Famous Spies: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Famous Spies: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Sarah Emma Edmonds is perhaps one of the world’s most famous cross-dressers.  During the time of the Civil War, women were not allowed to serve in a combative capacity in the army, so Edmonds decided that in order to join, she would have to pass herself off as a man.  She was extremely patriotic and wished to help the Union army win the war.  The name she used in place of her own was Franklin Flint Thompson.  She joined as a male field nurse, distinguishing herself on the battlefield and being present at many of the most famous battles.  But fighting on the front lines was not enough for Edmonds.  Following the death of a Union spy in enemy territory, she volunteered to take his place.  The review committee accepted her and she made her way across enemy lines.

All that time passing herself off as a man in close-quarters with the rest of the Union army paid off in spades once she began her spying career.  She was the cliché ‘master of disguise.’  This talent helped her to get into places were she might normally have never been allowed and kept her alive during her time with the enemy.  One account has her going so far as to dye her own skin with silver nitrate so that she could pass herself off as a black man and infiltrate the Confederacy.  By using many such disguises Edmonds managed to secure much needed information for the Union.

Unfortunately, a bout of malaria would cut her spying career short.  She went into a private hospital to recover, fearing being discovered.  During her sick time, her alter-ego would be listed as a deserter, making it impossible for her to go back.  She instead chose to continue her work with the Union by acting as a nurse in a hospital for wounded soldiers.

She was accounted by her fellow soldiers as an excellent member of the Union army, even after they had discovered her true sex.  Edmonds was also the only woman allowed to join the veteran’s organization of the Civil War.  She recorded all her adventures in her journals, which were later published, the more modern version of which is called Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse and Spy.  Sarah Emma Edmonds is a true war hero who led an amazing life and showed great bravery in the face of danger.