Book Review Short: Wild Rose

It’s summer and I want to be outside playing with The Five-Year-Old. While that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading, it does mean I don’t want to spend a lot of time reviewing. Hence, the book review short.

Wild Rose: The True Story of a Civil War Spy
By Ann Blackman
Random House Trade Publications, 2006

Wild Rose tells the story of Rose O’Neale Greenhow, a woman whose beauty, romantic intrigues, and social prominence in Washington, DC during the Civil War made a nearly perfect Confederate Spy. An intimate friend to John C. Calhoun, James Buchanan, and Dolley Madison, Greenhow used her connections to obtain critical — and accurate — intelligence about Union activities during the War.  Information that she would then pass on to General Pierre G. T. Beauregard. One of her coded messages to Beauregard arrived at a critical time during the Battle of Bull Run, ultimately enabling the Confederacy to prevail in the encounter. As Blackman says, it was a brilliant piece of spycraft, even if it was the reason Allen Pinkerton finally caught up with her.

If you’re expecting the story of a woman straight out of Alias, go elsewhere. Spycraft in the Civil War simply wasn’t that advanced. Measured against our current standards, Rose Greenhow wasn’t so much a spy as an extremely well-connected woman who was a very determined correspondent. Still, her biography is an interesting read if you enjoy Civil War history.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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