's research, descriptions and detail with an eye for accuracy make "Stealing Secrets" interesting and lively, even for a notorious fiction reader like me.


Rose Greenhow
Sarah Slater
Olivia Floyd
Elizabeth Van Lew
Elizabeth Baker
Ginnie and Lottie Moon
Pauline Cushman
Rebecca Wright
Belle Boyd
Emma Edmonds
Clara Judd
Sarah Lane Thompson
Loreta Velazquez
More Heroines
Mary Surratt
Selected Sources

Harriet Tubman
Nancy Hart
Antonia Ford and Laura Ratcliffe
Roberta Pollock
About the Author
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About the author (2010)

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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