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Gwyneth Atlee

Genre: Historical Romance

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Using All the Weapons at Their Disposal

Gwyneth Atlee Celebrates Women of the Civil War.

Kipling may have said it best when he wrote: "The female of the species is more deadly than the male." When war threatens her home, family, or way of life, no one fights more fiercely than does a woman. Throughout history, some have supported their men, some have taken up arms, and others have chosen the most devastating weapon at their disposal: their talent for winning over hearts.

INNOCENT DECEPTIONS began when I first heard of Lottie Moon, a Confederate spy who became engaged to between four and six Union officers during the United States' Civil War. "Rebel Belle" Boyd further inspired my curiosity; she not only stole documents from the young Union officer she'd agreed to marry, but used the art of flirtation to dupe other soldiers into revealing military secrets. Union officials named Lottie, Belle, and others like them "vipers in
petticoats," but I suspect they must have been the most passionate of women to risk both life and freedom for what they considered their homeland.

As did Lottie and Belle, Memphis beauty Charlotte Randolph of INNOCENT DECEPTIONS risks all to charm enemies, code messages and betray secrets of those she sees as invaders. Charlotte lures "fiancé" after "fiancé" into her web of lies, until Captain Ben Chandler—the one man clever enough to detect her treachery—turns the table on Charlotte, ensnaring her own heart.

In reality as well as fiction, women who played with hearts sometimes fell prey to love. Rebel spy Antonia Ford wed a Union major after he helped free her from custody. Belle Boyd, too, married a handsome Union naval officer who had captured her as she fled to England, but before doing so Belle convinced him to turn traitor.

Southern belles were not alone in using feminine wiles to uncover hidden secrets. To gain entree into Rebel circles, actress Pauline Cushman toasted Confederate President Jeff Davis during a performance. Fired from her acting troupe for her counterfeit betrayal, Pauline was welcomed behind enemy lines, where she flirted her way among admiring Southern troops. Later caught passing information and condemned to hang, Pauline escaped just three days before the sentence was carried out.

Seduction wasn't the only tool at a female spy's disposal. Elizabeth Van Lew of Richmond, Virginia, dared to collect and pass on information despite being a known Unionist. She managed this feat with the help of her servant, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a former slave she had freed and educated. When Van Lew offered Jeff Davis and his wife her "slave" as household help, Bowser eagerly accepted the opportunity to strike a blow to the Confederacy. Van Lew developed
a cipher and created clever hiding places for the messages she sent to General Ulysses S. Grant.

Union spy Sarah Emma Edmonds did not trade on her charm or appearance but on her remarkable ability to disguise herself. After concealing her gender, she enlisted and served as a soldier before she took up espionage. To pass as a male slave, Edmonds stained her skin and cropped her hair. On other occasions, she dressed as a woman, once as a peddler and another time as a teary-eyed refugee.

Many women did their part by smuggling documents, medicines, and other contraband beneath voluminous hoop skirts. Early in the war, soldiers from both sides failed to suspect that women would involve themselves so actively in "the affairs of men." After it became apparent that many were doing exactly that, the gentility of the time prevented most women from being searched or—in many cases—harshly punished when they were caught.

While writing INNOCENT DECEPTIONS, I was struck by a desire to meet some of these fascinating women. Whether they aided their loved ones through feminine wiles, intelligence or a combination of the two, I wanted to know where they came by their uncommon courage. Since none was available for an interview, I made do with a long conversation with my novel's heroine, Charlotte Randolph.

After hundreds of pages, she finally whispered the answer in my ear: "The truest source of valor springs from love."

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