Biography[edit | edit source]
Sarah Emma Edmonds Edmonds was born in Magaguadavic, New Brunswick, Canada but left home after her mother and her verbally and physically abusive father attempted to force her to marry a man she hated. She worked for a time as a milliner in the Moncton area and later sold Bibles and other odds and ends in New Brunswick and New England. Still afraid of being found by her father, she fled to the United States in 1856 where she settled in Flint, Michigan.
During the Civil War, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry on her first try, disguising herself as a man named "Franklin Flint Thompson." 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 McClellan, including the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, the Pensilur Campaign, Vicksburg, and others.
Frank Thompson's career took a turn before the war when a Union spy (Known to her as James an old childhood friend) in Richmond Virginia was discovered and went before a firing squad, which opened up a slot in intelligence gathering for Thompson. Seeing this as an opportunity to avenge a fallen comrade's death she eagerly accepted. When she went before the committee for an interview as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds impressed the committee and the position was given to her.
Having to travel into enemy territory in order to gather information required Frank Thompson to come up with many disguises. Edmonds established several. For example, for the first disguise, Edmonds used silver nitrate to dye her skin black, used a black wig, and walked 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.
Edmonds' career as Frank Thompson came to an end when she contracted malaria. Unable to go to the military hospital, because she would be revealed as a woman, 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, in which case she would be shot for deserting, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the United States Christian Commission.
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. Her two sons and her daughter died young, so she took in to two boys. In 1886, she received a government pension of $12 a month for her military service, and after some campaigning, gained an honorable discharge. Edmonds died in La Porte, Texas and is buried in Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Crossdressing during wartime
- Deborah Sampson, impersonated a man to stick up for women's right and to fight during the American War of Independence
- Loreta Janeta Velazquez
- Mary Edwards Walker
- Sally Louisa Tompkins
References[edit | edit source]
- DeAnne Blanton (Spring 1993). "Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Part 2". Prologue Magazine: Selected Articles 25 (1). http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/spring/women-in-the-civil-war-2.html.
- Sarah Emma Edmonds: Michigan Women's Hall of Fame page
[edit | edit source]
- 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