The Story of Sarah Emma Edmonds

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Sarah Emma Edmonds was born in Magaguadavic in December of 1841. She left home after her abusive father, Isaac tried to force her to marry a man again her will. Her father had wanted a boy, but ended up with four daughters. Sarah and her sister had grown up wearing pants and doing “man chores”. When she ran away from home she disguised herself as a man named Franklin Thompson and worked for quite a while selling books in St. John. However, she was always afraid that her father would catch her, so she fled to the United States and joined the Civil Army. She worked as a female nurse and somehow managed to survive all the disease and death while under fire in the hospital tent.

During the Battle of Bull Run she had an encounter with former admirer, John Vance of St. John. Later she heard of his murder, and vowed to avenge the death of her friend. She set out on what would be her most dangerous mission ever; that of a secret agent. Some of her disguises included a Negro, an Irish peddler named Bridget O’Shea, a rebel cavalryman, and a clerk. In 1865, she wrote a book entitled, “Nurse and Spy in the Union Army”. The book can be found in the rare book section of the archives in the Harriet Irving Library on the U.N.B. Campus.

Edmondson’s career as Frank Thompson came to an end when she contracted malaria. Unable to go to the military hospital because she would be revealed as a woman, she left the army and checked herself in to a private hospital, intending to return to military life once she had recuperated. Once she was better, however, she saw posters looking for Frank Thompson as a deserter. Rather than return to the army as a woman, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the United States Christian Commission.

Sarah met her future husband, Linus Seelye of Saint John, near the end of her career. They were married in 1868 and had three children. She was the first woman in the Civil War to receive a pension. On September 5th, 1898, Sara Emma Evelyn Edmondson Seeyle died and was buried with full Military Honours in the Grand Army Section of the Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas. On March 19th, 1990, she was inducted into the New Brunswick Women’s Hall of Fame.

The PBS television network ran a program called “Canadians in the Civil war” that told Edmundson’s story. In Canada, a documentary of Edmondsons’ life was produced in 2004 entitled, “The Unsexing of Emma Edmondson”.

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