After the fall of Fort Sumter, Sarah volunteered for the Union cause and under disguise she soldiered using the alias Franklin (Frank) Thompson. She joined the United States Army, Company F, Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, in May of that year. Her militia unit was known as “Flint’s Union Greys.” She served in the Army as a field nurse, spy, soldier and mail carrier. After the war, she wrote her memoirs in a book entitled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps and Battle-Fields, which was published in 1865.
In the letter transcribed here, Sarah gives great detail about an accident she suffered while carrying the mail between Washington and Centreville, Virginia, near where the Second Battle of Bull Run (or the Second Battle of Manassas) was about to take place. Colonel Orlando Poe had assigned her to be postmaster for the regiment, and she felt a great sense of urgency and duty about delivering the mail before the battle began. In the letter she is writing to her friend, R. H. Halsted, to give him a Statement of Facts about the accident so that he can write an affidavit to the government on her behalf. She had been receiving a Civil War pension of twelve dollars per month since 1884, and she needed the testimony of her friend in order to support her request for an increase in pension. At the end of the letter, Sarah talks about how she has suffered with her injuries, and states, “my entire left side from my head to my foot shows symptoms of paralysis, and it may be, that very soon, I shall not need a pension.” This haunting statement was unfortunately true, for it was only one year later, on September 5, 1898, at age 57, that Sarah passed away. She is buried in the GAR section of Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas, with a limestone marker that says, “Emma E. Seelye, Army Nurse.”
Further Reading on Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye:
Edmonds, S. Emma E. Nurse and Spy in the Union Army : Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-fields. Hartford: W. S. Williams & Company, 1865.
Fladeland, Betty. “New Light on Sarah Emma Edmonds, Alias Franklin Thompson.” Michigan History 47 (December 1963): 357-62.
Pferdehirt, Julia. “Sarah Emma Edmonds 1841-1898: Soldier, Nurse, and Spy in the 2nd Michigan Infantry.” In More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Michigan Women. Guilford, Conn: Morris Book Publishing, 2007.
Stevens, Bryna. Frank Thompson: Her Civil War Story. New York : Macmillan Pub. Co., 1992. Children’s book.
Source : Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye entry, Michigan In Letters, July 17, 2009 courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.
For another, see Civil War Soldierettes: Part 1, The Sarahs from Fold3.
Christie Hoerneman, “A Female Soldier in the Civil War: Emma E. Edmonds“, Central Rappahanock Regional Library.