She liked to be called Emma so I will comply. She became famous for impersonating a man and horses would help her to gain this fame, and the sketch to the left has her apparently impersonating a woman. Hmmm!
Emma's secretive life seems to have began at the very beginning... (what a concept) with a birth in 1841 or 1842 in Nova Scotia, or Saint John NB or further west at Magaguadavic Settlement in the lower west corner of the province of New Brunswick, Canada.
Her youth was made quite difficult as a result of an abusive father who wanted a son and not a daughter. He had a farm to be worked and already had 4 daughters and no sons. From the very earliest days Emma was forced to wear boy's clothing and she had to work the fields by day and probably studied the bible by night. At a very early age she was about to be forced into a marriage that she wanted nothing to do with. With her mother's blessing she ran away from home... dressed as a small boy.
Emma first started to make money selling hats with her mother's friend. She then branched off to selling bibles door to door and would soon be in the Monton NB area plying her trade. But when her father apparently found her she made an escape to Saint John and continued to sell the books. But by then she had started using an alias... Frank Thompson. Business must have been good because she would visit the publisher's facilities in Michigan and would soon be selling the books again door to door at Flint. But still disgused as a man.
Using several sources it is difficult to get accurate timelines, but none the less, Emma's life as a soldier was quite interesting. Emma would fight in many battles and skrimishes. At one point she could be found holding the musket and on another the tools of the nursing profession. On yet another she would be a mail person and courier of the most highest level documents between reigimental and brigade level and still later between Brigade and Washington DC. She was knocked off the horse once, got shot in the arm another time and even contracted Malaria in the midst of all of this.
Having heard that a Union spy was put before a Confederate firing squad Emma thought this event would open of a new job opportunity...that of a spy! Obviously they had a vacancy. And indeed the word was out that General McLelland was looking for a new "man."
Emma, pictured on left, and now in uniform, would have to resort to several disguises and new names to pull it all off, and she excelled at her new calling. Heck... she even had to pose as a women in a few of the missions!
In one of these roles Emma would be at the First Battle at Bull Run, at the 2nd Manasas, at Antietam and Fredericksburg. At Antietam she would be running messgaes from HQ to the front lines repeatedly and after the battle she would be out crawling the battlefield looking for wounded amongst the thousands of dead. In that capacity she would be on site when no less than 8 bodies of females... all wearing uniforms were located. Five of these were quite dead, the rest badly wounded. (There were several women who fought at Gettysburg and some died there as well)
At the siege of Yorktown she would be required to gallop between the front lines and Fortress Monroe several times carrying dispatches. At the Battle of Williamsburg Emma would be carrying a musket. At the Battle of Seven Pines she was on hospital duty... which also included the depressing duty of burying the dead.
While wearing the hat of a spy, one of her roles called for her using silver nitrate to make a dye to cover her skin so that she looked like a black person. Then donning a wig she rode into the Confederate lines using the name "Cuff" and spent time snooping about and brought inportant intelligence info back to the Union lines. On another she would use the name Bridget O'Shea and pretend to be an Irish peddler selling apples and soap to the Confederate soldiers and doing her snooping around to find out enemy morale and strength, position of guns etc and brought all that back for the Union General's consumption. Making her escape on this occassion she was shot in the arm, and fearing her sex being discovered tended to the wound herself.
On yet another mission she was disguised as a Black laundress and was roaming about snooping when an officer passed by and some important documents fell from his jacket. She grabed them and turned them over to her Union bosses who were quite pleased with her work. On another job she was impersonating a detective but really was out to get some info on a Confederate spy ring. The information was then passed on to McLelland just before the Battle of Vicksburg took place.
Emma's spying, soldiering and nursing days would come to an end when she contracted malaria for the first time. Knowing full well that any medical care she might get would lead to the discovery that he was a she would end her military service. So she deserted, spent her savings to get a train to Washington DC, dropped the female clothing, and sought medical care there. Once well again she then found a wanted poster for deserter Frank Thompson and decided that she could no longer return to her old unit as either a man or a woman. So she then kept her female identity and went to work at a Washington DC soldiers Home for veterans.
In 1865 Emma wrote a book called... Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. It sold a wopping 175,000 copies. Over the years it has been reproduced under various titles.
Still later she would return to Ontario Canada, meet up with an old flame by the name of Seelye, get married and later return to the US and start a family.
In the mid 1880's she petisioned the federal government to have the deserter catagory withdrawn, and won her case. She was then given a bonus for her Civil War work and also a pension of $12 per month. A few years later she would actually join the Grand Army of the Republic. The ONLY women ever to do so. And within about a year she passed away as a result of again contrating malaria. She was given a full military funeral and a few years later her remains were actually relocated to a GAR cemetery, the only women, some say, that apparently is resting in any GAR cemetery in the country.
Not bad for a 15 year old runaway girl... ooops I mean guy... eh!