Sarah Emma Edmonds
Sarah Emma Edmonds, 1841 - 1898
Born in New Brunswick, Canada, Sarah E. Edmonds was the fifth daughter of Isaac and Elisabeth Leeper Edmondson (the family’s original name). Her father who had hoped for a large family of sons to help him farm his land, was bitterly disappointed with his female progeny.
Sarah was keenly aware of her father’s disappointed, and after some education and acquisition of “male skills”, she ran away from home to Michigan. Sarah tried very hard to be the boy her father wanted, abandoning female attire and becoming an expert equestrienne and noted marksman. But she never won the approval of or even a kind word from Isaac, whom she dubbed “The Brutal Father.”
When war broke out, Sarah cut off her hair, became “Frank Thompson,” and enlisted as a private in Company F, 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. She perfected her masculine qualities; her guise was successful. In 1861 Sarah went to Virginia and served as a male field nurse, but when she tried to be recruited as a combat soldier, she was rejected for being “too small and delicate.”
Her second recruitment attempt succeeded, and she was sworn in as a private. She stood guard and picket duty, drilled as hard as any of the men, fought 1st Bull Run and Chickahominy, and even spied for the Union (once “disguised” as a woman). In 1863, when her “secret” started to be discovered, Sarah deserted.
Moving to Ohio, Sarah shed her male identity, and became a nurse in a hospital. She wrote a book, published in 1865, entitled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, claiming to have served as a female nurse. Sarah eventually married and kept her secret from most until 1882, when she applied for a veteran’s pension. Some of her army confidants wrote affidavits corroborating her petition, and Congress granted Sarah the pension.