Skip to main content

tv   Book Discussion on Liar Temptress Soldier Spy  CSPAN  April 10, 2016 8:00am-9:01am EDT

8:00 am
>> interested in american history tv? visit our website, see our upcoming schedule or watch a recent program, road to the white house rewind, lectures in history and more, at >> up next on "history bookshelf," author karen abbott talks about her book, "liar, tempt russ, soldier, spy."
8:01 am
this event was taped in 2014 at a bookstore in asheville, north carolina. t's about an hour. denise: i am thrilled to be here with karen abbott. i love her book. love all her books. you show us this entire other view of chicago through the eyes of the two most famous american madams ever. in "american rose," we learned about an american icon who hasn't been explored the way you explored her. now with "liar, temptress, soldier, spy," you hit on several things i adore. unexplored american history,
8:02 am
espionage, and women with real spines, adventurous incredible women. tell us about what this book is about. karen: i will tell you the origins. i was born and raised in philadelphia and moved to atlanta in 2001. i noticed immediately that the civil war seeps in the conversation in the south in a way it never does in the north. i saw the occasional confederate flag, heard the jokes of the war of northern aggression. the point was really driven -- [laughter] good point. and the point was driven home that it wasn't a joke. when i was stuck in traffic for hours behind a pickup truck that had a bumper sticker that said, don't blame me, i voted
8:03 am
or jeff davis. i looked at this for hours and started thinking of course, what were the women doing? my mind always goes to what the women were doing. they didn't have easy access to political discourse, they didn't have the right to vote. they couldn't influence battle. i wanted to see what the women were doing. i wanted to find, in particular, four women who cheated, lied, stole, murdered accident drank, shot, fought, avenged and flirted their way through the war. these are women i want to spend time with. it's why i love this book so much. as authors, we often talk or are asked how we find our stories. found it on a bumper sticker hasn't come up quite often. >> once you got intrigued, once that seed was planted, how did you come across these four incredible women? karen: i wanted to find four in
8:04 am
particular that touched in some way that retold the civil war and the way the civil war in a way that hadn't been told before. even if they weren't physically interacting, although two of them do, they were running in the same people and there was a cause and effect. one woman's behavior would affect the other woman circumstances. i wanted to weave their stories together in interesting way. denise: one of the things i like is there are these very distinct characters. they each have their own background, their own experience. they have their own views on this particular conflict. they offer the reader a specific view and entry point into the civil war. spoiler alert. here is how the war ends. we know where this is going. what i like about this is we know where we're headed. this is a personal way to look
8:05 am
at not just this war but were -- war in general, how people become involved, what roles they take on, how it affects their lives. these four characters are so distinct and talk about the four women that carry this book. karen: with apologies, all the women at different points were liars, temptresses, soldiers and spies. the first is belle boyd who provided comic relief and my favorite in a lot of ways. he was insane. denise and i were talking before we went on. she was like a sociopath on spring break all the time. [laughter] den denise: that girl, if you remember spring break, she's having a really good time, but there's something just off about her. that is belle.
8:06 am
karen: applying this to the civil war made for pretty dangerous circumstances. belle boyd was 17 years old when the war broke out. she was a confederate sympathizer. she was living in the shenandoah valley, virginia. she is all in. she had no filter. if sarah palin and miley cyrus had a 19th-century baby it would have been belle boyd. she was very overt with both her opinions and her sexuality. denise: you would see pictures of her going -- karen: i am sure there are. she wrote this great letter to her cousin that sums up how she felt about herself. denney: which is what she thought about most of the time. karen: yes, exactly. i will read a tiny snippet. i am tall, she once boasted to her cousin. lobbying him to find her a husband. i weigh 106 pounds. my form is beautiful. my eyes are of a dark blue, and so expressive.
8:07 am
my hair of a rich brown and i think i tie it up nicely. my neck and arms are beautiful, and my foot is perfect. i only wear size 2.5 shoes. my teeth are the same pearly whiteness, perhaps a little whiter. neither grecian nor roman, beautifully shaved is my nose. i'm the most beautiful of all of your cousins. that is belle for you. she kicks things off on the fourth of july 1861 by shooting at a union soldier who threatens to raise a flag over her home. belle was not standing for that. denise: in addition to wanting a husband, she's trying to get via, you know, some sort of agreement with her husband, what ask belle want in this story? what does this particular character want in this story? karen: she woke up every day wanting something
8:08 am
different. it pointed to what can i do to make myself more famous, which was a strange attitude for someone who purported to be a spy, this is somebody who, after she shoots the union soldier dead, goes to work as a courier and spy for the confederate army. while she's trying to help the confederate army gather and disseminate information that might be helpful in their battles, she's also trying to do whatever she can to bring attention to herself. denise: she ends up getting attention from a prominent individual. karen: she was quite obsessed with stonewall jackson, who is my civil war boyfriend. denise: we all have one. [laughter] karen: he was an interesting character. a rock star of the civil war and there was a great story about him. he was in the lobby of a hotel. this is in 1862. women just swarmed him.
8:09 am
they ran after him on the street. they just followed him and started ripping buttons off his coat, keeping souvenirs. stonewall was great about this. he actually said ladies, ladies, this is the first time i was ever surrounded by the enemy. [laughter] belle was obsessed with him. she said she wanted to occupy his tent and share his dangers. she spent quite a bit of time going after that goal. denise: belle had another idol in her life, rose. rose is another one of the main characters, another key figure in the confederate side of the story. talk about rose. karen: rose was an interesting woman who was in a difficult position when the war broke out. she lost five children in four years, she lost her husband in a freak accident.
8:10 am
she lost her financial stability. she lost her access to the white house. in the 20 years prior to the war, she had access to democratic politicians. she'd been an advisor to james buchanan. with the election of lincoln that disappeared. she was desperate to regain this position with influence she had wielded. when a confederate captain approached her and said would you be interested in running a spy ring in washington, d.c., the federal capital, rose disregarded the danger of that and said, of course, of course i want to do that. she immediately began cultivating sources -- by sleeping with, i mean by cultivating. she managed to bed a high number of union officials including senator henry wilson of massachusetts, an abolitionist republican, and the chairman of lincoln's committee on military affairs. you can imagine their pillow
8:11 am
talk was quite interesting. she entertained these men in her home often. the neighbors watch the men come and go and watched her wild rose. it was very catty. she knew what she was doing. she was very serious about her intent to help the confederate army. denise: how did belle learn about rose? belle narcotics way, kind of wants to be rose. karen: belle went to school in washington, d.c., and she had her societal debut as a debutante, of course. i love this story. she carved her name with her diamond in the window of her school, belle boyd was ere. rose, she was still the leading ady of washington society. rose's invitations were the most coveted in town. belle knew about all the
8:12 am
politicians that would go to rose's scommome her parties. rose entertained democratic and republican politicians and was influential across the board. belle knew about this. she gist sort of admired rose, and even more so after the war broke out, and rose became a prominent spy. denise: let's now move, we have two of our four women. let's now move to the union and talk a little bit about elizabeth. karen: elizabeth van lew was the exact opposite situation. she was a union lady living in the confederate capital of richmond, so the exact mirror opposite situation. whereas rose was a celebrated beauty, elizabeth, one of her contemporaries said, "she was never as pretty as her portrait showed." [laughter] i wish i had her portrait. very true. denise: they didn't have photoshop. they figured some things out. karen: but elizabeth was a staunch abolitionist. she was born and raised in richmond but spent time up
8:13 am
north being educated. she was under the care of an abolitionist governness. when she came back to richmond she was not pleased with the state of things and begin freeing the family slaves. after the war broke out this was a dangerous position to have. before she was this is central spinster who lived with her mother. after the war broke out, she was a traitor, a union sympathizer, and she was somebody that they sent death threats to and confederate detectives started following pretty closely. denise: this was somebody who did not need to do anything. she was well taken care of. do you have any idea of what drove her? what motivated her? karen: she was moved by the plight of slavery. she would actually if in tour of the slaves' pens and weep openly and write about this in her diary. she would bring prominent guests to richmond and say i need to show you what the situation is. she would give tours.
8:14 am
she was overwhelmed by how horrific the situation was. once her father passed -- her family had owned slaves. they needed to in order to be welcomed into richmond society. once her father passed she began freeing their slaves. she started spending her inherentance for the purposes of buying slaves just to free them. this was something that was near and dear to her and drove her through the war at the risk of her own life. denise: what i found interesting was her relationship with the african american woman who worked in her home. talk a little bit about that. karen: once elizabeth started assembling her union spy ring she recruited people from all alks of society. she really chose one person to be the linchpin of this operation, mary jane bowser, a former family slave. elizabeth freed her when she was young. she was a remarkable woman. elizabeth september her to be
8:15 am
educated. of course it was against the law at the time to teach slaves to read or write. elizabeth went to davis, the confederate first lady and said i hear you need help. i, as a proper southern lady, am offering one of my servant that is might assist you in your needs. she is not a smart woman. she's kind of bumbling, but she might just fit the bill for you for a while. mary jane bowser goes to the confederate white house and she is hired. little does anybody know that literate, mary jane she's highly educated and has a photographic memory. while she is dusting jefferson davis's desk, she is sneaking peeks at papers on his desk and listening to the confidential conversations, reporting every word to elizabeth. denise: i love that. now we move on to frank.
8:16 am
emma/frank, she rounds out our union contingent in the book. karen: emma edmonds has a tragic back story. she was a canadian whose father had arranged a marriage for her. she had seen what arranged marriages had done for her sisters, mainly nothing but make them miserable. emma was determined to have the life of 5d venture. -- adventure. she wanted something more for herself. she cut her hair, she binds her breasts, and she flees to the united states. once she's here, she starts hearing about the abolitionist john brown and the drum beat of events leading up to the civil war, and she wants a piece of that. she wants to live a life of adventure. she enlists in the union army. it was the spring of 1861. it was quite remarkable how she gets away with that. denise: the first thing that came to mind, i'm reading abbott's book, this is great, wait a minute, didn't she have to take a physical? you know what i mean? that's the first thing that come up in everybody's mind. so how did that work out for
8:17 am
her? [laughter] karen: she was quite nervous about it. the truth was the official protocol dictated all doctors had to conduct a thorough physical examination. doctors across the country flout the these rules. they were apparently not that thorough. karen: they needed bodies out there. they didn't care if somebody was deaf or prone to convulsions or prone to disease. they needed to have a finger to pull a trigger, and just to cared if somebody could march. they wanted somebody who could do the job. the doctor shook her hand and said what sort of living has this hand earned. with that she was captain of the army as frank thompson. denise: i love it. with these four women, abbott has really given us four very unique, personal lenses with which to view the civil war.
8:18 am
one of the things i liked is it is so balanced when you were doing your research, were there any other women you came across -- like how did you find and decide on these four women? because it is such a great fit. was there somebody you thought she would be great, but -- or talk about landing and deciding on these are the four i'm going with. karen: there were plenty left on the cutting room floor. fortunately, the civil war has numerous good characters and interesting people. there were two sisters i was interested in. of course, i'm always interested in devious sisters. they were two confederate ladies, who like many southern ladies, hid all manner of goods and smuggled them across the lines. i think they left quite a few union men at the altar. they not only seduced these men, they jilted them at the
8:19 am
altar. i wanted to find a way to fit them in but there wasn't enough for a nonfiction account. there wasn't enough there. there were also interesting male spies. you think the women were the only ones cross dressing. there was a fellow, benjamin stringfellow, a confederate spy for jeb stuart. he was 94 pounds, delicate features, blonde hair and according to a comrade he had a waist as wispy as a woman's. he would put on an elaborate gown and call himself sally martin and go to union military balls and start dancing with the union soldiers. he would just say, oh, what is the general up to these days, and get information that way. there were devious people on oth sides of both genders. frank/emma was absolutely my favorite. do you have a favorite in the book? karen: i like them all for different reasons. belle was comic relief. every time belle appeared, i just started laughing.
8:20 am
but i really appreciated emma's vulnerability. here is somebody who is not only having to pretend that she's a man, she's on the front lines, she's in the war's bloodiest battles, and she also has a really excruciating personal story. she has a situation where she falls in love with a fellow union soldier and has to make the choice of, do i suffer in silence? i love this man. do i suffer in silence, or do i tell him what i really am? denise: they were very close. karen: they were very close. i really just -- i just really appreciated her strength and vulnerability there. denise: one of the things when i came across that part, i got curious about this concept of women dressing as men to enlist in the army. i found out that it wasn't -- she was not the only one. were you surprised to learn that? karen: i was. it was one of the most surprising bits of research.
8:21 am
there were an estimated 400 women who disguise the themselves. it is fascinating how they got away with it. the biggest reason they got away with it was because no one knew what a woman would look like wearing pants. [laughter] they were so used to seeing woman's bodies in these exaggerated shapes by corps sets, that the very idea of wearing pants was so unfor the amiable that people were just like, no, that can't be a with only, that can't be. that was one of the things that aided emma and the other women that did this and enlisted ads soldiers. denise: i talked about how they are different, different perspectives. what do you think these four particular characters, these four women, what do they have in common? karen: i think that they all put together -- all of these women, want just the four -- but all the women who involved themselves in the civil war, it was the first time that women
8:22 am
took this sort of role, publicly, in war. there were revolutionary war spies. they were very secrete. they did not talk about this. in the civil war it was the first time women made war their business and did so publicly. everyone was used to women as the victims of war, not the perpetrators. it was the first time in american history they stepped forward and said this is what i am doing and i am proud of it, and i'll do it again. rebel women spitting on union soldiers, emptying the chamber pots on their heads, openly defying the northern government and saying i am a rebel woman and i will fight to the death for my cause. the union government had no idea what to do with this. there was a great quote from a lincoln official. he said, what are we going to do with these fashionable women spies? it was a conundrum that follow them throughout the war.
8:23 am
it was the first time women made a stance like that. denise: one of the great things about these characters, the research you have done, they are incredibly fleshed out. they are not perfect. karen: thank you. denise: you're very welcome. they are not perfect. they have flaws. a couple of them have despicable, difficult views to deal with. there is a lot of hate, a lot of sadness. the choice is made to show them, to show all of them. warts and all. talk about why you decided to do that, why it was important to include all of those aspects of these characters? karen: they were products of their time. it is important to be as true to them as they were. rose is an atrocious racist and said vile things about african-americans. i kind of wanted where she was
8:24 am
coming from, in addition to being a product of her time. because belle boyd was also a product of her time, but belle had a very loving relationship with her own slaves, as much as you can in that situation. rose did not have that same affinity for the women who had served her. i do think it boiled down to the difficult upbringing she had had and the times -- in recent years, and not only that, but her background. you find out a little bit into the book, and i found this out later on, that rose's father, when she was about 4 years old, had been murdered by his slave. i think that really fueled her hatred and something that followed her and shaped her throughout her life. denise: these women, all of them, you talked about them the first time in the history that they stood up and said this is our war too, we're willing to fight. they were taking incredible risks in a way -- you could
8:25 am
argue greater risks than men if only because they were doing something that was not expected at all from their gender in that time. highway risky was it what they were doing? karen: incredibly risky. rose, for example, used her 8-year-old daughter in her mission, which was something that was really astonished to me and only proved how devoted she was to the cause. emma lived with the threat of being discovered. not only when she went undercover, and she went undercover quite a few times, but just the risk of being discovered. every day she would hear more stories about women soldiers eing discovered. my favorite one, i have a couple of favorites of that variety, one was that a woman forgot how to wear pants and started pulling them on over her head. there was a corporal in new jersey who gave birth while she was on duty. [laughter] the jig was up there.
8:26 am
denise: bathtub birth. ticket duty birth. karen: exactly. not only was she on the front lines and worried about getting shot or captured by confederates, which actually happened to emma later in the book, but the idea of her getting caught and discovered as a woman, elizabeth, of course, was suffering death threats every day, white supremacist groups and confederate detectives spying on her. they believed they were going to be hanged if they were strung up on the gallows, and they even wrote that in their diaries. i'm going to be strung by the gallows if anybody finds us. denise: there was an element of betrayal in a sense of what they were doing. emma/frank was we trying everything that was supposed to be associated with what it meant to be a union soldier. you were supposed to be a man. anyone who operates as a spy is always in a position where they can be viewed as someone who is we trying confidences.
8:27 am
they did suffer consequences. this did not go smoothly for the four women all the time. can you talk about the consequences, the unfortunate consequences they suffered? karen: as i have said earlier the union government did not always know what to do with them. they were reluctant to make the rebel women, rose and belle, into confederate martyrs. they thought that would exacerbate conditions when they were trying to quell the rebellion, and also cause complications from europe. the confederate government was interested in getting europe to recognize its legitimacy. it added a whole other wrinkle. they didn't know what to do at the confederate women and where they may have hanged them and certainly their behavior would have warranted hanging. they threw them in the prison and sort of tortured them in the best way they knew how. actually, belle and rose had quite different experiences in prison. i think that was due to the different levels of serious --
8:28 am
of how the union officials took them and their threat. but rose definitely suffered in prison quite a bit and had a difficult time, and came quite near death on a couple of occasions. denise: what was the style of treatment for rose versus belle? karen: i found this quite hilarious. rose went to prison, and the union officials tortured her. they starved her. denise: she was well known. it's important to get that across. this was not an anonymous woman who was spying. karen: i should back up and discuss what made her well-known. what got her into prison. rose, after she formed her spy ring, in july of 1861, the first battle of bull run, which was going to be an enormous battle, everybody was predicting this was going to be the end of the war on the union side. they thought, well, we're going to capture them at bull run, move on to richmond, and the
8:29 am
war is going to be over. the confederates had different plans. rose, after jumping into bed officials and gathering the information, she summoned a 16-year-old courier to her home named betty duval. she sat her down and she has a cipher. rose has a note and has a piece of black silk and ties up this note in the black silk and rolled it up into betty's hair and gives betty a dress and says -- exactly. i have so many dispatches in my hair right now. [laughter] denise: she's leaving here a very important mission after. karen: she tells betty to pretend you're a simple farm girl passing from the market. the union won't even notice you. betty passes along, waves to the sentries and they say what a pretty girl. they let her go by. she goes to beauregard's headquarters, lets down her luxurious hair and produces this note that rose had put in,
8:30 am
and therein contained very important information for the first battle of the bull run, which aided the confederates in that surprising victory. so after this, you can imagine -- i should say that the detective pinkerton is on the case, gets on rose, and she becomes public enemy number one for the union. denise: you mentioned pinkerton. one of the things that's interesting is do you have all of these other characters and elements from that moment in history that enter into the story. pinkerton is one. what are some others? karen: pinkerton was a main one. i was surprised by his involvement. here is somebody who was contracted by the union army to do secret service work, and has as big an ego as anybody. here was somebody just as interested in advancing his own personality and his own interests as belle was maybe. and pinkerton becomes focused on rose, public enemy number
8:31 am
one, and he conducts a stakeout. there is a great scene where it is a torrential downpour and he goes out with his best detectives to rose's home. she always like to say her home was within rifle distance of the white house. she called lincoln satan. within rifle distance of satan. he stands on his detective shoulders and look center -- in her window. he sees rose and a traitor captain sitting on a couch looking over maps. then the two start passionately making out. pinkerton is enraged. he can't believe this traitor captain is giving these secrets to rose. that is bad. pinkerton goes after her right there. denise: you were talking about the young woman in the spy ring who has this elaborate, you know, she's hiding notes in her hair. one of my favorite things about
8:32 am
abbott's book is all the different ways they hid the notes. give us a couple of the favorite ones. karen: definitely the hair. they had elaborate hairdos conducive to the note. they also have crinoline. there were many cartoons that celebrated confederate women, in particular, their ability to smuggle things across the lines. if you don't know, it is this rigid thing of six feet. you can imagine the things you could attach to this. people attached coffee, sabres, pistols, packages of grade, silk, boots, several pairs of boots at a time. belle boyd was the queen of smuggling. there were a report from the pennsylvania that they were missing 14 muskets and about 200 sabres, and it was all the doing of belle boyd. that was quite an enterprise.
8:33 am
[laughter] denise: here you are, you are a pennsylvania girl living in atlanta who sees a jefferson davis bumper sticker. you end up in this world of the civil war. what was your view or your experience with civil war history prior to working on this book? karen: absolutely nothing. i started from scratch. i appreciated that. i came to not expecting to find anything, not knowing what i would find, and was quite pleased and fascinated by what i did find, especially the way women's roles changed and the way the war changed women's roles. you fall down into that rabbit hole of research when you're doing nonfiction. one of those -- i stayed quite a bit longer than i should have. i probably spent, you know, i wasted a good bit of time finding out about how courtship rituals changed during the
8:34 am
civil war. denise: how did they change? karen: well, i will tell you. prior to the civil war, in the antebellum years, it was quite a rigorous process for a marriage to happen. a proximate cause active mate would require a letter of introduction, formal letter of introduction. denise: from a cousin perhaps. karen: about perfect feet and whatnot. denise: i have a cousin with perfect feet if you're interested. karen: always a selling point. the letter of introduction, meeting the parents, a formal process that would last for ears before you could even consider be engage and had move on to marriage. when the war broke out all of that change. southern parents had to loosen their rules. everyone was gone. the women had a newfound freedom. it also gave them more likelihood of heartbreak in real relationships.
8:35 am
denise: expectations were raised. karen: exactly. they went off to confederate camp. before they had the letters of introduction. now they had men whose names they didn't know, getting their hands kissed, being serenaded, all these scandalous behaviors that would never happen before the war. southern women only admitted to flirting in their diaries, but quite a bit more happened, and a lot more sexual intimacy. 60,000 widows were left after the war. 60,000 widows, didn't have any expectations of getting married. my favorite is all the women that said i don't care, i'll be an old made, it doesn't matter to me. it was the first time a generation of women did not expect to marry and carry on the tradition of their mothers and grandmothers. denise: you started with a blank slate with this book. how did your views about this moment in history sort of evolve as you went from interests, through research, through writing?
8:36 am
karen: one of the most startling aspects is an interesting and gratifying one, how women could -- you would think of women as the weaker sex. they exploited the idea of women being gentle and a slow, and not educated and gentile. their gender was a physical and psychological disguise. while they were hiding everything in their buns and skirts, it was also something they could hide behind with regards to just the women that women were not capable of this sort of treasonous behavior. there are some great scenes were detectives would approach women and accuse them and say you are in league with the enemy and the women's response immediately is how dare you accuse me of such behavior. it is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman, and i am a defenseless woman, and you are insulting a defenseless woman. they were anything but defenseless. denise: while hiding a pistol.
8:37 am
karen: and i will shoot you right now. of course, they were anything but defenseless. just the fact they were able to exploit society's notions of the weaker sex, i thought it was quite brilliant. denise: you have often written about these intrepid, often unsung women and their roles in significant moments in history. you started out in journalism. did you always want to write about women? was that something you thought about doing or fell into it? karen: i would say i fell into it. my grandmother just turned 96. she always told me the dirtiest stories i know. [laughter] she is the one who not only led me to a 19th-century brothel, but met the most famous stripper of the 20th century. when you think of the word maverick you think of male characters, james dean, malcolm x., james garner. i like to find women mavericks.
8:38 am
mavericks are vaginass. that's my overriding view. denise: how would you compare this to your former books? they were also about mavericks with vaginas. karen: they all have one theme. i like to write about women whose lives i wish i lived. i'm jealous of all of them. the next best thing is to sit at my computer and dig into their psyches and type away and prod and poke until they speak to me. it's always a thrill when they do. denise: when you are talking about the prodding and poking and research and going down the rabbit hole, do you find when you work you have distinct phases to the work? now i am researching, now i'm going to write or edit, or do you have overlap in how you operate? was the process for this book any different in any way than from the prior two books? karen: you probably agree with me, being a journalist, i have to research and write at the same time.
8:39 am
i know plenty of authors who have to do the research first. they gather and they horde -- denise: they keep finding things. karen: i would research happily for 10 years and not write a word. but that gets new trouble with your editor. they don't like that. denise: that's how we function. we need deadlines. karen: it is a function of journalism to write at the same time. you figure out what is important and what is vital to the story. you go in a rabbit hole of research, but you allow yourself to pull back and say, that's an interesting tidbit, but i can't spend the next four months on that, unfortunately. that is about that. denise: you do a great job of capturing their voices. what kinds of resources did you come across in all this while you were in the rabbit hole? karen: i went all over for this one. i went to the national archives, where they have rose's correspondence, which was thrilling.
8:40 am
the black scrap of silk i mentioned earlier, that's at 9 national archives. i was able to hold that in my hand. you just know that this confederate spy had held this 150 years ago earlier was thrilling. the same thing with his' papers at the new york public library. i found some of her death threats. one of them said please give us some of your blood to write with. how chilling that must have been for her. i was chilled by it how many years later. i spoke with one of her descendents of her brother and he gave me information about her ring that had never been told or published before. that was pretty thrilling. i spent time at reenactments. which is always interesting. denise: talk a little bit about that. a question that would come up through abbott's book and through the kind of curiousity it spawned in me, the cross
8:41 am
dressers in both gender were not unusual. did you ever encounter anyone at any of these reenactments who was a woman being a man or a man being a woman? karen: i did not but i read an article after i firned my research where women had to fight for the right to reenact as men, but they were doing it in the actual civil war. there was a movement, apparently it was not immediately accepted that women reenactors could dress as men and fight as men. they wanted them to play the traditional women roles and these women were like, no, we want to be the women soldiers. we want to reenact as the women soldiers. there was a movement afoot for that to happen. that was pretty interesting. and the anachronisms. i love them at these events. i went to see the first battle of the bull run reenactment. there was a man with his
8:42 am
10-year-old son. the man said to him look, there is stonewall jackson by the power lines. [laughter] you've got to love that. denise: grab your iphone, take a picture. of course. aren: with your latte. denise: fantastic, wow. abbott's book is just so -- it's so compelling. it is such a great read. it reads like fiction. let's talk about the f word. fiction. is it something you ever considered doing? this is a huge part of what you have done for so long. is it something you think about? karen: for the next book, maybe. but definitely not for this one. i have 50 pages of in notes and spent five years
8:43 am
researching this book. a couple -- i talk about my author's notes how the south mythologizing. it was important to point out instances in the narrative and in the end notes. to me, it's just as important what people embellish and what they leave out as what they actually did in a way. i vet the sources as much as possible, and also leave in those anecdotes that they blow up, and i explain why. they explain why they embellish them, and it's important for me to examine that. it's something about their psyche. it says something about their role in the war. it is part of their story. it is just as legitimate as the official records of the war of the rebellion. i also consulted extensively. to me, those memoirs are a very small part of the large body of research that i was lucky enough to have access to for a book like this. denise: it comes together so terrifically.
8:44 am
we have time for some questions. does anybody have questions? >> i do. an interesting thing about the southern -- it is more of a comment -- the southern gothic, the women in southern gothic writing is so prevalent. that's compared to other writing. that has to be a product of the civil war as well. i mean, maybe? i don't know. karen: i think that is probably true. the whole landscape changed after the war. the spies started moving to women's suffrage. it changed the landscape of how women viewed their roles. people took notice of that and that influenced everything including southern gothic iterature.
8:45 am
>> primarily by a lot of women writers, i think, especially in the modernist movement. karen: an interesting point. >> can you tell me the process you came up with with the title? denise: it is a great title. karen: it was pretty torturous. my writer friends could attest, i would send out emails saying this is it, this is the title, and they would say no, no, that is not the title. i think in the end we wanted something that try to encapsulate all four women, something that they all were, and i thought that -- and also something that would be recognizable and also play on a very manly book, very manly movie, and a very -- i love john, and i just thought it would be fun to sort of tweak that a little bit and just infuse it with a little bit of the women's perspective and just sort of, you know, say that this is the women's side
8:46 am
of that kind of story. aurp you were the publisher who fleshed out the title itself. karen: it was a collaborative process. i sent many emails to my editor, and he ignored them, rightfully, i'm not even going to grace that one with a response. i was trying desperately to come up with quotes from hawthorne who covered the war quite extensively. i thought they were great snippets. they were just like no, no. that is not working. finally we came up with this. i thought we all thought it clicked. >> i have a reading request. can you read us the description you did of stonewall jackson. page 138. [laughter]
8:47 am
karen: on 138. denise: we have a request for the description of stonewall jackson. page 138. i will remind people this is belle's imagined love. she spent quite a bit of time -- talking about his feet. karen: i don't think his feet were as pretty as hers. ok. stonewall jackson had just turned 38 years old and looked, some said, more scarecrow than human, was eerily bright blue eyes and a mainy brown mass of beard. his preferred uniform, a single breasted coat left over from his service in the mexican war, a battered teppo with a broken visor over his eyes, and an oversized pair of boots for his size 14 feet. his horse, nancy, whomever else called little sorrell, stood only 15 hands high. jackson rode him with his feet drawn up to avoid dragging them
8:48 am
on the ground. he spoke seldom and almost never laughed. on the rare occasions when he did, he tossed back his head, let his mouth gape open, and ade no sound whatsoever. once an injured northerner asked to be lifted up to catch a glimpse of the general. he stared at jackson for a moment, and then, in a tone of disbelief and disgust, exclaimed, oh, my god, lay me down. jackson was as idiosyncratic as he was brilliant. his peculiar at-bats and tendencies to hype conned camera became as legendary as his skills on the battlefield. he thought of himself as being out of balance and would stop to raise one arm waiting for the blood to rush down his body and establish equilibrium. he refused to eat pepper because it made his left leg weak. he couldn't determine the direction from which it came. convince that had every one of his organs was malfunctioning
8:49 am
to some extent, he self-medicated with a variety of concoctions, inhaling glycerine and silver nitrate. twice a day jackson slipped away from camp and found a ecluded field. he prayed for an hour, hands clasped, mouth forming noises, a ritual that may have had something to do with the fear he was possessed. he was reluctant to read a letter from his wife whom he called my little dove on sundays. he forbade profanity, alcohol and mingling with the campfires. followers, although he considered himself a genuine and ardent admirer of true womanhood and was said to never pass a lady of high or low degree without tipping his filthy cap. he was unfazed by the prospect of murder or death. he would have had a man shot at the drop of a hat. and he would drop him himself.
8:50 am
he ordered the execution of a firing squad of a soldier, a father of four, for assaulting a man of higher rank. he found, as he always did, that god's will matched up with his own. during one battle he inquired sharply about a missing career and was told the young men had been killed. very commendable, very commendable he muttered, and put the matter out of his mind. denise: i love that. as i said, that is my boyfriend. it's interesting to me how these myths and these personas about these individuals built up in that particular time in history. what role did the media play in this war? in revolutionary times, even after the revolutionary war when the battle was going on about, you know, taking on the u.s. constitution, the newspapers were very opinion ated. i mean, there was not -- no one even pretended to try and be
8:51 am
objective. there was this side and that side. what role did the newspapers play in the development of the legend of someone like stonewall jackson? karen: i think the newspapers, their first duty was to convince everybody that they were the ones that were winning. they put out propaganda their side was winning. every battle had different numbers. that was the first and foremost thing they wanted people to think. then they would move into personalities. belle boyd got a lot of press. in the south she was a hero. she might have been a little bit strange and eccentric, but she was a hero. in the north, she was an accomplished prostitute. it's kind of strange. this is a 17-year-old girl, an accomplished prostitute, and somebody to wander through the camps. they said we have no idea why they let her wander through the camps, and no doubt she's doing
8:52 am
a lot of damage. yet people would read these reports, and belle boyd was still continuing to wander throughout the camps. ne of the greatest pieces of propaganda, there were a lot of reports about the bar barism of the confederates, how brutal they were, how barbaric. the reports about people, women wearing jewelry made of yankee bonds. necklaces made of yankee teeth. all these sorts of things. the confederates were very angry. the union had been starving them of supplies with their blockade, hence the prolific smuggling business we discussed earlier. it was sort of the idea that these people were so brutal. there was a little bit of truth to some of it. there were some women wearing yankee jewelry but it was exaggerated mostly. each side sort of played for the best effect, and also was also constantly in mind of what europe was thinking. as you're watching the
8:53 am
newspapers, and they were very carefully, so that was always in the back of their minds, too. denise: do we have any other questions? o? >> of the memoirs that you read, which, for whatever reason, had the most influence on you? denise: which one had the most influence, yeah. karen: i don't know about influence. i found them -- >> you found, i don't know, had the most impact in one way or another. i shouldn't say influence. karen: rose wrote a memoir when she went to europe lobbying for the confederacy. she wrote quite a bit about her journey meeting dignitaries and royalty. including napoleon iii. you can imagine this woman who had never before been to europe, lobbying on behalf of
8:54 am
her country, and it was a last-gasp effort. she was the last hope. it was interesting to read about her frustration. at some point everything was stupid. she wrote my meeting with napoleon with stupid. these people were stupid. this party was stupid. the women were fat and ugly. i stood next to them as long as possible so we could compare and everyone could see they were fat and ugly compared to me. it was this glimpse into her psyche, this dignified woman who presented this very regal picture and was always business, always serious, and always had her goal in mind, and she was clearly falling apart. she was somebody at her own personal -- the confederacy means everything to her, and it was falling through her hands. to read her words about it boiling down to this is stupid made it universal. everybody has that thought that this is stupid. it was interesting to find that
8:55 am
was her last commentary on that. denise: it meant so much to her. one of the great things is it does come across how much this conflict meant in different ways to each one of these characters. thank you for being with us. [applause] karen: thank you for having me. this is fun. >> i am a history book. i do enjoy seeing the fabric of our country and how things -- just how they work and how they're made. >> i love american history tv. the presidency, american artifacts, fantastic show. >> i had no idea they did history. that's something i'd really enjoy. >> and with american history tv, it gives you that perspective. >> i'm a c-span fan. >> my name is heidi.
8:56 am
i'm a museum director and chief could you later of the d.a.r. museum. we're in the gallery today, taking a look at our new exhibition, remembering the american revolution, 1776 to 1890. so in the first section, we have some sub sections, and this sub section we call reminders of war. so these are things that revolutionary war soldiers owned or created or carried during the war. and one of my favorite items is this wallet. men and women carried wallets like this during the 18th century to keep paperwork, as well as money, all together in their pockets. this wallet was owned by corporal christopher of pennsylvania. it was probably made by a female family member for him. it is very colorful, as was the
8:57 am
custom in popularity at the time, the fashion at the time. but it was saved by his family, and inside of it, it includes his oath of allegiance. so he signed it in 1778. it's a piece of paper that some people carried with them, others did not, but during this time period, you wanted to be able to kind of identify yourself as either a friend or a foe. no exhibition about the american revolution could be had, we don't think, without some discussion of washington. george washington was a universally liked individual, very unique, i think, in american history. i'm sure he had his detractors, but we don't hear a lot about that. but we do hear about his exploits. of course, he's a hero, the
8:58 am
father of the country, and we have objects that relate to him specifically. one of the very interesting items that we have is a life mask of washington here. and it was created, of course, by udon, the original being at mount vernon, but this life mask was created in the 1830's by who we believe is august lindsey, who was advertising at the time in philadelphia that udon, ad the mold from who was making plaster busts, and this is one of the busts made from washington's life mask. this one was made for the artist, who painted the famous washington crossing the delaware painting in the 19th
8:59 am
century. so it has a really interesting art connection to the revolution, as well as, you know, you are looking at what washington actually looked like, because the life mask was taken from his face. primarily what we see here are items that have been saved. they were saved all the way from the american revolution, but also they were saved from the 19th century. because of some connection, either the imagery or perhaps the connection to a relative that was to the american revolution, but the act of saving is another message that we like people to come away with. we're happy to have these objects here, and that the american revolution has created this museum to, in fact, save these things and also share these things.
9:00 am
>> interested in american history tv?, history. american artifacts. ewind, lecturesw and more. on american history tv, author and ethics studies ejano talksaivd mont about his research chronicling texas chiquano history. he discusses the relationship between anglo-americans and mexican-americans, the brown berets and henry gonzalez's disapproval of the chiquano


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on