As a product of the South, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Civil War. In fact, I have gaping holes in my history knowledge because the Civil War and Reconstruction were ALL WE EVER TALKED ABOUT. Imagine my surprise when a nonfiction book about women spying and dressing as men to fight during the Civil War lead me down a rabbit hole, only to discover lots of books about the very same thing. Talk about an important piece of forgotten history, y’all.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott
This is the book that started it all for me. Abbott tells the stories of four women, each with an important role in the war. Belle Boyd was a spy for the Confederacy; Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Union army; Rose Greenhow seduced numerous men in power and headed a spy ring in DC; and Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy spinster, hid escaped prisoners in her home and planted a former slave as a spy in the Confederate White House. WHUT? How did I not know about these women before? Their stories are incredible, and Abbott has a way of storytelling that is unmatched in her genre. It is very rare for me to encounter a 500+ page nonfiction book packed with names, dates, and history that keeps me turning pages, followed by a themed bender. It’s nicely balanced on both sides, and often times I found myself not knowing who to root for because of all the double-sided lady badassery.
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Why would a woman leave her husband at home to tend the farm and physically fight for her country? Hunt based his novel on actual women who took this very path. There were so many times when I had to wonder, “STOP BLEEDING, why don’t you go home to your nice warm bed?” Ash never flinches. Part of Neverhome’s luster is Hunt’s lyrical prose; you’re reading a bloody and brutal war story, but it’s like eating a fluffy cupcake that’s so good you ignore the calories.
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Strong-willed Rosetta disguises herself as a man so she can fight alongside her new husband, Jeremiah, and his bros. I don’t even know how to describe it, I just know it ripped my heart out and made me do the ugly cry dance. Read it on a Sunday afternoon, away from the public.
With 2015 marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end, there are even more books on the horizon.
OK, so this book is about a band of Civil War widows who head north to burn Sherman’s house to the ground. It sounds like it could be an emotional and heartfelt book full of tree sap, but…no. My copy came with a note from the editor that read, “I hope you like this wild-ass story.” Wild-ass is the understatement of the century. This Side of the River is off-the-charts bonkers. The widows’ charge is lead by Cat Harvey, a horrible man inhabited with the ghost of another horrible man (a truly despicable human actually), and they encounter a circus along the way… and there’s a stolen elephant…and Harvey rides the elephant through Tennessee…and…I’m not sure where else to go with this without spoilering the whole thing. If you like Barry Hannah or really gritty Southern fiction, this one is for you. Keep a hand fan nearby (you know, the ones Hollywood stereotypically sticks in a woman’s hand if she’s Southern), and try not to faint.
Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy Hepinstall and Becky Hepinstall Hilliker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt March 3, 2015)
I don’t have my mitts on this one yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. The authors are sisters, and the book is about two sisters, each with her own reason for fighting. One sister is mourning the loss of her husband, killed at Antietam, and the other joins her in Stonewall’s brigade and OOPSY DAISY, falls in love with a fellow soldier.
Expand your literary horizons with New Books!, a weekly newsletter spotlighting 3-5 exciting new releases, hand-picked by our very own Liberty Hardy. Sign up now!