Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Monday, April 25, 2011

Guest Author Victoria Gray - PETTICOAT SPIES: Corsets, The Civil War, and Pauline Cushman

Welcome back to guest author, Victoria Gray, who is tantalizing us yet again with another post in her Petticoat Spies series. If you've missed her other posts, you'll want to check them out! Rose O'Neal Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew.  It amazes me how these women lived! Enjoy!

By Victoria Gray
The Civil War and the adventurous ladies who broke past society’s restrictions (or used them to their advantage) and used their feminine wiles to gather information for their cause is a favorite subject of mine. One such petticoat spy, Elizabeth Van Lew, not-so-fondly known as Crazy Bet in her native Richmond, was the inspiration for the crazy-as-a-fox spymaster in my recent release Angel in My Arms. I visited History Undressed with her story in January…hope you’ll take a peek in the archives if this article stirs your interest in the brave women who risked it all to serve the North and the South. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a legendary Yankee petticoat spy, Pauline Cushman.

Born Harriet Wood on June 10, 1833, the New Orleans native moved to Michigan as a girl. Leaving home at age eighteen, she took off for New York, where her beauty and vibrant personality fostered a career as an actress. After changing her name to Pauline Cushman, she traveled the country in road shows. When the war broke out in the spring of 1861, she was performing in Kentucky, which was at that time under Union control. Confederate officers who viewed her performance offered her a substantial sum to toast Jefferson Davis during her show. Seizing her opportunity, Pauline parlayed the on-stage toast into espionage. Held by Union officers in a pre-planned “arrest”, she became an instant heroine to the Confederates. The Federal officials then threw her out of Union territory, providing her a reason to follow the Confederate Army. Claiming to look for a long-lost brother fighting in the Rebel army, she spent time with Confederate soldiers who shared information on their defenses and operations, gathered lists of Confederate spies and used her riding skills to serve as a Union messenger.

Her assignments grew more daring and more dangerous. Infiltrating the camps of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, Pauline used her beauty and charm to loosen the lips of Confederate officers and gather information. Confronted with more information on defenses, war strategies, and weapons than she could possibly remember, she violated a key rule: never carry documents that would reveal her activities. Feeling she had found the perfect place to hide her notes, she concealed the papers in the soles of her shoes. This came back to haunt her when she was betrayed by a Confederate scout. Arrested and tried by a military court, she narrowly escaped a death sentence by hanging when Union forces invaded the town where she was being held, Shelbyville, Tennessee. Awarded the rank of Brevet-Major by General James Garfield, she wrote a book about her adventures, appropriately titled The Thrilling Adventures of Pauline Cushman and toured the country regaling crowds with the tales of her exploits.

Pauline Cushman died in December 1893. She was buried with full military honors. Her gravestone lists only her name and a unique designation: Union Spy.

I’ll be back this summer with more tales of petticoat spies. My Civil War-era novels Destiny, Angel in My Arms, and my upcoming release, Surrender to Your Touch, were inspired by the espionage and intrigue that surrounded the Civil War. In my latest release, Angel in My Arms, Union spy Amanda Emerson must break her cousin, a notorious double agent, out of a Confederate prison before his imminent execution. She’s a skilled Union operative, but for this mission, she needs a man. Even a man who looks and acts like a Viking warrior. Caught with Rebel battle plans and set for a hanging, Union spy Steve Dunham isn’t about to refuse the assistance of the sable-haired beauty who shows up at the jail and slips him the keys to his cell. Of course, she’s there for a reason besides saving his neck—he’s the key to her plan. He may be trading one noose for another, but he won’t forsake her. The spoils of his victory will be her surrender. And the terms of surrender will be sweet.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Are you working for DuBois?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Amanda steadied her voice. If she didn’t keep her fear tightly leashed, she would fall apart. She had no time for that.

“I think you do. Why else would you break a man out of jail who smells and looks like the town drunk and ride off with him? Did you plan to charm me into revealing the details of my mission?”

“Betsy thought we could count on you. She’s been told—”

“I’m not the guard in that country jail.” His hand moved from her hair to the small of her back, pressing her to him. “Do you realize how easy it would be for me to hike up your skirts and savor some of the charms you flaunted?”

Amanda tasted bile as his words stabbed with the viciousness of a stiletto.

To hell with this man.

Her palm struck his bearded cheek with all the force Amanda could muster. His eyes widened as one broad hand rose to rub his face. She wrenched away and bolted to the horse as fast as her cumbersome skirts would allow.

She couldn’t escape him if he chose to pursue her. Amanda knew that. But she had to try.

Captain Dunham captured her in his arms before she could lift herself into the saddle. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Despite Amanda’s best efforts to deprive him of the satisfaction of seeing her weep, moisture brimmed in her eyes. “You were right. My source was entirely wrong about you.”

She shoved against his chest, but she might as well have been a mouse trying to open a barn door. He didn’t budge. His arms coiled around her and dragged her against his body.

He peered down to study her for several breaths. Then his hands moved higher, stroking Amanda’s back and shoulders with soothing pressure.

“What the hell are you doing out here?” His gruff drawl had lost its angry edge. “Don’t you know how dangerous men can be?”

She swallowed hard. “We were desperate. Betsy thought you would help us.” Amanda wriggled away from his touch. “She was wrong.”

“Why did you come for me?”

“I’ve tried to tell you. But you won’t listen.”

He caught her in his arms again. “Tell me now.”

She twisted to free herself. “Take your hands off me. I’m going home. You can…you can find your way to your contact. You’re clever enough.”

He smiled but made no move to release her. “You’re not going anywhere without me. That would be like throwing you to the wolves.”

“This is coming from the man who spoke of hiking my skirts?” Amanda squirmed against him, brushing against undeniable proof he was not immune to her charms, as he’d described them. “I think I’ll take my chances with the wolves.”

“I thought you were working for…hell, it doesn’t matter what I thought.” He cast his gaze to the ground. “I would never hurt you. I don’t…I’ve never hurt a woman in my life. I was trying to make a point.”

She was tired. She was cold. And she needed to get away from him. It was bad enough when he frightened her. But now, the husky rasp in his voice stirred a warmth she couldn’t afford to feel.

“You’ve made your point very clear.” She veiled her eyes with her lashes. “You’ve also convinced me that seeking your assistance was a fool’s errand.”

“You sure are stubborn when you get riled.” He tipped her chin with one finger, keeping one hand planted firmly at her waist. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pretty girl get so angry with me.”

“I doubt there are many girls, pretty or otherwise, who’ve had as much justification.”

“In my defense, I thought you were leading me into a trap.”

“You don’t think that’s the case now?”

He shook his head. “If it was, I’d be dead by now. DuBois isn’t a patient man.”

Amanda trembled when he drew his fingertips very lightly along the curve of her face. Her top teeth grazed her bottom lip. His touch should repel her. But it didn’t. The sensations rippling through her body were not shudders of revulsion. To her horror, the sweep of his skin against her flesh was pleasant. Too pleasant.

Her teeth sank into her lip as she twisted against his restraint. “You shouldn’t touch me like this. Your behavior is most improper.”

“I suppose it is,” he agreed, his husky voice deepening.

“You need to let me go.” She held herself rigid and prayed he couldn’t feel the tiny quivers coursing through her body.

“I will.” The pad of his thumb swept over her bottom lip. “But you’re too damned pretty to resist.”

And then he kissed her.

Amanda’s knees went from weak to jelly. To her horror, she made no attempt to fight him. She stood transfixed, savoring the taste of his lips, the gentleness of his possession. This brute of a man claimed her with a tenderness she’d never felt in her twenty-four years. She could only remain a captive in his embrace, savoring his heat and his caress.

He released her slowly. Reluctantly. His hard body pressed to hers, stirring needs she’d buried on the brutal day she became a widow.

If his breath and the tension in his body were any indication, he’d been as affected by the kiss as she had. His fingertips traced over her cheeks. He watched her in the moonlight as though he’d discovered something rare and precious.

“Christ, tell me you weren’t acting,” he murmured against her lips.


Leave a comment today for a chance to win a pdf of Angel in My Arms. Thanks for stopping by!

Visit Victoria at, http://www.victoriagrayromance.blogspot.com/ or http://www.victoriagrayromance.com/


Victoria Gray said...

Thanks for having me today, Eliza! Adventurous heroines are my favorite - Pauline Cushman certainly could have been a heroine straight out of one of my romances.


Sue Palmer Fineman said...

Fascinating subject to write about! My grandmother's family lived in Virginia at the time of the civil war, and the stories passed down are so interesting.

Mona Risk said...

What a lovely excerpt, Victoria. I also enjoyed the story of Pauline, the spy.

Jennifer Jakes said...

Loved the information and the excerpt! My family does Civil War reenacting -- can't wait to read your books:)

J K Maze said...

A fascinating excerpt. I look forward to reading the entire book. I love this series.


Eliza Knight said...

Thanks for posting today Victoria! As usual, I found it extremely fascinating!!!

Victoria Gray said...

Thanks, Ladies! I'd love to hear some of your family's Civil War stories, Sue. My family was actually from Maryland even though I'm born and bred in Virginia...the classic "Navy brat", so I've had a unique dual perspective of the war.


Unknown said...

Sounds interesting - I had never thought about a woman being a spy in those days, but I guess it could certainly work!

She said...

I am fascinated by the Civil War. It's great that we now are finding out so much that hasn't been written and we are getting more views of the war and life at that time other than the victor's view.


Anonymous said...

I have all Victoria's books and she brings these characters to life!

Angela Johnson said...

Great post, Victoria. This is a part of Civil War history people know little or nothing about. Eleven years ago I recieved a B. A. degree in History. For every upper division history course you took, you had to write a research paper. In my 'History of the South' class, I researched and wrote a paper on female spies during the Civil War. Many of the women spies were caught and imprisond, and some even died in the line of duty. As usual, there are many women unsung heroes throughout history. I think it's wonderful that you are bringing alive this part of history in your stories.

An additional side note, for those who might be interested; there were numerous examples of women who disguised themselves as men, fought in battles, and even received pensions after the war.

Renee Vincent said...

Very sensual excerpt, Victoria! Loved that kiss scene.

Sorry I'm late, but I'm here now.
Wishing you the best.

Victoria Gray said...

Thanks for all the interesting comments :) So glad you stopped by!

Angela, I actually wrote a post for this blog in January 2010 about Sarah Emma Edmonds, a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight in the war. So many fascinating stories! I am hoping this historical era will gain publishing favor again in the near future.