On more than one level, this is an astonishing book. First, it represents a colossal amount of research, by an eminent Civil War scholar and what appears to be a small army of diligent assistants. William C. Davis Ã¢Â€Â” recently retired as executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, and historian-emeritus at Virginia Tech Ã¢Â€Â” has almost literally unearthed the story of a woman whose life reads like a GrimmÃ¢Â€Â™s fairy tale. The subtitle of his opus may serve as a spoiler for the casual reader who wonders who this charming fraud might have been. For a stupendous fraud she was; even her name was a masque for her nefarious activities.
Second, the book peels back, like the skins of an onion, layer after layer of the elaborate series of disguises, aliases and outright false identities by which the subject neatly mulcted sizable fortunes from hundreds of gullible investors in her schemes. It would be impertinent in this brief review to attempt to list them all, but among the foremost is DavisÃ¢Â€Â™ usual spelling of her first name as Ã¢Â€ÂœLauretta.Ã¢Â€Â DoesnÃ¢Â€Â™t matter, she was not Lauretta, nor Rebel soldier Lt. Harry T. Buford, nor Annie Williams, the name by which she was known in the New Orleans brothel where she once worked.
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