Sarah Emma Edmonds’s record of service in the Union army during the Civil War is one of the most thoroughly researched cases of a woman soldier enlisted in the Union or Confederate military. Although her memoir of her exploits contains exaggerated and fictionalized events and elements, her service as a soldier and nurse has been amply authenticated.
Born Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmonson (her name later appears as Edmonds) in New Brunswick, Canada, she grew up on a farm, the youngest of her parents’ six children. With only one frail son in the family, her father needed the labor of all of his daughters to sustain the farm. Sarah grew strong performing agricultural labor and she enjoyed a rugged, outdoor lifestyle, hunting, fishing, and boating.
When Edmonds’s father promised her in marriage to an aging farmer, she ran away from home to work as a milliner in a town in New Brunswick. As soon as she learned that her father had discovered her whereabouts, she disguised herself as a man and assumed the alias of Franklin Thompson. She soon made a success of selling bibles door to door, based largely on her ability to establish a strong rapport with her customers. Edmonds was enthusiastic about the freedom she found in her new life as she traveled from town to town in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Yearning for a more adventurous life in the West, Edmonds, still disguised as Thompson, migrated to Flint, Michigan, in 1860. A month after war was declared, on May 17, 1861,