Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy




Author: Elizabeth R. Varon
Type: eBook
Date Released: 2003
Format: pdf
Language: English
Page Count: 336
Isbn10 Code: 0195142284
Isbn13 Code: 9781423775737


From Publishers Weekly The title of this groundbreaking and altogether remarkable biography effectively summarizes it. Varon, professor of history at Wellesley, gives the first full account of a figure recorded until now in legends and anecdotes. The formidable Miss Van Lew (1818-1900) was born to a wealthy slave-owning Richmond family of Northern background. From her early 20s she led the family in efforts to achieve peaceful emancipation, starting with the family's own slaves. With the outbreak of war and the secession of Virginia, which she saw as a crime and a disaster, her Unionist sentiments and efforts became more systematic. Beginning with providing comforts for Union prisoners, she went on to help them escape and ended by running a very modern-style intelligence network, through which intelligence flowed to the Union Army from couriers black and white, free and slave, but all Unionist and all risking their lives. Frequently under suspicion, she escaped, Varon shows, not by feigning insanity (as the legend of "Crazy Bet" would have it) but because gender and regional prejudices told the authorities that a Southern lady could not do such a thing. While she was publicly rewarded for her work after the war by an appointment as Richmond's postmaster, gender and political prejudice eventually led to her dismissal after Reconstruction, and she died poverty-stricken and unsung-until this book. This is not only a classic "forgotten woman" study, it is free of jargon, anachronism, prejudice and condescension, and as accessible to the lay reader as a novel. A wide variety of students of the Civil War will find it invaluable, and readers who just savor biographies of remarkable human beings can enjoy it, too. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. Review "Detailed, astute and convincing."--Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post "A thrilling detective story filled with clandestine meetings, cloak-and-dagger intrigue, disguises, surveillance and undercover work. While such well-known Civil War women spies as Belle Boyd and Rose O'Neal Greenhow remain shrouded in partisan mythology, Varon has unearthed hard evidence that establishes Van Lew as a genuine heroine of the Civil War era."--Raleigh News & Observer "Groundbreaking and altogether remarkable...the first full account of a figure recorded until now in legends and anecdotes.... A classic 'forgotten woman' study...as accessible to the lay reader as a novel. A wide variety of students of the Civil War will find it invaluable, and readers who savor biographies of remarkable human beings can enjoy it too." --Publisher's Weekly (starred review) "A rich account of a complex and important figure in wartime Richmond.... This highly readable book contributes to our understanding of important issues related to the Civil War, including the importance of Unionist activity in the South, the ways in which women responded to the demands of war and the role of espionage in the Union war effort."--Civil War Book Review "A solid job of ferreting out facts and discarding fiction.... What is presented here is the fullest scholarly treatment we are likely to have, and if Varon finds her subject to be one who loved and served her country to the end, the fascinating record speaks for itself."--Roanoke Times "Popular Civil War literature is filled with romantic and sensational stories of female spies, many of them made up out of whole cloth. But the story told in Southern Lady, Yankee Spy, is eminently true. A member of the social elite in Richmond, Elizabeth Van Lew nevertheless loved the Union and disliked slavery. She built a Unionist underground in the Confederate capital that helped escaping prisoners of war and provided General Grant with valuable intelligence. Based on thorough research and written with grace and style, this account of Van Lew's contribution to Northern victory is a valuable addition to Civil War scholarship." --James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom and Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam "This is a wonderfully readable and engaging book. Varon brings Van Lew out of the realm of myth and into the much more interesting domain of history, offering us a woman who as spy, abolitionist and woman's rights advocate was at once larger than life and at the center of her time." --Drew Gilpin Faust, Director of the Radcliffe Institute, author of Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War "Elizabeth Varon's Southern Lady, Yankee Spy is a well-researched, well-written tale that illuminates a fascinating southern dissenter and forges a sensible path toward bringing women into the military narrative of the Civil War." --William W. Freehling, author of The Road to Disunion and The South vs. The South "Few women risked as much to assist the Union effort during the Civil War as Elizabeth Van Lew. A member of Richmond's elite, Van Lew orchestrated an effort in the Confederate capital that conveyed useful information to United States military forces, embraced emancipation, and supported Radical Republican policies during Reconstruction. Elizabeth Varon's biography draws on substantial research to offer a long-overdue, and compelling, portrait of a complex and important figure." --Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia, author of The Confederate War

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