Today in History:

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Born in Canada in 1841, Sarah Emma Edmonds fled an abusive home at a young age, eventually finding her way to the United States. In 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, she seized the opportunity to enlist in the Union Army. Women were not permitted to serve as soldiers at the time. By disguising herself as a man and assuming the name Franklin Thompson, Edmonds was able to disguise herself and carry out her duties as a soldier without arousing suspicion

As Franklin "Frank" Thompson, Edmonds served as a soldier in the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regiment, participating in numerous battles and campaigns throughout the war. Her courage under fire and dedication to her fellow soldiers earned her the respect and admiration of her comrades.

In addition to her service as a soldier, Sarah Emma Edmonds also distinguished herself as a spy for the Union Army. Disguising herself as a Confederate sympathizer, she infiltrated enemy lines, gathering vital intelligence and transmitting coded messages to Union commanders.

One of Edmonds' most daring exploits occurred during the Battle of Antietam in 1862, where she disguised herself as an Irish peddler woman to gather intelligence behind Confederate lines. Her efforts provided crucial information that contributed to the Union victory in the battle.

During her reconnaissance mission Edmonds learned the disposition and strength of Confederate forces positioned along the Confederate line. She meticulously observed and noted the locations of Confederate units, artillery placements, and defensive fortifications, providing Union commanders with a detailed understanding of the enemy's positions.

Additionally, Edmonds managed to gather information on Confederate morale and the general mood among Confederate soldiers. By conversing with Confederate soldiers and eavesdropping on their conversations, she gained insights into their state of mind, level of fatigue, and morale, which could influence Union tactics and strategy.

Furthermore, Edmonds obtained valuable information about Confederate plans and intentions. By listening to conversations among Confederate officers and soldiers and observing their movements and activities, she was able to discern clues about their intentions, potential maneuvers, and any planned reinforcements or withdrawals.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was raised in a devoutly religious household, and her family was affiliated with the Free Methodist Church. Throughout her life, Edmonds maintained a strong faith and drew upon her religious beliefs for guidance and strength, particularly during challenging times. While serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Edmonds continued to hold onto her religious convictions, finding solace and comfort in prayer and scripture. Her faith likely played a significant role in shaping her character and guiding her actions as she navigated the trials and tribulations of wartime service and espionage.

After the war, Sarah Emma Edmonds chronicled her experiences in a memoir titled "Nurse and Spy in the Union Army," becoming one of the few women to publish an account of her wartime service. Her memoirs provide a firsthand glimpse into the life of a woman who defied convention and made significant contributions to the Union cause.

"Behind Rebel Lines" is a gripping historical novel chronicling the daring exploits of Emma Edmonds.

Some of the notable engagements in which she took part include:

  • First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) - July 1861: Although Edmonds was not officially enlisted at this time, she served as a nurse during this early engagement of the war.
  • Battle of Ball's Bluff - October 1861: Edmonds was present during this small but significant battle in Virginia, where Union forces suffered a costly defeat.
  • Peninsula Campaign - March to July 1862: Edmonds likely participated in various skirmishes and battles during this campaign led by Union General George B. McClellan, including the Siege of Yorktown and the Battle of Seven Pines.
  • Seven Days Battles - June 25 to July 1, 1862: Edmonds would have been involved in the series of engagements fought around Richmond, Virginia, including the Battle of Gaines's Mill, the Battle of Glendale, and the Battle of Malvern Hill.
  • Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas) - August 1862: Edmonds likely took part in this major Confederate victory under the command of General Robert E. Lee.
  • Battle of Antietam - September 1862: Edmonds played a significant role as a spy during this pivotal battle in Maryland, gathering intelligence behind Confederate lines.
  • Fredericksburg Campaign - December 1862: Edmonds may have been involved in the Union's ill-fated attempts to capture Fredericksburg, Virginia, from Confederate forces.
  • Chancellorsville Campaign - April to May 1863: Edmonds would have participated in the Union Army's maneuvers and battles in Virginia, including the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded.