Praise for “The Shenandoah Spy”
Real facts and fictional imagination are woven throughout the story….The writing is truly gifted and (Hamit) is inventive with his use of of real and fictional dialogs and narratives of people and events. He captures this place and time in our history (and ) does something else that is rather rare; he captures the female energy of Belle Boyd so that she has power, intelligence, sex appeal and cunning. He also gives us a good supporting cast of characters. For those who like the Civil War or just a good adventure story this is a book worth reading. I give it five stars.
W. H. McDonald, Jr., Past President
Military Writers Society of America
Francis Hamit has a good grasp of Historical Fiction. His novel is solidly based on the true story of Belle Boyd, including bits of dialog taken from historical accounts. He is able to fill in the “known” with the “believable” in terms of action and dialog, filling in the gaps and fleshing out the characters. His portrayal of African-American characters as having intelligence and their own lives and agendas, even under the burden of slavery, is something noteworthy.
Nick Smith, President
San Gabriel Civil War Roundtable
The intimacy of the Civil War for Southerners is detailed in Francis Hamit’s The Shenandoah Spy. The novel follows the first two years of the war, 1861 and 1862, and its effect on the life of Isabelle ‘Belle’ Boyd. Belle is a seventeenyear-old accomplished horsewoman at the war’s start. In defense of her home and family, Belle shoots a Union soldier. Following this incident, Belle is drawn into a network of Confederate spies. At all stages of Belle’s work as a spy she is trained and in contact with men and women who are relatives, neighbors, or family friends.
Although Belle becomes a valuable Confederate spy, her reputation and personal happiness suffer tremendously as she is viewed as a Union sympathizer. Belle’s courage in facing the disapprobation and slander when she is accused of being a whore of the Union officers, and in delivering Union information to the Confederate Army at the risk of her own life, is shown repeatedly throughout the narrative.
To some degree Belle’s sex protects her from suspicion. Who would believe a girl of seventeen to be a dangerous enemy? An astute Union commander, however, observes that “The South, being poor in resources and singularly without friends, has been forced to innovate. Girls like her are one of the innovations.” To cover Belle’s devastation when a Confederate contact is killed, Belle’s cousin Alice explains to the Union officers at a dinner party after Belle flees, “There is no one in our army who is not a brother, a father, an uncle, a dear friend or a cousin!” Francis Hamit illustrates this fact superbly in his relation of the experiences of Belle Boyd, The Shenandoah Spy.
Historical Novels Review Online
A Fascinating Account of a Fascinating Woman.
Belle Boyd was an active spy for the Confederates during the Civil War. Motivated by love for her homeland and a fierce indignation at, not to say hatred of, the invaders (the Union Army), Belle at 17 became a spy and devoted herself to driving the invaders from the South. Most young women of her day and age devoted themselves to enhancing their looks in order to catch husbands, even with the War on. Most young women of that era practiced the alluring arts they learned at finishing schools to attract men.
Belle did, too, but in a greater cause — freedom as she saw it.
In creating this character, author Francis Hamit has broken relatively new ground. First he has written about a nineteenth-century Southern woman, whom most writers dismiss as confined to the parlor and the bedchamber. Second, he has dared to present the Confederate side of the Civil War, when most writers dismiss the Confederacy as an evil conspiracy to prolong slavery. It may have been determined to prolong slavery, but many Southerners also viewed the Union Army as an illegal invader of their territory. In presenting Belle’s opinions and feelings sympathetically, Hamit has shown the courage of a committed writer.
“Shenandoah Spy” is a book worth reading. 5.0 out of 5 stars
Carol A. Buchanan
(Author: “God’s Thunderbolt; The Vigilantes of Montana 1863-64″)
“I found The Shenandoah Spy a delightful and fascinating book, and recommend it highly.”
I became aware of Francis Hamit via his online discussions about publishing with the science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle. I’ve always had an interest in history, so I decided to take a chance on Hamit’s book The Shenandoah Spy. I’m truly glad I did.
Hamit’s book is a novel about a real person, Maria Isabella “Belle” Boyd. Seventeen when the war started, she was a Confederate sympathizer living in Martinsburg Virginia (now part of West Virginia). The historical record is somewhat hazy, but it’s known for a fact that Belle could ride and shoot, and was quite charming. She used these attributes to become a spy and scout for the Confederacy. Her most famous episode was a dash while under Union rifle fire to deliver a report to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. This report was critical to him winning a battle at the town of Front Royal, and earned her a commendation.
Writing about a Confederate hero risks being seen as a sympathizer to a very bad cause, but Hamit is quite clearly not a sympathizer. His novel highlights a number of the failures and moral flaws of the Confederacy, but avoids being preachy. Shenandoah Spy covers the period in Belle’s life from July 1861 to July 1862. During this period, referred to as the Valley Campaign by historians, Jackson with 17,000 men kept a Union force of some 60,000 occupied, preventing them from capturing the Shenandoah Valley (a prime breadbasket for the South) or attacking Richmond.
Belle in particular and the well-organized Confederate Secret Service in general kept Jackson informed of Union operations, and ran rings around the Union counterintelligence operation. Hamit tells this story in an entertaining fashion from several perspectives, including David Strother, an artist and cousin of Belle’s, who served as a Union army officer.
The novel is told in straight chronological order, which leads to a bit of a deliberate start, but the interesting bits come on soon enough. Hamit’s prose is clear and serviceable, rendering the various regional dialects in a clear and readable manner. In The Shenandoah Spy Hamit focuses quite a bit on the motivations of the characters, which he handles convincingly.
He also works these motivations into a discussion of why the South lost, and why they should have lost. For example, early on, Belle serves as a volunteer nurse in a hospital. Despite the clear and desperate need to keep wounded Confederate soldiers alive, this work is considered scandalous by Belle’s peers, who shun her while refusing to assist. The work is simply considered beneath a white woman’s dignity.
I found The Shenandoah Spy a delightful and fascinating book, and recommend it highly.
TECHNICAL RATING 10 / 10
CONTENT RATING 9 / 10
(Chris Gerrib is the author of the science fiction novel The Mars Run.)
(From POD People – a blog on self published books)
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting and recommended tale, September 2, 2008
By Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)
Although Women were not formally allowed to become soldiers until the late twentieth century, this doesn’t mean they did not participate. “The Shenandoah Spy” is the story of Isabelle Boyd and her time as a confederate spy. Disguising her acts in public by appearing as a Union sympathizer, she uses many deceptive tactics to keep her identity under wraps as she does everything she can in order to give the Confederacy a leg up in the American Civil War. Hamit has done his research, and it shows in “The Shenandoah Spy”, a riveting and recommended tale of women in the war where the most American lives were lost.
Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)
One notch above…
The Shenandoah Spy stands one notch above other Civil War novels of recent years. It is especially remarkable that a male author is responsible for such a credible portrayal of the unequivocally feminine character of Belle Boyd. Furthermore, Francis Hamit has delivered a sympathetic heroine while withholding any such approval of the Confederate cause or Southern lifestyle. Given society’s normally patriarchal perspective, this is no easy feat. Through historical verisimilitude and some fascinating relationship dynamics, the scenes of this novel were magnificently envisioned. The inclusion of alternate viewpoints such as those of David Strother (Belle’s cousin who served as a Union army officer) was a clever way to define the tension of conflict-ridden communities as well as the divisive loyalties within each family during this tumultuous period. It would be interesting to read additional accounts of Antonia Ford or other female scouts and secret agents mentioned in the narrative. All of this leads one to wonder how the few recorded documents of these people and their deeds will continue to spark the imagination of Francis Hamit and inspire other future writers.
Richard Mandrachio (San Francisco)
From the TOCWOC Civil War Blog
The Shenandoah Spy: Being the True Life Adventures of Belle Boyd, CSA, the ‘Confederate Cleopatra’
By Francis Hamit
In his novel, The Shenandoah Spy, Francis Hamit weaves facts and fiction around the espionage activities of the legendary Confederate spy Belle Boyd, creating an entertaining storyline that includes her real-life encounters with other well known historical personalities. As Hamit points out in his Foreword, “this book is fiction, but closer to the truth about her (Boyd) than many a history written about her.” This is probably true. I’ve read many stories about Belle Boyd – and then many other stories discounting the ones I had read. That she was a spy and vehemently loyal to the South cannot be disputed, but the liberties both sides took after the war in describing her actions make the details of her war experiences murky at best. Nevertheless, Belle’s life as a spy and her interactions with such notable Confederate heroes as General Turner Ashby and General Stonewall Jackson make a compelling and interesting read. The most notable story, that of Belle running through a hailstorm of lead during a battle, serves as the central event of the novel, and offers insight into her courage and devotion to the Southern Cause. It is clear that Hamit has done his research, even weaving in real bits of dialogue that are documented as having occurred. The cast of characters in The Shenandoah Spy provides a history lesson in and of itself, but I am sad to say I cannot recommend it as a teaching tool due to the explicit sex scenes. As I have noted in other reviews, I am perhaps overly old-fashioned, but I find such scenes in historical fiction extremely distasteful. As an author, I also found the use of multiple points of view confusing, but many readers are not bothered by this in the least. Overall, this novel gives a good glimpse into the lives of civilians who were thrust into war and the choices they made to stand up for what they believed in. It should especially appeal to readers who enjoy Civil War espionage and strong, heroic, female characters.
Fiction Review: The Shenandoah Spy November 15th, 2008 by Jessica James
The Shenandoah Spy by Francis Hamit
By Editor • Mar 2nd, 2009 • Category: Book Reviews
Note: Guest reviewed by Tom Baum, who happens to be the father of the editor of the Self-Publishing Review, as well as the author of the novel Out of Body, the children’s book Hugo the Hippo, screenplays for film and TV, and theatre. As Francis Hamit is a writer for this site, I thought it best to have someone impartial review the novel.
Charlize Theron, call your agent. In The Shenandoah Spy, Francis Hamit has cast into brilliant light a character from history any actress would kill to play—Belle Boyd, the first American female Army officer, who, beginning in her late teens, served as a spy for the Confederacy. A combo of tomboy and flirt, the aptly named Belle is a gun-toting, hard-riding heroine in the Howard Hawks mold, whose risky exploits ring true from start to finish, and leave the reader pleasantly musing on where fact leaves off and fiction begins.
This is no sentimental portrait: the novel is unsparing in its descriptions of the humiliations Belle endures at the hands of Union soldiers; she is suspected of being a prostitute, and in one particularly harrowing episode, has the clothes torn from her body. Equally compelling are the episodes in which Belle is captured and confined by courtly Union officers, who are appropriately impressed with her charm and Southern manners. The account of Belle’s education as a spy, with its emphasis on codes, disguise, training as an actress, and instruction in how to dismount a kneeling horse, is surefire stuff, both in the novel’s own terms and in the cinematic sense.
In its meticulous detail, its unsentimental slant on the evils of slavery, its air of authority (Hamit himself is a former intelligence officer and Vietnam veteran), its ear for regional speech (Hamit is also a playwright), The Shenandoah Spy ranks with any Civil War novel this reviewer has encountered, a book that will please the hardest-core Civil War buff and bodice-ripper fan alike, and whet the reader’s appetite for the promised future volumes of Belle’s fantastic life story.
A few quibbles: the reader becomes so invested in Belle’s adventures, her feisty, fearless persona, that a number of late-in-the-game point-of-view shifts to other characters slow somewhat the novel’s progress. So does the author’s passion for historical context, which on occasion causes the prose to give off a whiff of the library; Hamit is by no means the first writer to fall in love with his own research. But these objections pale in the context of Hamit’s overall achievement, which is to bring to hopefully wide attention the life of one of America’s true feminist heroines.
Author and Self-Publishing Review Guest Reviewer
Author Knows History
By Jennifer Huard • December 04, 2008 • The Online Edition of the Albuquerque Journal
Although I am not a history buff, I do come from historical lineage. I am a Daughter of the American Revolution and have ties to the Civil War. To this day, I remember the old black and white photograph on my grandmother’s piano of a uniformed soldier posing with a drum. It was my great-great grandfather, Albertis Demetrius Smalley, a drummer boy in the Civil War.
To take this whole historical connection one step further, I did live in northern Virginia in the early ’80s where I shopped at many malls around the area that once were battlefields. That does count, doesn’t it?
So when I walked into the Hastings in Rio Rancho a little while back, an author and book at the main table grabbed my attention. Francis Hamit was in town promoting his book, “The Shenandoah Spy,” a Civil War historical fiction on the life of a confederate spy.
“The book has many five star reviews, including the Military Writers Society of America,” Hamit modestly boasted as he handed me a copy of his book. This talkative cherub-faced author continued to pitch his book to me as he was doing to everyone else who walked through the door that Friday evening.
My interest was piqued and after 20 minutes of discussion and two antsy daughters later, I agreed to meet Hamit and his editor, Leigh Strother-Vien, for lunch the next day.
“This is a longtime project of mine,” Hamit told me. “I originally found this story by doing Belle’s biography for the Britannica back in the ’80s.”
We’ve all heard the term “walking encyclopedia,” but how many times do you actually meet one, other than your outspoken Uncle Frank at the Thanksgiving table? Hamit has been a professional writer for 42 years. He has written over a thousand articles for security and high tech industry trade magazines and numerous articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica in Chicago. In this story, Hamit intertwines real facts and fictional imagination into a fascinating story of the first woman in American history to be made an army officer by way of Confederate army spy.
I enjoyed the book and the story of the “Confederate Cleopatra.” The dialog was written in the authentic dialect of the time, a true time capsule of our history that puts the reader right alongside the cast of characters in Virginia in 1865. While the book tells Belle’s story, it also gives a glimpse of the Civil War’s trying times, how families and servants teamed up against the opposition, how pride and loyalty prevail and how sometimes it just takes strong feminine ingenuity to get the job done.
“The positive thing is that we are still selling some. I’ll risk seeming immodest and say that it is a good book, which people like. We just got our sixth five star review,” Hamit said in a recent e-mail.
Hamit will be back in town Dec. 11 for another book signing at the Hastings on Candelaria at 4 p.m. A signed copy of “The Shenandoah Spy” would make a wonderful holiday gift for the history buff on your list.
Quote of the Week: “By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember oh, so well.” — “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” The Band, 1969.
Jennifer Huard’s column appears each Thursday. She welcomes your emails at email@example.com.
Of The Online Edition of the Albuquerque Journal
By Lillian Cauldwell • April 28, 2009 • http://internetvoicesradio.com
The Shenandoah Spy by Francis Hamit is a must read for anyone who’s a Civil War addict. “It’s in there!” Spies, military intelligence, the Pinkerton agency, infamous Yankee and Rebel generals, and a menagerie of malcontents in between. Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. I recommend this Civil War novel to anyone who believes in equality between the sexes and that a great cause is always worth dying for.
Shenadoah Spy Begins Exciting Civil War Series!, May 20, 2009
By GABixler, IPBookReviewer “Glenda” (Pennsylvania)
I met Belle Boyd this past weekend, thanks to Francis Hamit, and was thrilled to meet and spend all my time with her! This first book in a series starts with The Shenandoah Spy: Being the True Life Adventures of Belle Boyd, CSA, “The Confederate Cleopatra.”
“Belle Boyd was a real person, and became world famous as a spy for the Confederate Government…in September, 1862, [she] became the first woman in American history to be formally commissioned an Army officer.” (Foreword) The book centers on her role as a scout and spy for the Confederate Army. If only a small percentage of the story were true, Belle was…one gutsy woman! I am thankful that Hamit is publishing her story, for she is a woman to be much admired and embraced by all Americans and especially our younger generation!
Belle was a true Southerner but she was not the typical “belle” as we think of most women of the south. True, she might have worn the big-hooped gowns, learned how to flirt with gentlemen as part of her training, and had her first “season” in Washington with the intent to find a suitable husband. However, when the war began, she was just 17 and she automatically sought to find ways to support the south.
Her first major role was to assist and then nurse at the hospitals. Perhaps it was her required intimacy with those men that first started her reputation. Or perhaps it was her shooting a drunk Yankee soldier who had attacked her mother. But it was her scouting and spying efforts that firmly established Belle’s as a spy that could easily flirt and then finagle from the Yanks to learn and gain information to pass on to H. Turner Ashby, her immediate commanding officer, Jackson and other Confederate officers.
Hamit has created an exciting story of the civil war against which he tells Belle’s story. Through extensive reading and research, he presents the major players and battles of the war, and includes his characters that effectively supplement actual soldiers and officers. He also considers the political issues as to why the war was started and by whom, whether slavery was a major or minor point and highlights the role of the professional soldiers who moved from war to war, fighting for pay rather than through dedication to the people and the cause they supported.
Two other points of interest for me were the drinking, theft and lack of courtesy shown by the majority of Yankee soldiers and the role of the slaves/servants as they chose to support their families (owners) rather than their supposed liberators.
As the author stated in his foreword, he wrote the novel to entertain readers. Whether or not he took license with the truth in telling the story, I for one believe he did exactly what he said he was doing! This is truly an entertaining, fantastic tale of the past and provides all the excitement, intrigue, action and suspense that readers expect and enjoy!
Francis Hamit has the knowledge, experience and interest to have picked a remarkable character from our historical documents upon which to build this series. I highly recommend that you get the first book, The Shenandoah Spy, now and watch for the next one coming, hopefully soon!
GABixler, IPBookReviewer “Glenda” (Pennsylvania)
Life as a Problem Set
Language And Magic
Language itself is the biggest, most insurmountable barrier among human cultures, but language learning is tedious and boring after about age seven. As any magician knows, the best ward is boredom. Most people don’t have the discipline to focus on anything when feeling bored.
But a whole made-up language isn’t necessary to create that unknown barrier. A mere dialect works just fine. Add the cognitive dissonance caused by the unexpected, such as a woman behaving like a man in Civil War times, and you have a cultural gulf rife with drama.
I don’t generally review historical fiction, but I’ve stumbled on one that makes this point sharply. The Shenandoah Spy by Francis Hamit is a well researched, factual account of the life and times of Belle Boyd, a woman of the South during the Civil War. This is not alternate history, and does not impute attitudes and actions to women that in fact did not happen during the era. This woman really existed and really did these things.
The novelization of pure history is difficult, and Hamit pulls it off with grace and style, filling in and smoothing over until it reads like the very best historical fiction. Belle plays the southern belle with all the cultural ruffles and flourishes, then puts any of our modern kick-ass heroines to shame with her facility with cipher and sidearm. The dialogue isn’t written with a Southern drawl, but the difference between Yankee and Southern cultures is clear. They may as well be speaking different languages.
Read The Shenandoah Spy for contrast with our usual fantasy novels, but also to learn something about the era.
Science Fiction & The Art of Storytelling
The Shenandoah Spy
Author: Francis Hamit
ISBN: 978-1-59595-902-7 Pages: 433, $18.95,
Publication Date: May, 2008, Soft-cover, Historical Fiction, Published by Brass Cannon Books
“The Shenandoah Spy” commands your attention immediately and does not deviate from intensity until you finish Belle Boyd’s episodes. Francis Hamit’s captivating style takes you on a journey of fantasy which is embedded with historical facts about the war between the Yankees and the Confederates. Isabella Marie Boyd was a real spy during the Civil war whose name is shortened to Belle.
At seventeen years old, Belle Boyd becomes a heroine of the South by resisting the Northern troops who had come into Virginia. To avenge the death of her long-time friend and hoped-to-be beau, Dick Ashby, she decided to aid and abet the Confederacy in any way she could.
Setting aside traditional roles for women of that era, she had become proficient with a pistol, rode horseback better than any man, and was boldly courageous beyond anyone’s expectation. Belle would do anything to assist in the cause! Newspapers of the era proclaimed her an outlandish person, called her a whore, and without proof, dubbed her a spy. At the start of the occupation of Martinsburg, Virginia, the Yankee troops went wild. They got drunk, entered private homes, and one shoved and abused Belle’s mother and she shot the drunken Yankee dead. During the early stages of the war, there was little discipline among troops; officers were decent men, but the enlisted men had their problems, mostly with whiskey which was readily available.
Belle’s father was concerned about the family remaining in Martinsburg, due to its evacuation by the Southern forces. He persuaded Belle’s cousin Alice, his former slave Eliza, and Belle go to Front Royal, Virginia where they took over the operation and management of a hotel owned by Alice’s Aunt. She had previously left for her own safety. From this vantage point, Belle was able to gain information, which proved to be invaluable to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in his battles with the Union Forces. She was trained by special personnel who were setting up spy networks. Codes, acting lessons, disguises, and many other spy tools were taught to her, including how to lower her horse so she could easily evade problems when she dismounted under duress.
One important element was not taught to her, and that was courage. However, Belle often displayed courage as she used her feminine wiles to wheedle passes from the occupying officers. After she stood trial for shooting the drunken Yankee, she was exonerated for that deed as an act of self-defense. After Belle was cleared, Yankee officers around her began to feel she was just a young girl who was not a threat. This turn of events enabled Belle to gather tactical information which she passed on to emissaries of General Jackson by means of coded messages.
All accounts are based upon actual events which happened during the Civil War. Author Hamit says, “It took me 10 years to do the research”. Belle’s flirtatious ministrations led her to have more than one affair and all in the name of the cause. This is not a history book which can be given to those too young. There are some explicit scenes which should be handled with discretion, but these are essential to this story. Newspapers of the day printed sordid details about her indiscretions, but the research upon which this book is based, disputes many of them.
Realism is what makes “The Shenandoah Spy” an exciting read. Francis Hamit has been a writer for over 40 years and is a true wordsmith. The use of dialogue as it was spoken in 1861 is used judiciously and when the characters speak, you are not distracted.
Visit Clark’s Eye on Books
4.0 out of 5 stars A lady not to be forgotten, 5 Feb 2010
The book takes us to the first two years of the Civil War – 1861/2, and into the life of a 17 year old girl, Isabelle ‘Belle’ Boyd. It is clear right from the start that Belle defies convention; riding her horse without a side-saddle being one of her achievements.
Beneath the starched petticoats lies a truly determined young lady, and if one didn’t know it they would consider this book to be just an entertaining novel. However, Belle Boyd truly did exist, and true to form she comes across as a rebellious beauty of unflinching nature; which is her strength.
Containing solidly based research with a little artistic licence, this is a book the reader will not forget.
With believable characters – Francis Hamit has delivered a really good adventure story.
By F. Pawley “Frances Pawley” (UK)
A Review from Kate the Book Buff
This was a tough book for me to get into initially, I have to admit, but once I finally got into it, it was definitely a page turner. I found myself absolutely hating the main character right off the bat. See, I’m a little biased because, while I know that the Civil War was not black and white and there were good and bad guys on both sides, my family were die hard abolitionists. So hearing the main character rant about how much she hated Yankees and Abolitionists was a bit unnerving to me. However, as I moved on I found myself not so much relating to Belle, but understanding her a bit more. Where she grew up, slaves were treated quite well, she did not know just how abused plantation slaves were and therefore did not fully understand the evil of the institution. Also, the only experiences she’d had early on with “Yankee’s” (northerners) were bad, so I was able to more understand her blind hatred. It freaked me out that she was able to use the people around her so easily, but I guess that is what made her a good spy. Again, I still couldn’t relate to her, but I started to respect her in some ways. She was a very brave character, and while I don’t know how much of the book was fact or fiction, I found her to be very entertaining to read about. As far as the writing goes, the narration was pretty dang smooth and the pacing was good. I felt the love scenes were very sudden and abrupt, almost cold, and therefore didn’t appeal to me, but that was just personal preference. All in all I felt the book was quite solid, and I am left with a considerable interest in the continuation of Belle’s story in later books in the series.