Abe Lincoln’s Loveliest Spy
Amid the bloodiest throes of the Civil War, a beautiful actress in search of adventure donned disguises, dodged death, and slipped secretly behind Confederate lines.
Illustrations by Melanie Gillman
It was awfully humid inside the Mozart Hall theater in Louisville, Kentucky, on one Saturday night in March of 1863. This border state was under Union control, and just a few hundred miles away, the Civil War was in its full and deadly swing. But inside the theater loyal Feds and rebel sympathizers sat side by side, tolerating each other’s company. All waited eagerly for the start of a traveling production of “Seven Sisters,” a musical about a septet of female demons that rise from hell to go sightseeing in New York City. It was the runaway hit of 1863.
The lights dimmed at a quarter past eight, but the seven sisters did not appear. Instead, one of the actresses slipped through the curtain, a Champagne flute in hand. Her name was Pauline Cushman, and she was beautiful, with an air of pomp one could not merely pretend to have.
“A toast!” she yelled. “A toast, ladies and gentlemen!”
The audience quieted below. Cushman cleared her throat, which allowed for a …