I don’t know how long before i shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part i don’t Care. I don’t feel afraid to go. I don’t believe there are any Rebel’s bullet made for me yet. Nor i don’t Care if there is. I am as independent as a hog on the ice. If it is God will for me to fall in the field of battle, it is my will to go and never return home.
—Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (Pvt. Lyons Wakeman), August 5, 1863, Washington, DC (quoted in Burgess 1994, 42)
In 1991, Lauren M. Cook (formerly Burgess), a leading authority on women soldiers during the Civil War, gained access to the letters that Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (alias Union Private Lyons Wakeman) wrote home during her two years in the Union army. These documents are among the few known surviving personal papers of a woman soldier who fought during the Civil War. As Cook points out in her introduction to her edited volume of Wakeman’s letters, An Uncommon Soldier, these documents “represent the most complete, contemporary account of a woman’s experiences as a Civil War soldier that has been discovered thus far. ” (Burgess 1994, 7).
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman was born in Afton, a farming hamlet in south central New York State in 1843, the daughter of farmers. As the oldest of nine children, only two of whom were boys, Wakeman’s labor was undoubtedly critical to the survival of her family’s farm. Census records reveal that she attended school, but, as was common for children in