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Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero

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  • Posted March 8, 2011

    welcome addition to Civil War reading lists

    Did you know that during the American Civil War, hundreds of women secretly disguised themselves as men to help fight on both sides? One of them was named Frank Thompson. Only her real name was Sarah Emma Edmonds. She had begun dressing as a man at age sixteen and lived on the run, escaping from Canada to the United States in order to escape an arranged marriage. At age nineteen, Frank decides to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War. At first, Frank is rejected as being too young but on the second try is accepted as a private into Company F, Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry of the Army of the Potomac.
    Frank can outshoot and outride many of the country boys, but due to her small boots other soldiers call her "our little woman." Little do they know! Then after serving as a nurse in the battles of Bull Run, Fair Oaks, and Williamsburg, Frank is recruited as a spy. She darkens her skin with silver nitrate, dons a wig, dresses up like a freed slave, and makes her way to the nearby Confederate camp to find out the position of the Southern defenses. Will she be captured? And will her identity ever be found out? Author Marissa Moss's vivid storytelling join with illustrator John Hendrix's slightly caricatured but accurately detailed drawings to chronicle the work of this unsung hero of the American Civil War. Or is it heroine? In either case, Nurse, Soldier, Spy is a welcome addition to the reading lists of youngsters who are studying about the Civil War.
    The Author's Note at the end tells about the odd circumstances which happened to Frank/Sarah in 1863 and led to her leaving the army with a dishonorable discharge. It also records how Sarah went on to marry and then decided to write a book about her exploits and how, after several years of effort and two different acts of Congress, she became the first and only woman to be recognized as a veteran of the Civil War with an honorable discharge. A glossary which defines or describes many of the terms, places, and people mentioned in the book, a bibliography, and an index all increase the usefulness of this volume. I always enjoy reading well-written biographies, such as this one, for young people about interesting characters from history, not only those who are famous but also those who are lesser known.

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