Sarah Emma Edmonds (December 1841 – September 5, 1898), was an Canadian-born woman who is known for serving with the Union Army during the American Civil War. Edmonds was born in New Brunswick, Canada but left home after her verbally abusive father attempted to force her to marry a man she didn't love. She worked for a time in New Brunswick and New England selling Bibles but 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 after four attempts, disguising herself as a man named "Franklin T. Thompson." Physical examinations were not required for enlistment at the time. She at first served as a male nurse, participating in several campaigns under McClellan, including the First Battle of Bull Run.
Frank Thompson's career took a turn before the war went full scale when a Union spy in Richmond Virginia was discovered and went before a firing squad, which opened up a slot in intelligence gathering for Thompson. When she (he) went before the committee for an interview, Thompson impressed the committee so much that the position was given to her.
Having to travel into enemy territory in order to gather information required Frank Thompson to come up with a disguise. In fact, Thompson established several. For example, for the first disguise, Edmonds used silver nitrate to dye her skin black, shaved her head, 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. 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 as a man (where 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' accounting 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. Seely, a Canadian carpenter with whom she had three children; all three died young, so she adopted 2 boys. In 1882 she received a government pension of $12 a month, rewarding 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. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1892.
- Crossdressing during wartime
- Deborah Sampson, impersonated a man to fight during the American War of Independence
- Loreta Janeta Velazquez
- Mary Edwards Walker
- Sally Thompkins
- "Girl in Blue" by Ann Rinaldi
- 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)
- http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=ABV2963 Online version of "Nurse and Spy in the Union Army"
- Comprehensive biography
- pl:Sarah Emma Edmonds