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I SPY: an undercover female soldier of the Civil War.

Danger, daring, and deception. We love hearing about close getaways, crafty schemes, and clever disguises. Spy stories are full of twisted plots and heart-pounding action. One of the most famous real life spies ever was a woman, and what we know of her life tells us it isn't easy being Jane Bond.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1841. Sarah's father was disappointed that she wasn't a boy, so she tried to act like a boy to please him. When her father became abusive, Sarah ran away to Flint, Michigan. She was a young woman living alone, but she was strong and creative. To make a living, she dressed like a man and sold books door-to-door, calling herself Frank Thompson. When the Civil War broke out, Sarah enlisted (as Frank) in the Union Army. Her years of pretending to be a boy made it easy for her to blend in. She learned that her army desperately needed spies to gain access to the Confederate army. Sarah knew she could help, so she volunteered.

SPY MISSION #1: Join the Confederate army in Virginia.

Sarah's first assignment was to learn how big the Confederate army was and what kind of weapons they had. It was very dangerous, but she had a brilliant plan. Using a chemical called silver nitrate, Sarah drastically darkened her skin. Then she crossed the line to the Confederate camp disguised as a black man. She took the name "Cuff" and worked in the camp's kitchen. No one knew who she really was. Her mission only lasted a few days, but the information she brought back was very helpful. Her spy career had officially begun.

SPY MISSION #2: Go undercover as Bridget O'Shea, an Irish peddler woman.

This time Sarah wore many layers of clothes to appear very fat. Sarah crossed into the Confederate camp with a wagon load of shoes, pots and pans, and other goods to sell. She spent several days chatting with soldiers and learning their strategies. She returned with very valuable information and a beautiful new horse named Rebel, courtesy of the Confederates.

Sarah continued to spy for several years. But in 1862, a terrible thing happened. Because she spent so much time in the swamps as a soldier, Sarah got sick with malaria and suddenly faced a difficult decision. Should she see a doctor at her camp and risk being discovered as a woman or should she leave the army? She chose to leave and go to a private hospital to recover Sarah never returned to the life of a soldier.

Before she died, Sarah wrote a tell-all book about her life. Some say they suspected, but nobody actually knew "Frank Thompson" was a woman until then. Sarah Edmonds was clever and courageous. She never let being a woman keep her from the thrill of being a spy and fighting for what she believed in.


GI Jane: A Look Back at Women in the Military

Women in the Revolutionary War served on the battlefield as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses, and saboteurs.

In the Civil War, hundreds of women soldiers disguised themselves as men in order to serve. In 1865, surgeon Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor--she's still the only woman to receive the nation's highest military honor.

During WWI, over 20,000 nurses served in battle, and many thousands more filled stateside positions to relieve male soldiers for overseas battle.

More than 400,000 women served at home and overseas during WWII, including Army soldiers, pilots, and sailors.

Over 7,000 women served in the Vietnam conflict.

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Title Annotation:HERSTORY; Sarah Emma Edmonds
Author:Bilden, Alissa
Publication:New Moon Girls
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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