Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Elizabeth Van Lew: Civil War Spy

Elizabeth Van Lew: Civil War Spy

Heidi Schoof
Nonfiction  Series
For ages 10 and up
Compass Point Books, 2006   ISBN: 978-0756509859

Elizabeth Van Lew was the daughter of a successful, wealthy, and prominent businessman. Raised in Richmond, Virginia, Elizabeth's life was a comfortable one. During her time at a private girl's school in Philadelphia, Elizabeth was exposed to new ideas about the world. She came back to Richmond believing that slavery was an evil institution, and this made her very unpopular with members of her family and with people that she met socially. Despite her pleas, Elizabeth's father refused to free his slaves. When he died in 1843, Elizabeth still could not free the family slaves because of a clause in her father's will. This did not deter her however, and she found a way around the problem.

This was the way Elizabeth approached many of the problems that she encountered in her life. If she could not get what she wanted in one way, she found another way to reach her goal. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Elizabeth was appalled. She believed that all people had the right to be free, and she also believed in the union. Her beliefs were not well received in Virginia where most of the citizens supported slavery and believed in states rights. However, despite the fact that she was threatened and reviled, Elizabeth was determined to do what she could to ensure that the Union won the war.

Elizabeth began by helping the Union soldiers who were crammed into Confederate prisons in Richmond. She charmed and bribed the prison officers into cooperating with her, and she managed too give the prisoners food, clothing, medical care, and information. She also managed to get information from the prisoners, which she passed on to the Union generals. As the war advanced, Elizabeth stepped up her spying activities, even though the risks grew greater with every passing month.

In this well written biography, the author gives her readers a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the heroes of the American Civil War. She not only tells Elizabeth Van Lew's story, but she also provides her audience with a great deal of background information about Elizabeth Van Lew's world.

This is one of the titles in the excellent Signature Lives series.