Sarah Emma Seelye

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Sarah Emma Seelye (Edmonds)

Also Known As: "Pvt. Franklin Flint Thompson"
Birthplace: Magaguadavic, York County, NB, Canada
Death: September 05, 1898 (56)
La Porte, Harris County, TX, United States
Place of Burial: Houston, Harris County, Texas, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Isaac Edmondson and Elisabeth Edmondson
Wife of Linus Henry Seelye
Mother of Linus B. Seely; George Frederick Seely and Charles Finney Seely

Occupation: Nurse, Spy, Pvt. Co. F, 2nd Regiment, Michigan Infantry
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sarah Emma Seelye

Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Canadian-born woman who is known for serving with the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was born in Magaguadavic, New Brunswick, Canada but left home with the help of her mother because her verbally and physically abusive father attempted to force her to marry a much older man she hated. She worked for a time as a milliner in the Moncton area and later sold Bibles and other odds and ends in New Brunswick and New England. After her escape, she began dressing as man in order to make things easier for herself. She wore men's clothes, cut her hair and changed her name to Franklin Thompson. Still afraid of being found by her father, she fled to the United States in 1856 where she settled in Flint, Michigan. Once in the United States she began successfully selling Bibles and working for a publishing company. She dressed mainly as a man, but it is not certain that she was exclusively a male in her first years in the United States.

She had always been very adventurous and one thing that had spiked her interest in adventure was a book she read when she was younger. The story of Fanny Campbell and her adventures dressed as a man on a pirate ship to save the life of her lover. Fanny remained dressed as a man in order to take other adventures, which Edmonds attributes to her desire to crossdress. During the Civil War, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry on her first try, disguising herself as a man named "Franklin Flint Thompson." She felt that it was her duty to serve her country and it was truly patriotic. Extensive physical examinations were not required for enlistment at the time, and she was not discovered. She at first served as a male field nurse, participating in several campaigns under McClellan, including the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, the Peninsula Campaign, Vicksburg, and others.

Frank Thompson's career took a turn before the war when a Union spy (Known to her as James an old childhood friend) in Richmond Virginia was discovered and went before a firing squad, which opened up a slot in intelligence gathering for Thompson. Seeing this as an opportunity to avenge a fallen comrade's death she eagerly accepted. When she went before the committee for an interview as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds impressed the committee and the position was given to her. Although there is not proof in her military records that she actually served as a spy, she wrote extensively about her experiences disguised as a spy during the war.

Having to travel into enemy territory in order to gather information required Frank Thompson to come up with many disguises. Edmonds established several. For example, for the first disguise, Edmonds used silver nitrate to dye her skin black, used a black wig, and walked into the Confederacy disguised as a black man by the name of Cuff. Another time she entered as an Irish peddler woman by the name of Bridget O'Shea, claiming that she was selling apples and soap to the soldiers. Yet another time she was "working for the Confederates" as a black laundress when a packet of official papers fell out of an officer's jacket. When Thompson returned to the Union with the papers, the generals were quite pleased.

Edmonds' career as Frank Thompson came to an end when she contracted malaria. She left and abandoned her duty in the military for fear that if she went to a military hospital she would be discovered. She left the army and checked herself in to a private hospital, intending to return to military life once she had recuperated. Once she recovered, however, she saw posters listing Frank Thompson as a deserter. Rather than return to the army under another alias or as Frank Thompson, in which case she would be shot for deserting, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the United States Christian Commission. There are also speculations that Edmonds may have deserted because of John Reid having been discharged months earlier. There is proof in his diary that she had mentioned leaving before she had contracted malaria.

Her fellow soldiers spoke very highly of her for her military service and even after her disguise was discovered, they still believed that even as a woman she was a good soldier. She was very determined and always eager to fight and take down the enemy. She was referred to as a "frank and fearless" soldier and was active in every battle her regiment faced.

In 1864 Boston publisher DeWolfe, Fiske, & Co. published Edmonds' account of her military experiences as The Female Spy of the Union Army. One year later her story was picked up by a Hartford, CT publisher who issued it with a new title, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. It was a huge success, selling in excess of 175,000 copies. In 1867, she married L. H. Seelye, a Canadian mechanic with whom she had three children. Her two sons and her daughter died young, so she adopted two boys. In 1886, she received a government pension of $12 a month for her military service, and after some campaigning, gained an honorable discharge. In 1897, she became the only woman admitted to the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union Army veterans' organization. Edmonds died in La Porte, Texas and is buried in Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas.

She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1992.

Edmonds book was reprinted again in 1999 with a new title, Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse and Spy.


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Sarah Emma Seelye's Timeline

December 1841
Magaguadavic, York County, NB, Canada
April 14, 1869
Charlevoix, Charlevoix County, Michigan, United States
September 5, 1898
Age 56
La Porte, Harris County, TX, United States
Washington Cemetery, Houston, Harris County, Texas, United States