I wrote this story for children a few years back. Emma Edmonds’s courage still inspires me.
Women’s Rights in the 1860s
Emma Edmonds must have liked to play dressup when she was little. She was the youngest of five daughters. But her dad wanted a son. When she got older, she wanted to leave home. She found a way to play dressup and get away from Father.
Emma put on boys’ clothes and applied to be a soldier in the Civil War on April 25, 1861. She said her name was Franklin Thompson. She got into the Union Army as a pretend-man and worked in a tent hospital.
Soon Emma (or Franklin) wanted to play dressup again. She asked to be a spy. Her officers said Yes. She put on some old men’s clothes, a woolly black wig, painted her skin black, and called herself Cuss, the slave. She listened while the Confederate soldiers made plans to attack the Union soldiers. She wrote notes and took them back to her officers in the soles of her shoes. She was successful.
Another time she dressed up like a handsome young man named Mr. Mayberry. She went to dances and dinners to find Mr. Hall who was spying for the Confederate side. She was successful again.
Emma loved playing dressup as a spy. She finished eleven spy missions before she went back to work in the tent hospital. Then she got sick with malaria. She ran away to a regular hospital (not an Army hospital) where she could get treatment as a girl. When she got better, she wanted to return to the Union army. But her officers said she was a deserter. She could not go back without a thorough investigation. She feared they would find out she was not a man. She stayed at the regular hospital and worked as a nurse.
Emma was glad when the war was over, but she did not like to be known as a deserter. She asked the United States government to review her life as a soldier. Now the War Department knew she was a girl. They decided to honor her because of her good work as a soldier. Emma was done pretending.
The United States Congress gave her another honor. When she died September 5, 1884, her body was buried with other Civil War soldiers. She is the only female in the cemetery.