This is an extraordinary book by any standards and no short description of it could possibly do justice to its author or her book. Sarah Edmonds was a lady from the northern states of America who, when the great Civil War broke out between the Union and the Confederacy, decided that being ‘one who waits’ was definitely not her style. Disguised as a man—a talent she had developed since childhood—she successfully enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Regiment and served in several campaigns including the battles at Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg, without ever revealing her gender. In common with many women, from both sides of the conflict, she later performed with distinction as a nurse to wounded troops in the field. Though this was noteworthy and frequently dangerous work it was insufficient for Sarah both as a contribution to the Union war effort and for her own spirit of adventure, so she embarked on a career in the Union Army Secret Service as a spy. This dangerous occupation, where the penalty for detection and capture was summary execution, propelled her into many perilous adventures behind enemy lines, often disguised as a man in a variety of personas including Confederate soldier, negro labourer and Irish tinker. Sarah Edmonds’ story is an absolutely gripping personal account of an exceptional woman’s experience of war which will fascinate anyone interested in the Civil War and dauntless women in particular. Available in softcover and hard back with dust jacket.
I took the cars the next day and went to Lebanon—dressed in one of the rebel prisoner’s clothes—and thus disguised, made another trip to rebeldom. My business purported to be buying up butter and eggs, at the farmhouses, for the rebel army. I passed through the lines somewhere, without knowing it; for on coming to a little village toward evening, I found it occupied by a strong force of rebel cavalry. The first house I went to was filled with officers and citizens. I had stumbled upon a wedding party, unawares Captain Logan, a recruiting officer, had been married that afternoon to a brilliant young widow whose husband had been killed in the rebel army a few months before. She had discovered that widow’s weeds were not becoming to her style of beauty, so had decided to appear once more in bridal costume, for a change.<br>
I was questioned pretty sharply by the handsome captain in regard to the nature of my business in that locality, but finding me an innocent, straightforward Kentuckian, he came to the conclusion that I was all right. But he also arrived at the conclusion that I was old enough to be in the army, and bantered me considerably upon my want of patriotism.<br>
The rebel soldier’s clothes which I wore did not indicate anything more than that I was a Kentuckian—for their cavalry do not dress in any particular uniform, for scarcely two of them dress alike—the only uniformity being that they most generally dress in butternut colour.<br>
I tried to make my escape from that village as soon as possible, but just as I was beginning to congratulate myself upon my good fortune, who should confront me but Captain Logan. Said he: “See here, my lad; I think the best thing you can do is to enlist, and join a company which is just forming here in the village, and will leave in the morning. We are giving a bounty to all who freely enlist, and are conscripting those who refuse. Which do you propose to do, enlist and get the bounty, or refuse, and be obliged to go without anything?”<br>
I replied, “I think I shall wait a few days before I decide.”<br>
“But we can’t wait for you to decide,” said the captain; “the Yankees may be upon us any moment, for we are not far from their lines, and we will leave here either tonight or in the morning early. I will give you two hours to decide this question, and in the meantime you must be put under guard.” So saying, he marched me back with him, and gave me in charge of the guards. In two or three hours he came for my decision, and I told him that I had concluded to wait until I was conscripted.<br>
“Well,” said he, “you will not have long to wait for that, so you may consider yourself a soldier of the Confederacy from this hour, and subject to military discipline.”<br>
This seemed to me like pretty serious business, especially as I would be required to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederate Government However, I did not despair, but trusted in Providence and my own ingenuity to escape from this dilemma also; and as I was not required to take the oath until the company was filled up, I was determined to be among the missing ere it became necessary for me to make any professions of loyalty to the rebel cause. I knew that if I should refuse to be sworn into the service after I was conscripted, that in all probability my true character would be suspected, and I would have to suffer the penalty of death—and that, too, in the most barbarous manner.<br>
I was glad to find that it was a company of cavalry that was being organized, for if I could once get on a good horse there would be some hope of my escape. There was no time to be lost, as the captain remarked, for the Yankees might make a dash upon us at any moment; consequently a horse and saddle was furnished me, and everything was made ready for a start immediately. Ten o’clock came, and we had not yet started. The captain finally concluded that, as everything seemed quiet, we would not start until daylight<br>
Music and dancing was kept up all night, and it was some time after daylight when the captain made his appearance. A few moments more and we were trotting briskly over the country, the captain complimenting me upon my horsemanship, and telling me how grateful I would be to him when the war was over and the South had gained her independence, and that I would be proud that I had been one of the soldiers of the Southern confederacy, who had steeped my sabre in Yankee blood, and driven the vandals from our soil. “Then,” said he, “you will thank me for the interest which I have taken in you, and for the gentle persuasives which I made use of to stir up your patriotism and remind you of your duty to your country.”<br>
In this manner we had travelled about half an hour, when we suddenly encountered a reconnoitring party of the Federals, cavalry in advance, and infantry in the rear. A contest soon commenced; we were ordered to advance in line, which we did, until we came within a few yards of the Yankees.<br>
The company advanced, but my horse suddenly became unmanageable, and it required a second or two to bring him right again; and before I could overtake the company and get in line the contending parties had met in a hand to hand fight.<br>
All were engaged, so that when I, by accident, got on the Federal side of the line, none observed me for several minutes, except the Federal officer, who had recognized me and signed to me to fall in next to him. That brought me face to face with my rebel captain, to whom I owed such a debt of gratitude. Thinking this would be a good time to cancel all obligations in that direction, I discharged the contents of my pistol in his face.<br>
This act made me the centre of attraction. Every rebel seemed determined to have the pleasure of killing me first, and a simultaneous dash was made toward me and numerous sabre strokes aimed at my head. Our men with one accord rushed between me and the enemy, and warded off the blows with their sabres, and attacked them with such fury that they were driven back several rods.