While touring with a theatrical troupe in Union-controlled Louisville, Kentucky, Pauline was paid to toast Confederate President Jefferson Davis after a performance. The theatre fired her, but she had other ideas. She had decided to ingratiate herself with the rebels by making the toast, while offering her services to the Union as a spy. By fraternizing with the rebel military commanders, she managed to conceal battle plans and drawings in her shoes, but was caught and brought before Confederate general Braxton Bragg, tried by a military court, and sentenced to death. It is said that she was saved three days before her hanging by the invasion of the area by Union troops. Some reports state that she returned to the South in her role as a spy dressed in male uniform for references, was given an honorary commission as a major by President Abraham Lincoln, and became known as Miss Major Cushman. By the end of the war in 1865 she was touring the country giving lectures on her exploits as a spy.
Later life and legacy
Pauline became popular enough to be featured by P. T. Barnum, which perhaps explains why details of her story may well have become exaggerated. But because her undercover activities on behalf of the government were secret, it also helps to explain the lack of corroborative information about her life at this time. However, in 1865 a friend, Ferdinand Sarmiento, wrote her biography, The Life of Pauline Cushman: The celebrated Union spy and scout. Comprising her early history; her entry into the secret service of the Army of the Cumberland, ... prepared from her notes and memoranda. (ASIN: B000857W12)
She lost both her children to sickness by 1868, and married again in 1872 in San Francisco, but was widowed within a year. Sources state that in 1879 she met Jere Fryer and moved to Casa Grande, Arizona Territory, where they married and operated a hotel and livery stable. He became the sheriff of Pinal County. An adopted daughter died, and they separated in 1890. By 1892 she was living in poverty in El Paso, Texas. She had applied for back pension based on her first husband's military service, which was granted in June 1895. Her last few years were spent in a boarding house in San Francisco, working as a seamstress and charwoman. Disabled from the effects of rheumatism and arthritis, she became hooked on pain medicine, and on the night of 1 December 1897 she took an overdose of opium, and was found the next morning by her landlady.
She had died as Pauline Fryer at the age of sixty. The time of her Civil War fame was recalled at her funeral, which was arranged by members of the Grand Army of the Republic. "Major" Cushman's remains now rest in Officer's Circle at the Presidio's National Cemetery in San Francisco. Her simple gravestone recognizes her contribution to the Union's victory. It is marked, "Pauline C. Fryer, Union Spy."
- Leo Banks, Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit (ISBN 0-916179-77-X)
- William Christen, Pauline Cushman: Spy of the Cumberland (ISBN 978-1-889020-11-2)
Due to conflicting details about her life, several source links are provided.
- Pauline Cushman: Spy of the Cumberland Website
- Civil War at the Smithsonian
- N.Y. Times report of June 3, 1864
- From Find Articles
- History's Women
- Biography from Spartacus Educational
- Biography by Women's History
- Presidio's National Cemetery
- The Life Of Pauline Cushman analysis with sources
- 3 days
- Arizona Historical Foundation
- Pauline Cushman at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2009-5-13
- Pauline Cushman, the Federal Spy at the Internet Movie Database
- Article: Female soldiers in the Civil War