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Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War Paperback – September 1, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this breezy overview of 36 women who spied for the Confederacy and the Union, Winkler (Lincoln's Ladies) tells "stories of women spies...filled with suspense and seduction, treachery and trickery, romance and bravery." Divided into chapters on each woman, Winkler finds his heroines equally appealing, no matter what side they spied for. He strongly sympathizes with Mary Surratt, who became the first woman executed by the U.S. government; although many female spies were caught, their gender saved them (it was not considered moral to hang women). Winkler argues that Surratt "was not a spy and played no role on the night of Lincoln's assassination," but was hanged, along with three male collaborators of John Wilkes Booth, "primarily because of the dogged determination, vindictiveness, and unforgiving actions of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton." Winkler also includes an account of Harriet Tubman's services organizing slaves into a guerilla force behind enemy lines, but most of his stories are in a lighter vein, showing women using their charms to wheedle secrets from officers and soldiers. Although Winkler could have delved more deeply into gender issues in the 19th century, this effort entertains.
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Don Winkler's Stealing Secrets is a first-rate contribution to the literature of Civil War espionage. His meticulously researched and straightforward accounts of some of the most effective female spies for both the Union and the Confederacy contrast sharply with many of the more fanciful stories that have appeared through the years. Fascinating to read, they convey the passion and depths of commitment these women brought to their warring causes. These are tales of "ideological motivation" at its best. (Peter Earnest, Executive Director International Spy Museum 2010-09-21)

The reader will buy into the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. (New York Journal of Books 2010-09-01)

The book, Winkler's fourth, is another winner. It's comprehensive, covering women who were famous and obscure, served on both sides of the conflict, and were from society's highest circles and humble backgrounds. It's chock-full of information, including anecdotes and trivia, is written in Winkler's highly readable style, and is very nicely illustrated. The cover is gorgeous. (Farmville Herald 2010-09-24)

A fascinating read that opens new insights into the secret world behind the military operations, WInkler's treatise is first rate and enjoyable. (Cannonball 2010-10-10)

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.
(Night Owl Reviews 2010-10-11)

You do not need to be a history buff or an expert in the Civil War expert to understand and appreciate the contributions that these women made. You too will be amazed at everything that they did to further their cause! (Dad of Divas 2010-10-10)

It is comprehensive on the lives of the women who aided in the war, and who they assisted during that time. It's an inspirational read for young woman, and women's studies students, who could respect strong-willed women who worked hard and made a great difference during a large and important war.
(Snitch Seeker 2010-10-12)

Stealing Secrets 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 the role of women in conflict. (Bookpleasures.com 2010-10-20)

A lively addendum to Civil War collections. (Library Journal 2010-10-15)

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.

(Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier 2010-10-25)

Historian and author, H. Donald Winkler has turned his remarkable research abilities on the topic of female spies during the Civil War. The result is his highly entertaining book, Stealing Secrets."
(Examiner.com 2010-10-27)

Stealing Secrets offers up stories that Ian Fleming would have been proud to write. Winkler fills the pages with intrigue, romance, double-dealing, daring nighttime escapes and bold daylight heroics.

(Internet Review of Books 2010-11-27)

"Stealing Secrets" by H. Donald Winkler is a fascinating look at the under-explored world of female espionage during the Civil War. This is a wonderful addition to the bookcases of Civil War fans, history buffs, and anyone who enjoys reading about people facing danger and intrigue.

(Night Owl Reviews 2010-12-06)

Winkler tells the stories as historically accurate but easy enough for anyone to read even if you don't know that much about the Civil War. But there is enough context and historical information to make it interesting to those who are very interested in matters of the Civil War. (Simply Stacie 2011-04-29)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Cumberland House; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402242743
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402242748
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book focuses on the contributions of women as spies and covert agents during the Civil War. Sixteen of the book's chapters deal with individual women spies, two of the chapters deal with pairs of women spies (a pair of sisters, and a pair of cousins), and one chapter deals briefly with more than twenty other women spies. A recurring theme in the book is the courage and ingenuity of women seeking to contribute to the Union or the Confederacy as spies or covert agents in the face of societal beliefs and conventions about women that made it difficult for them to be taken seriously. Another recurring theme in the book is the failure of many Union and Confederate men to recognize the security risk that resolute women could pose to military operations during the Civil War.

The book is easy to read and does not require the reader to have any prior knowledge about the Civil War. But, prior knowledge about the Civil War would help the reader to better understand the context and significance of the activities of the various women spies and covert agents discussed in the book.

Anyone interested in a scholarly work on Civil War espionage and covert operations probably would find the book to be of mixed value. The author has included a 10-page bibliography of references and source materials at the end of the book. But, most of the chapters lack any footnotes or endnotes that cite references or source materials, and there are many quotations in the book that are not linked to specific references or source materials. Standing alone, the book probably has limited scholarly use. But, read in conjunction with other books and materials, this book could be of some assistance to readers with a scholarly interest in the Civil War. On the other hand, the book is written in a style suitable for casual reading.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a surprisingly enjoyable book on female spies in the Civil War. It's comprehensive, exhaustively researched, written in a readable style that draws heavily from the participants' memoirs, journals and letters, and should appeal both to the Civil War enthusiast and the novice. The author does an excellent job in detailing each spy's background and motivation, and the reader can't help but be impressed by their devotion, bravery, and effectiveness. The reader also will marvel at the carelessness of many generals, especially Union commanders as well as an influential U.S. senator who spoke far too freely in the presence of Confederate spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow. The chapters on Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew, each of whom operated in the capital of her respective enemies, are particularly enjoyable. The author is to be commended for refuting the lingering and unfair myth that Van Lew, nicknamed "Crazy Bet," was eccentric or mentally unstable, either as an attempt to conceal her covert activities or because she truly was unbalanced. Also noteworthy is the chapter on Harriet Tubman, whose covert activities were a revelation to this reviewer. The book does a solid and downright entertaining job in showing how, to quote from its subtitle, "a few daring women deceived generals, impacted battles, and altered the course of the Civil War." Amply illustrated and graced by a strikingly attractive cover, the book makes a nice addition to the library of anyone interested in the Civil War, covert operations, or women's studies.
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Format: Paperback
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, 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 who also took an active role on the battle front as such, including Harriet Tubman and Loreta Velazquez. 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 both 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.
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