Sarah Emma Edmonds
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Sarah Emma Edmonds had always been very adventurous, and her interest in adventure was sparked by a book she had read in her youth (called Fanny Campbell, the female sailor), telling the story of Fanny Campbell and her adventures on a pirate ship while dressed as a man. Fanny remained dressed as a man in order to pursue other adventures, which Edmonds attributes to her desire to cross dress. During the Civil War, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry on her second try, disguising herself as a man named "Franklin Flint Thompson," the middle name possibly after the city she volunteered in, Flint, Michigan. She felt that it was her duty to serve her country and it was truly patriotic. Extensive physical examinations were not required for enlistment at the time, and she was not discovered. She at first served as a male field nurse, participating in several campaigns under General McClellan, including the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, the Peninsula Campaign, Vicksburg,and others. However, some historians today say she could not have been at all these different places at the same time.
Frank Thompson's career took a turn before the war when a Union spy in Richmond, Virginia was discovered and went before a firing squad, and a friend, James Vesey, was killed in an ambush. She took advantage of the open spot and the opportunity to avenge her friend's death. When she went before the committee for an interview as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds impressed the committee and the position was given to her. Although there is no proof in her military records that she actually served as a spy, she wrote extensively about her experiences disguised as a spy during the war.
Traveling into enemy territory in order to gather information required Frank Thompson to come up with many disguises. One disguise required Edmonds to use silver nitrate to dye her skin black, wear a black wig, and walk into the Confederacy disguised as a black man by the name of Cuff. Another time she entered as an Irish peddler woman by the name of Bridget O'Shea, claiming that she was selling apples and soap to the soldiers. Yet another time she was "working for the Confederates" as a black laundress when a packet of official papers fell out of an officer's jacket. When Thompson returned to the Union with the papers, the generals were quite pleased. Another time, she worked as a detective in Maryland as Charles Mayberry, finding an agent for the confederacy.
Edmonds' career as Frank Thompson came to an end when she contracted malaria. She left and abandoned her duty in the military for fear that if she went to a military hospital she would be discovered. She left the army and checked herself in to a private hospital, intending to return to military life once she had recuperated. Once she recovered, however, she saw posters listing Frank Thompson as a deserter. Rather than return to the army under another alias or as Frank Thompson, risking execution for desertion, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the United States Christian Commission. There are also speculations that Edmonds may have deserted because of John Reid having been discharged months earlier. There is proof in his diary that she had mentioned leaving before she had contracted malaria.
Her fellow soldiers spoke very highly of her for her military service, and even after her disguise was discovered, they still believed that even as a woman she was a good soldier. She was very determined and always eager to fight and take down the enemy. She was referred to as a "frank and fearless" soldier and was active in every battle her regiment faced.
In 1864 Boston publisher DeWolfe, Fiske, & Co. published Edmonds' account of her military experiences as The Female Spy of the Union Army. One year later her story was picked up by a Hartford, CT publisher who issued it with a new title, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. It was a huge success, selling in excess of 175,000 copies. In 1867, she married L. H. Seelye, a Canadian mechanic with whom she had three children. In 1886, she received a government pension of $12 a month for her military service, and after some campaigning, gained an honorable discharge. In 1897, she became the only woman admitted to the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union Army veterans' organization. Edmonds died in La Porte, Texas and is buried in Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas.
Edmonds' book was reprinted again in 1999 with a new title, Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse and Spy.
- Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi
- Behind Rebel Lines by Seymour Reit
- Petticoat Spies by Peggy Caravantes
- All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies by Elizabeth D. Leonard
- A Soldier's Secret: The incredible true story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss
- Pistols and Petticoats: Shadows of Sarah Emma Edmonds by Emily Bossé, Jean-Michel Cliche, Thomas Fanjoy, Jake Martin, Lisa Anne Ross and Julia Whalen, produced in 2011 by the Next Folding Theatre Company.
- "The Secret War of Emma Edmonds," an original play by Bonnie Milne Gardner, produced 2013 at Ohio Wesleyan University
- "Comrades Mine: Emma Edmonds of the Union Army" by Maureen Gallagher received its world premiere production in April 2013 as part of Chicago-based City Lit Theater Company's Civil War Sesquicentennial Project.
- Tsui, Bonnie. Emma received very little education or nurturing. She started to act as a man early in her life. She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War.
- DeAnne Blanton (Spring 1993). "Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Part 2". Prologue Magazine: Selected Articles 25 (1).
- Sarah Emma Edmonds: Michigan Women's Hall of Fame page
- Biography from Spartacus Educational which has primary sources
- University of Texas at Austin
- "What part am I to act in this great drama?"
- DeAnne Blanton - Women soldiers of the Civil War (Part 3)
- Online version of "Nurse and Spy in the Union Army"
- Comprehensive biography
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