Soldier, Spy, Heroine: Based on a True Story of the Civil War
Gender crossover is a maturing but still exciting trend in modern literature. The theme is never more compelling than when based on historical events. Such is the case with Sarah Emma Edmonds, a 19th-century woman who dreams of doing things only then done by men. When her abusive and overbearing father trades her hand in marriage for a few head of livestock, she flees the family farm with the help of her mother. Upon her father’s discovery of her location, she is forced to take on the identity of traveling salesman Franklin Thompson, eventually settling in Flint, Michigan. There, as Thompson, she joins Company F of the Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry, becoming a genuine Civil War hero while serving her country in her male guise.
The true story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, as Thompson, approaches the incredible. She acts as nurse during the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Yorktown, the Battle of Williamsburg, and the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, and later is recruited as a Union spy. For purposes of espionage, she uses a number of unique disguises, including a black slave and an Irish peddler woman. A few trusted friends know her secret, but eventually she must desert the Union Army to avoid official discovery of her deception. The full truth does not come out until she is married and seeks to obtain her pension and clear her name for an honorable discharge.
The story is rich in historical detail, but reads at times like a series of penny legend episodes. The reader hungers for a bit more depth of insight into the character, motives and personality of this complex, extraordinary woman well beyond her time.