The Story of the Woman Who Fooled the Yankees and Rebels Alike.
As a child, Sarah Emma Edmonds dreamed of faraway places and adventure, often picturing herself as a man. When her abusive father traded her hand in marriage for a few head of livestock, she fled their farm and took on the identity of traveling salesman Franklin Thompson eventually settling in Flint, Michigan. There, as Thompson, she joined Company F of the Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry and distinguished herself as a true Civil War hero.
In between the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Yorktown, the Battle of Williamsburg, and the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, Thompson nursed the sick and wounded, carried the mail across dangerous terrain, and became one of the Secret Service’s first spies. Using various disguises including that of a former slave and an Irish peddler woman, Thompson infiltrated enemy lines and stole vital information from the Rebels until a severe case of malaria took its toll.
Knowing that the medical attention she needed would reveal her carefully kept secret, she unwillingly deserted the Union Army in 1863. But Sarah Emma Edmonds wasn’t finished. She had a soldier’s pension to fight for and an honorable discharge to claim. Almost a decade after the war was over, she came forward and asked the astonished men she served with for their help in clearing the name of Franklin Thompson.
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About the Author
Debra Ann Pawlak is an award-winning author from southeastern Michigan. Her work has appeared in various publications such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Writer, Aviation History, and Michigan History Magazine. Additionally, Pawlak is a regular contributor to Scoliosis Quarterly. She resides in Farmington, Michigan.
Cheryl DuBois is prolific writer, screenwriter, producer, as well as the founder of the F.O.C.U.S. Institute of film in Hollywood. She is the author of multiple books including West of the Equator, G.O.D: The Great One Destiny, and Everyone’s a Medium: Your Responsibility to Spirit. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Read an Excerpt
A Father's Misfortune
Winters on Lake Magaguadavic were cold and bleak, but nothing compared to the even icier chill that permeated the Edmondson's stone-walled farmhouse. There, life was an utter disappointment to an embittered farmer forced to rely on daughters to run the family farm. His wife, Betsy — a fine Irish lass — had given birth to four strong, but unwelcome daughters, Eliza, Frances, Mary Jane, and Sarah Emma. Their only son, Thomas, suffered from epilepsy, which prevented him from helping out on the farm. It was bad enough that the neighbors often whispered about the cursed lad, but the fact that Thomas could not work alongside his father like a man was Isaac's worst woe. Despite a lack of strong male progeny to help him, Isaac made good on the land, growing a healthy crop of potatoes that allowed him to buy a few cows and horses, several pigs, and a gaggle of chickens.
For the transgression of being born female, at their father's insistence, his daughters donned shirts and trousers to work alongside him in the potato fields every day. Even though Isaac didn't believe in educating girls, his long-suffering wife, Betsy, did her best to ensure that her brood could read and write. She sent the children to the one-room schoolhouse whenever they could be spared on the farm, even in the dead of winter if weather permitted. At night by candlelight, she faithfully read the Bible to her children. A meek, subservient, Christian woman, she did her best to avoid her husband's unfettered anger. She kept to herself whenever possible and slaved daily in the austere kitchen preparing food from the fields on a wood-burning stove, striving to make her husband happy. It was a thankless task and well understood that nothing made Isaac Edmondson "happy."
Sarah Emma Evelyn, being the youngest and the last, took the brunt of Isaac's wrath. Thanks to his constant disapproval, she always tried her best to please him by becoming proficient at many things normally attributed to men. She tried to hide her blossoming womanhood behind dingy work clothes, hoping her father wouldn't be reminded of what he considered her major flaw. He wanted a son, and Emma tried her best to be just that. By her teen years, she was a crack shot with a gun, a fine hunter, and an expert rider. She could outshoot and outride all of the locals, but no matter how hard Emma tried, she never measured up in Isaac's eyes. She was never quick enough, never smart enough, and never, ever good enough simply because she was born a girl.
* * *
Summer in New Brunswick was always a welcome respite from the stinging cold of winter. The balmy fresh air embraced the picturesque countryside, leaving no trace of ice or snow or the blustery winds that kept its residents indoors. Summer meant new life — horses, pigs, and cows were bred — potatoes, beans, and corn were planted. Farmers and their families worked hard to take full advantage of Mother Nature's kindness.
As the sun spread its warmth over the panoramic countryside one hot afternoon in the summer of 1857, sisters Frances and Emma, on horseback, pushed a few head of cattle toward a fast-flowing river in an effort to get them to drink. Isaac had sent his girls to tend the cows and to see how the newest calf was faring in the seasonal heat. As the elder, Frances followed directly behind the animals in an attempt to keep them safe. The churning current, however, was merciless and, without warning, swept the unsteady calf off its feet, pulling it under. She instinctively turned her horse toward the desperate creature, as it struggled to keep its head above the water. While she slowly made her way toward it, the rushing rapids knocked Frances from her mount and dragged her under as well.
Seeing her sister in trouble, Emma immediately raced into the river. She leaped from her horse to rescue Frances, who had just broken the surface and was gasping for air. A strong swimmer, Emma quickly caught up to the distressed girl and dragged her toward the safety of the riverbank. The two clawed their way onto shore and collapsed in a fit of exhaustion.
Emma and Frances lay on their backs, winded from their close call, and in a moment of nervous relief, they suddenly laughed.
"Lord, Emma! I thought I was about to meet my maker!"
"Not today, Frances, but I will surely meet the Lord tonight when father finds out about that calf!"
* * *
At the time that unlucky calf was lost, all of the Edmondson girls were old enough to marry, with fifteen-year-old Emma being the youngest. But only the eldest, Eliza, had claimed a husband and moved from Isaac's house. That left three girls and one boy at home to face their father's wrath.
As for Frances and Emma, they were afraid to return home that evening, knowing that when Isaac discovered their unfortunate loss, they would be forced to endure his uncontrollable fury. Most importantly, Emma realized that it would only be worse for everyone if she returned home empty- handed. So, she went hunting with her favorite rifle, managing to shoot a few hares for supper. She even took down two of them with a single shot. Too bad her skill as a marksman would never matter to Isaac.
When Emma came in that evening, her sisters Mary Jane and Frances were setting the table and helping their mother prepare the meal. The usual somber mood prevailed as Emma hung the rifle on the wall rack. Having skinned and gutted the hares outside, she now put them in a pan and placed them in the oven, hoping that this meager offering would somehow lessen her father's impending hostility.
Betsy left the cake she was making to hug and kiss her youngest child in an unusual display of animated affection.
"You are a real hero, Emma! I heard how you saved our dear Frances from drowning today." Her voice trembled with gratitude.
"I figured you'd be glad I saved Frances instead of that calf." Emma grinned, pleased to see her mother happy. It didn't happen very often.
"Not Father." Frances shook her head. "He would have preferred if you let me drown and brought the calf back home."
"You're right, Frances." Mary Jane snickered. "I do believe that father would have cheered for the cow."
"You girls shouldn't make light of such a thing. It could have been tragic," Betsy admonished them gently before turning back to Emma. "Your fearlessness served us all well today, my girl. But I'm afraid there might be a time when your luck runs out, and I worry that someday you just may meet an untimely end."
"You shouldn't worry, Mother, I have guardian angels watching over me," Emma assured her, but Betsy had never understood her youngest child's total lack of fear ... except when it came to Isaac, of course.
Emma's ailing brother, Thomas, who endured as much paternal abuse as she did, came in from the garden, toting a basket of potatoes. His face, which was almost always ashen, seemed even paler. His worried look alarmed the women. "Father's coming, and he looks fearsome mad." He set the basket down on the workbench in front of Emma so she could peel the spuds.
"Please ... don't tell him about the calf." Betsy sighed. "If we're lucky, maybe he won't have noticed yet. You know how his temper gets the best of him." She quickly turned back to her cake as Isaac entered from the back door, enraged, just as Thomas had warned.
"Damn you girls!" Isaac lashed out. "Always costing me money! Why couldn't I have good, strong boys to help with the farm?" Turning to his wife, he continued his tirade. "Instead you had to go and have four worthless girls and one poor excuse for a son. Useless ... all of you! And you, Emma! You'll be going to bed without dinner for the next month. Do you really think you can make up for losing a calf with some measly rabbits?"
Isaac snatched the knife from Emma's hand as she peeled the potatoes and stabbed the blade into the workbench, missing her fingers by nary an inch.CHAPTER 2
Meeting Her Hero
Since they were the dirtiest jobs on the farm, shoveling muck in the pigsty and cleaning out the horse stalls were daily chores tasked to Emma by her father as punishment. What Isaac never realized was how much she enjoyed her time with the animals. Emma felt that these creatures understood her and appreciated the way she tended to them, unlike her father, who believed that all beasts were dumb and not deserving of love and tenderness — the same lack of sentiment he had for his family.
Emma was just finishing up with the pigs when her handsome, young neighbor, James Vezey, rode up on his hay-wagon. She had been admiring James for quite some time. His sharp blue eyes and dark hair had stirred a strange feeling inside her. At this moment, however, she was a sight — all covered in mud with excrement staining her green work boots. Nonetheless, she attempted to wipe the dirt from her shirt and tame a stray lock of hair with the back of her hand. Emma didn't realize it, but her quick efforts left a streak of dirt smeared across her left cheek, making James smile. Shyly, she smiled back.
"James! What brings you here?" she asked caught off-guard and just a little breathless.
"I was wondering if you might like to go to town with me on Saturday night." He fidgeted with the reins, hoping she wouldn't notice how nervous he was. "They're having a dance at the pavilion near the park."
Thrilled, Emma was about to say yes when she heard Frances loudly clear her throat. Emma turned toward her sister who nodded ever so slightly in the direction of the barn. A scowling Isaac was in the doorway, leaning on his pitchfork eyeing the youngsters. He must have heard James ride up in the wagon. "Don't be dallying too long there, girls. There's work to be done around here if you want your supper tonight."
Emma had little doubt that her father would never approve of James who had struggled to keep the family farm profitable ever since his father had died. He had nothing to barter for Emma's hand, and as far as Isaac was concerned, it wasn't enough to be rid of her. He expected a profit.
"I'm awfully sorry, James," Emma mumbled, uncertain what to use as an excuse. "But I can't go on Saturday. I ... I ... uh ... have to mind the pigs."
James's questioning look rolled into disappointment, while Isaac's glowering face turned smug. Crestfallen, Emma looked down. She liked James. He was always so very kind, and she found that attractive. This young man was far different from Isaac, and she couldn't help but imagine what a loving husband and father James would probably be. It was a pity that Isaac couldn't, or wouldn't, see the good in him.
After James's unhappy departure, Isaac moved on to tend the chickens so Emma sought solace in the barn. There, she groomed her favorite horse — a white male she called Freedom. Freedom was her confidante, and she always felt better after whispering her troubles in the horse's ear. Freedom never judged her — just accepted her, flaws and all. As she quietly told the animal about James's unexpected visit, Isaac returned with a half-used bag of chicken feed. When he found her taking meticulous care of the horse as it nuzzled her face, his anger shattered Emma's peaceful moment. "Just what do you think you're doing there, girl?"
Emma took a breath. There was no time like the present to let him in on her plan. He was bound to find out sooner or later, even though Emma would have much preferred later. "There's a riding competition in two weeks, and everyone knows I'm the best rider in New Brunswick. The first-place prize is a gold watch, and with Freedom's help, I'm going to win it!" She foolishly thought she would impress her father by boasting her merits. Her confidence, however, just served to enrage him even more.
"You had better get that notion out of your head, right now! They will never let a girl enter that competition! That's for boys and men! Besides, you're not earning your keep around here by sprucing up the horses! Do you understand me, girl?"
"But, Father, you know I can outride any boy anytime!"
"That's enough!" he shouted. "There will be no riding competition for any daughter of mine, do you hear me?"
"Yes, Father." She diverted her eyes so he wouldn't see the tears welling up. "I hear you."
"And if you love the horses so much, you can sleep with them in the barn until I say you can come back in the house!"
* * *
A few days later, Isaac brought home a distinguished-looking older man. His guest was smartly dressed in a dark, tailored suit, but his graying hair needed a trim as it curled along the length of his collar. He wore rimless glasses and carried several bags of books with ease. Emma viewed him as a man of the world, and she was immediately intrigued.
"Betsy! Set an extra place for dinner," Isaac ordered. "This here's Sam Waldron. He's a traveling salesman ... sells books. Mostly 'Good Books' and I thought it was time we had a new Bible in this house. Maybe the Lord will bless us with some real men 'round here if we pray a little harder."
Emma sat at the table that night with her head bowed, listening intently to all of the tales Mr. Waldron told about his many escapades while on the road. At first, she was afraid to make eye contact with him. Father would never approve of her fascination with a stranger, but as time passed and Waldron's stories grew more exciting, she forgot herself and her interest became obvious as she hung on every word that their dinner guest had to say.
"... and there I was, standing in the bank, when three robbers came in with their guns drawn," Waldron declared in excitement as any true storyteller would. "I took my deluxe 'Good Book,' and before the first one knew what happened, I hit him on the head with it. He fell into the second one, and he fell into the third one, and they all dropped their guns. It gave us a chance to hold them down until the sheriff got there! I guess it gives new meaning to the phrase 'may God strike me down.'"
Everyone laughed, but Emma laughed loudest of all. "Mr. Waldron, that's thrilling ... Please, don't stop now."
"Tell us what happened next!" prodded Mary Jane.
"Why, the mayor was so happy he gave me a key to the city."
"A key to the city?" Emma echoed, forgetting that Isaac was watching with his habitual glare. "I can't believe it! To think a Bible salesman could do all that! Oh, I would love to have a job like you!"
"Now don't go getting any more foolish ideas, Emma! You're a girl and a stupid one at that," Isaac chortled, making fun of her. "You could never make it in a man's world, let alone hold a good job like Sam here. In fact, you can't even get a proper day's work done on the farm. All you're good at is losing things like calves that cost me a month's pay."
Totally humiliated by her father's criticism in front of this stranger, Emma excused herself and fled from the kitchen to the only place she felt safe — the barn.
Shortly after, Betsy found her daughter sobbing in the hay as the horses watched over her. Setting aside the worn blue blanket she carried, Betsy wrapped her arms around Emma and stroked her hair in an effort to comfort her. "There, there, child. It's all right. You know your father can't help himself." Betsy took a comb from her pocket and unpinned Emma's hair. It wasn't often that she showed such tenderness due to her constant fear of Isaac, but that night Emma welcomed her mother's soothing touch. "You really are quite lovely when you allow yourself to look like a girl, my dear." Betsy smiled as she gently combed Emma's long hair.
"Father doesn't think so," the girl wept. "Why does he have to be so mean? Sometimes, I feel that he hates me most of all!"
"That's not true, Emma," her mother consoled. "It's me he really hates, not you. I was the one that failed him."
"But how do you stand it, Mother?"
Betsy thought for a moment and then answered honestly. "I accepted my lot long ago, child, just as you will accept yours one day."
"I could never accept a man who treats me like a slave!"
"I know it isn't easy, but like your father always says, 'it's a man's world,' and if we're not cooking, cleaning, or birthing babies, we women don't have much of a place in it."
"Then I wish I were a man!"
"Well, my dear," her mother sighed. "I'm afraid you were born a girl, and there's nothing to be done about that."
"It's not fair, Mother," Emma insisted.
Her mother wisely chose to ignore her daughter's words and not engage in that debate. Instead she changed the subject. "What's not fair is you sleeping out here in the barn."
"But I don't mind, Mother, really I don't. I like being with the horses. They don't care that I'm a girl. They mind me all the same as if I were a man."
* * *
Later that same evening, Emma was alone in the barn, gathering hay for her bed, when Mr. Waldron startled her. "Are you all right, little one?" he asked as he stepped toward her, carrying his bags of books.
"I'd be better if I were a man like you so I could leave this place and go on adventures." Emma shrugged, hoping that he would be flattered and not scold her for such arrogant thoughts.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Soldier, Spy, Heroine"
Copyright © 2017 Debra Ann Pawlak and Cheryl Bartlam du Bois.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Authors' Notes and Acknowledgments xi
Part 1 The Road to Manhood (1841-1861)
Chapter 1 A Father's Misfortune 3
Chapter 2 Meeting Her Hero 8
Chapter 3 Escaping Disaster 16
Chapter 4 A New Life 25
Chapter 5 A Change of Sex 33
Chapter 6 A Man's Life 40
Chapter 7 Talk of War 47
Part 2 A Soldier's Life (1861-1863)
Chapter 8 The Union Capital 59
Chapter 9 The First Battle 67
Chapter 10 A New Assignment 80
Chapter 11 The Secret Service 93
Chapter 12 Becoming Contraband 105
Chapter 13 An Admirable Rebel 115
Chapter 14 Aiding General Kearny 128
Chapter 15 A Hasty Retreat 137
Chapter 16 Seven Days Battle 144
Chapter 17 A Rebel Sympathizer 156
Part 3 Seeking Justice (1863-1898)
Chapter 18 A Brush with the Angel of Death 173
Chapter 19 The War k Won 182
Chapter 20 Revealing Her True Identity 197
Chapter 21 Clearing Her Name 206
Chapter 22 Honoring a Secret War Hero 216
Appendix A What Ever Happened To… 229
Appendix B Letters to Congress 235