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Fifteen was a ripe time for marriage-Sarah's own mother had been married at the same age. Sarah's flight from her Canadian home in New Brunswick was precipitated by her father's decision to marry her off to a neighboring farmer much older than herself. In making her escape, she demonstrated her opposition to the match. "While the preparations were going on for the wedding, one starless night I most unceremoniously left for parts unknown," she later wrote. With help from her mother, who understood her feelings against the arrangement, Sarah left home. Eventually, she adopted male dress, cut her hair, and took up the name Franklin Thompson in order to facilitate her travels.
As Frank Thompson, Sarah could go to town unchaperoned and stay out as late as she liked. She could eat alone in restaurants-not a matter taken lightly by a woman of her time. Farming life had not sated her intellectually, and her thirst for education led her across the border to the northern United States, where she entertained thoughts of entering the field of "foreign missionary." She ended up in New England, working as a successful Bible bookseller and publisher's agent in Hartford, Connecticut. It is unclear whether she posed exclusively as a man during her first five years away from home; what is certain is that her guise gained her meaningful employment at a publishing house, work of a level she could not have secured had she been outfitted in female attire.
As a Canadian, Sarah knew that she was not obliged by any means to stay in her adopted country during the American Civil War. But as a deeply religious woman, Sarah thanked God in her memoirs that she was "permitted in this hour of my adopted country's need to express . . . my gratitude which I feel toward the people of the Northern States." Her sense of duty reflected the feelings of many of the men who served as "common soldiers" in the Civil War-though, in the traditional sense, she was far from common. On May 25, 1861, the beardless young Private Franklin Thompson enlisted with the Flint Union Greys, Company F of the 2nd Michigan Infantry, a regiment commanded by Colonel Israel B. "Fighting Dick" Richardson. She was 20 years old.
|Sarah Emma Edmonds, aka Private Frank Thompson, Union||7|
|Loreta Janeta Velazquez, aka Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate||23|
|Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, aka Private Lyons Wakeman, Union||37|
|Jennie Hodgers, aka Private Albert D. J. Cashier, Union||51|
|Frances Clayton, Florena Budwin, Mary Ann Clark, Mary Pitman, and Other Women Soldiers||65|
|"Daughters of the Regiment" The Role of Vivandieres in the War: Kady Brownell, Union; Annie Etheridge, Union; and Others||73|
|Spies: Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Belle Boyd, Pauline Cushman, Elizabeth Van Lew, and Harriet Tubman||87|
|Wartime Nurses: Clara Barton, Cornelia Hancock, Mary Livermore, Mary Anne Bickerdyke, Belle Reynolds, Sally Tompkins, and Kate Cumming||109|