There are many interesting Great Canadians, both in history and current times. They are not always well-known for what they did in or outside of Canada, though. New stories, news and time often leave the greatest people lost in the wilderness of our times and culture. They are forgotten until someone happens to come across their name, the proverbial light bulb goes off, their name is brought back out to the light and their story is told.
One of these Canadians was Sarah Emma Edmonds (or Edmondson) (1841-1898). Sarah, born in Magaguadavic, New Brunswick in 1841, was better known by her fellow soldiers as Frank (or Franklin) Thompson. Her home life was less than optimal for a girl, as her father made it very clear that he hadnʼt wanted a girl, heʼd wanted a boy. The abuse became so bad, she ran away to the United States. She eventually enlisted in the Michigan Volunteer Infantry Company. She served as a spy, field nurse (both male and female), mail carrier and soldier. She applied for enlistment four times before “she” was accepted.
She gathered information for the American Civil War as a spy. She “disguised” herself as an Irish woman by the name of Bridget OʼShea, as a black man and as a black woman to gather information from the Confederate troops. She was involved in the Battle of Blackburnʼs Ford, First Bull Run (or First Manassas), The Peninsular Campaign, Antietam and Fredricksburg. As Private Frank Thompson, she had 11 victorious secret missions.
She was successful in avoiding exposure for about a year before she became very ill with malaria. Knowing that she could not be in the camp hospital because she would be “found out”, she left camp, changed to womenʼs clothes, then admitted herself into a private hospital until she recovered. She was going to return to her unit as Frank, but when leaving the hospital, she read the army list of deserters that was posted. Frank Thompson was on the list. She had no choice but to return to the battlefield as a female nurse for the U.S. Christian Commission.
She also wrote an embellished account of her experiences in the trendy book, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, it was published in 1865 and the proceeds of itʼs sale was given to a soldierʼs aid society.
Sarah was homesick and moved back to New Brunswick in 1865, met and married her carpenter husband, Linus Seelye. They moved back to the States and there raised three sons. There seems to be some discrepancies around this, though. Some reports say that all three sons died young and they adopted 2 more boys, some do not mention this at all.
Even though she was happy with her family life, the fact that Frank Thompson was labelled a deserter bothered her so much, that in 1882, she petitioned for a review of her situation and for veteranʼs pension. On July 5, 1884, two years later, her petition was granted. She was given an honorable discharge and a $12/month veteranʼs pension under her married name.
When she passed away in 1898, she was buried with full military honors in the Washington Cemetery, Houston, Texas.
This brave, talented, adventurous and interesting Canadian woman may not have fought on Canadian soil, but she showed that bravery and ingenuity is not reserved to just anyone. She is the only female regular member of the Grand Army of the Republic. This was an organization that was created after the Civil War by Union veterans.
She loved adventure, her family and her countries. May we all work to keep this alive in our own lives!