The Queen of Washington
Author: Francis Hamit
Publisher: Brass Cannon Books (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 309 pages
Rose Greenhow has betrayed her husband and her country, and In Mexico City and San Francisco in 1850, she attempts to save their marriage and reputations while becoming involved with French entrepreneur Jose Y. Limiantour, whose land claims in California are a point of contention between them. Rose returns to Washington and becomes the leading hostess and politicla opperative there in the 1850s, while Robert works against the Limantour land claims as Associate Law Counsel for the California Land Commission, a job which leads to to social and business relations with international lawyer and then Senator Judah P. Benjamin. After Robert mysteriously dies in 1854. Rose becomes even more powerful and the close friend of politicians such as James Buchanan and Henry Wilson. When Lincoln is elected she becomes an active spy for the new Confederate government, is caught and imprisoned for several months and then sent South to Richmond. .
The Queen of Washington is Francis Hamit’s second novel about the women of the Confederate Secret Service. Although considered “historical fiction,” Hamit crosses into the realm of “alternative fiction” and crafts an engaging story that appeals to general readers and history buffs alike. The book tells the story of Washington socialite Rose O’Neill Greenhow, a passionate secessionist and one of the most renowned spies of the Civil War. Jefferson Davis himself credited “Wild Rose” for the Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) because she was able to elicit Union battle plans and deliver them undetected, giving the Confederacy a decisive victory at the first major land battle of the Civil War – and crushing the North’s hopes for a quick end to the conflict.
Although Mrs. Greenhow’s Civil War exploits (and subsequent arrest and imprisonment by Allan Pinkerton) are well documented, contemporaries of Greenhow accused her of also spying for the English and French in the years preceding the Civil War. Hamit expands upon this theory in the first half of the book and deftly weaves in a largely overlooked geopolitical struggle – British and French machinations to divide the U.S. and prevent it from becoming a Great Power against the impetus of Manifest Destiny and North American hegemony.
Although purists will undoubtedly object to some of the fictionalized portions of the novel, Hamit nonetheless evinces a significant amount of research and creates his alternative history with commendable accuracy. He does an admirable job in creating a credible storyline for the relationship of Dr. Robert Greenhow (Rose’s husband) and Judah Benjamin (U.S. Senator and later Secretary of War and Chief of the Confederate Intelligence Service) – although Hamit’s treatment of Dr. Greenhow’s ultimate fate seems gratuitous. However, readers will no doubt immediately be struck by his spelling of “Provost Martial” which, although now archaic, is the historically accurate version of the title during the 1850’s. Whether or not Hamit’s version of events prior to Mrs. Greenhow’s rise to the pinnacle of Washington society has any truth to it, Hamit’s story is appealing, well-written, and invites the reader to learn more about the very interesting life and career of The Queen of Washington.
Reviewed by: Robert Schaefer (2012)