A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague… Marcus Tullius Cicero
Southern lady, Yankee spy : the true story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union agent in the heart of the Confederacy Elizabeth R. Varon Spies United States Biography Van Lew Elizabeth L. 1818-1900 New York : Oxford University Press, 2003 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xi, 317 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
Northern sympathizer in the Confederate capital, daring spymaster, postwar politician: Elizabeth Van Lew was one of the most remarkable figures in American history, a woman who defied the conventions of the nineteenth-century South. In Southern Lady, Yankee Spy, historian Elizabeth Varon provides a gripping, richly researched account of the woman who led what one historian called “the most productive espionage operation of the Civil War.”
Under the nose of the Confederate government, Van Lew ran a spy ring that gathered intelligence, hampered the Southern war effort, and helped scores of Union soldiers to escape from Richmond prisons. Varon describes a woman who was very much a product of her time and place, yet continually took controversial stands – from her early efforts to free her family’s slaves, to her daring wartime activities and beyond.
Varon’s powerful biography brings Van Lew to life, showing how she used the stereotypes of the day to confound Confederate authorities (who suspected her, but could not believe a proper Southern lady could be a spy), even as she brought together Union sympathizers at all levels of society, from slaves to slaveholders.
After the war, a grateful President Ulysses S. Grant named her postmaster of Richmond – a remarkable break with custom for this politically influential post. But her Unionism, Republican politics, and outspoken support of radical racial policies earned her a lifetime of scorn in the former Confederate capital. Even today, Elizabeth Van Lew remains a controversial figure in her beloved Richmond, remembered as the “Crazy Bet” of Lost Cause history. Elizabeth Varon’s account elevates her from both derision and oblivion, depicting an intelligent, resourceful woman who remained, like her biography, certain to the end with an utter disregard for facts or consequences.