Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier, The

Laura Leedy Gansler
Resurrecting a lost hero of the Civil War, "The Mysterious Private Thompson" tells the remarkable story of one heroic woman who defied convention in nineteenth-century America to live, work, and defend her country at a time of war, when most women were restricted to home and hearth. Sarah Emma Edmonds was a young Canadian woman who adopted the guise of a man to escape an arranged marriage at seventeen. For two years, living as Franklin Thompson, she enjoyed the freedoms that men enjoyed, traveling the country at will as a successful book salesman. In 1861, President Lincoln asked for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the "rebellion." Most of Franklin Thompson's friends would answer the call. For Thompson, the question was more complicated -- but she didn't hesitate before enlisting in the Second Michigan Infantry at nineteen years old. In "The Mysterious Private Thompson," acclaimed author Laura Leedy Gansler uncovers the courageous life of the only woman ever awarded a full soldier's pension for her service during the Civil War. Drawing on Emma's journals and those of the men she served with, Gansler recreates Edmonds' experience through some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War -- including both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (known as First and Second Manassas in the South), the Peninsula Campaign, and the Battle of Fredericksburg -- during which she served with distinction in combat as a "male" nurse, and braved enemy fire as a mail carrier. Gansler also investigates Edmonds' claim to have been a spy -- going behind enemy lines disguised as a slave (by staining her skin with silver nitrate), as a Confederate soldier, even, ironically, as a peddler woman. One of the few who knew her secret was a young medic with whom she fell in love, but she nearly lost the friendship of her closest companion when she revealed the truth to him. After two years of valiant service, the young soldier, who twice rejected medical attention for injuries sustained in the line of duty for fear of being discovered, was struck down with malaria. Rather than risk detection by a military doctor who would treat her, Franklin Thompson disappeared, marked down as a deserter. Twenty years later, having resumed her female identity to marry and settle down in Kansas, she emerged from obscurity to fight for her pension and reunite with her surprised former comrades, who had not known their brother-in-arms was a woman. A cinematic narrative of one brave soldier's experience of the Civil War, this intimate portrait is, above all, a personal drama about the lengths one daring woman was willing to go to chart her own destiny.

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