Book Review: Pauline Cushman: Spy of the Cumberland


by William J. Christen

Roseville, Mn: Edinboorough Press 2006. Pp. v, 436. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1889020117

In this exhaustively researched volume, Christen, an independent student of American social and cultural history, and principal editor for The Watchdog, a non-profit group which publishes a quarterly journal for re-enactors and interpreters of the Civil War era and monographs on the social and material culture of the period, gives us the first real biography of perhaps the most remarkable woman soldier of the times, Pauline Cushman.

While the stories of many of the women who served been much mythologized, if not made up out of whole cloth, that of Pauline Cushman is merely obscure.  This, however, no doubt that she served, for a time as a soldier, and later as a spy and scout at the request of various senior officers, among them William Rosecrans and James A. Garfield.  Christen covers Cushman’s quite impressive wartime experiences in considerable detail.  But he opens by devoting equal attention to her early life, . which included a career in theatre, marriage and children, and he follows her life after the war, when she returned to the stage, often playing herself, through her rather unfortunate final years and her interment in a national cemetery with military honors.  Along the way, Christen also gives us glimpses at the status of women in nineteenth
century America, military life during the Civil War, women in uniform, and theatre, along with mini-profiles of many notable characters, from Rosecrans and Garfield to P.T. Barnum and John Hunt Morgan. 

Christen closes with a look at how Cushman’s story became embellished in fiction and film until the remarkable reality became mythologized. 

Fast paced, Pauline Cushman, Spy of the Cumberland is a good book for anyone with an interest in the Civil War or women in military service.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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