Sarah Emma Edmonds
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Spies
Sarah Emma Edmonds was a lady heavily involved in the American Civil War. While many would think that as a lady she would be involved in the war effort, Sarah Emma Edmonds actually served in the United States Army.
What is even more surprising is the fact that Sarah Emma Edmonds was not even American; she was actually a Canadian lady.
The Young Sarah Emma Edmonds
Born in Magaguadavic, New Brunswick, Canada, Edmonds did not have a great upbringing. At a young age her mother helped her escape from the family home as her father both physically and mentally abused her, on top of this he was also trying to force Edmonds into a marriage with a man a lot older in years.
Once out of the family home Edmonds sold bibles and other small items to try and scratch an existence to live, the whole time she was also worried about her father finding her.
To make life easier for her and to stop the potential of her father finding her, Edmonds started dressing as a man and cut her hair short. Not long after she went a step further and changed her name to Franklin Thompson.
Even after going to these extremes Sarah Edmonds still felt uneasy about being found by her father so in 1856 at the age of 15 she went to Flint, Michigan in the United States. Once here Edmonds started selling bibles again and was quite successful in this venture.
With the Civil War starting in 1861 Edmonds, now 20, enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry using her male name as cover. Here Edmonds served as a field nurse, a male one!
After some time an opportunity rose for Edmonds as a friend from her youth was killed by firing squad by the Confederates and Edmonds decided to move into intelligence to avenge her friend’s death.
Frequently Edmonds went behind enemy lines in many guises such as that of an Irish peddle woman or even dying her skin black to act as an African American laundress. These disguises were clever and fooled the Confederates so much so that Edmonds was able to take secret documents from an Officers clothing.
These documents were given by Edmonds to her United States army officers who were thrilled and pleased with her efforts.
Unfortunately for Edmonds she ended up contracting Malaria, this meant she had to leave the armed forces because she could not go to a military hospital for fear of being found out. Edmonds left the army without approval and went to a private hospital where over time she found out that she was seen as a deserter, under her male disguise.
After recovering from her bout of Malaria Edmonds decided that it was too risky to return to the armed forces under a male disguise or even her previous name of Franklin Thompson, instead Edmonds finished the war as a female nurse.
After the Civil War Edmonds wrote a book about her exploits called The Female Spy of the Union Army, she also went on to lead a full life before dying aged 57 in 1898.