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Civil War Spy Games and Intrigue to be Topic at Limestone on March 5th

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Civil War expert Dr. Elizabeth R. Varon will present the riveting story of one of the war’s most legendary spies during her visit to Limestone College on Monday, March 5th at 7:30 p.m. in Fullerton Auditorium. Dr. Varon, the second speaker for the College’s Renewing a Dream, Revisiting the South Series, will tell the tale of Elizabeth Van Lew, a well-to-do white woman who spied for the Union in Richmond, VA.

The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception in Winnie Davis Hall of History. The evening will also feature Dr. David Thompson, Professor of Music at Limestone, who will perform Civil War-era music.

Made possible by a grant from Wells Fargo, the Renewing a Dream, Revisiting the South Series is designed to provide the local community and Limestone students free access to programs and exhibits from a wide array of historians, art collections, and performing artists with an emphasis on Southern history and culture.

Born in 1818 to a prominent Richmond family, Van Lew, as she came of age, felt increasingly alienated from slaveholding society and uneasy about slavery; believing that elite Virginians should act as mediators in the sectional conflict, she rejected secession as a reckless betrayal of founding principles. When war broke out, Van Lew committed herself to supporting the Union war effort.

Van Lew’s home, in the heart of the Confederate capital, soon became the nerve center of the most important Federal espionage ring in the war. Her work as a spy has been cloaked in myth—she is often remembered as “Crazy Bet,” and as myth would have it, she avoided detection by pretending to be crazy. Varon reveals the true story behind the myth, by bringing to light Van Lew’s expert “spycraft.” For example, Van Lew carefully built an interracial network of Union agents, called the “Richmond Underground.” The underground funneled supplies and information to Union prisoners in Confederate prisons; helped scores of prisoners escape; and passed along key tactical and strategic intelligence to General U.S. Grant as he laid siege to Richmond in the last year of the war.

The head of Union intelligence would remark that Van Lew was “all that was left of the power of the federal government” in wartime Richmond—a remarkable tribute to a remarkable woman.

Dr. Varon holds a Ph.D. from Yale University, is currently Professor of History at the University of Virginia and specializes in the Civil War era and 19th-century Southern history. She is an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer and has written numerous award-winning books about the Civil War. Her 2003 book, The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy, won the people’s Choice Award of the Library of Virginia. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Book TV, at the Lincoln Bicentennial in Springfield, Illinois, and at Gettysburg’s Civil War Institute.

Limestone College is a four-year, liberal arts institution with its main campus in Gaffney, SC. The college is also a pioneer in the medium of Internet-based courses. Established in 1845, Limestone offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, bachelor of social work, associate of arts, and associate of science degrees through traditional and non-traditional educational opportunities. For more information, log onto

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