She Rode with the Generals: But Her Regiment Thought She Was a Man

Sylvia Dannett
Sarah Emma Edmonds rode with the generals in the Civil War but her regiment thought she was a man and called her Franklin Thompson. In 1897 Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye was mustered into the George B. McClellan Post, No. 9, and thus became the only woman member of the Grand Army of the Republic. Hers is an incredible story but after years of research Sylvia G. L. Dannett has verified the truth of most of the details of an astonishing masquerade in the first two years of the Civil War. This is the story of a rather pretty farm girl, a native of the province of New Brunswick, who masqueraded as a male book salesman and joined the Union army under the alias of Franklin Thompson. "He" served as a nurse and spy and general's aide but in 1863, sick from malaria and on the verge of being unmasked, "he" deserted and resumed female attire. Sarah Emma Edmonds published her memoirs under the title, "Nurse and Spy," and the book enjoyed a huge sale. In later years she became a housewife, a mother, and a veteran in the G.A.R. The author makes this fantastic masquerade come alive. She offers a cautious psychological explanation for it, and shows how it was possible for "Franklin Thompson" to escape detection even in the rough life of army camps and amid the carnage of war. At the first Battle of Bull Run, through McClellan's ill-fated Peninsular campaign, in the hair-raising escapades behind the Confederate lines, "Franklin Thompson's" gallant, selfless service was attested to by scores who never penetrated the disguise. A story stranger than fiction? Yes. From Sarah Emma Edmonds' "Nurse and Spy," from her descendants, and from Congressional records, Sylvia G. L. Dannett shows once again that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

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