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SEELYE, SARAH EMMA EVELYN EDMUNDSON

SEELYE, SARAH EMMA EVELYN EDMUNDSON (1841–1898). Sarah Seelye was born Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmundson in New Brunswick province, Canada, in December 1841. To avoid an unwanted marriage, she ran away from home when she was seventeen, disguised as a boy. She continued her male masquerade as a publisher's agent in the midwestern United States and, on May 25, 1861, enlisted in Company F, Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, under the alias Franklin Thompson. For nearly two years she served in the Union Army undetected, with assignments including male nurse, regimental mail orderly, and brigade postmaster, and on special assignments for the secret service. Ironically, in the secret service duty she penetrated Confederate lines "disguised" as a woman. Fearing her guise would be discovered when she became ill with malaria in 1863, she deserted and resumed a normal existence in Ohio as a female. After regaining her health she again volunteered as a nurse, but this time with the Christian Sanitary Commission at Harper's Ferry, and as a female. Under a shortened version of her maiden name, S. Emma E. Edmonds, she wrote a fanciful, but highly successful, account of her experiences in the army, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (1865). The popularity and exposure she gained from the book and its revelation that she had deserted the army at one time led the government to cancel her pension. She later married a childhood neighbor, Linus Seelye, and reportedly had five children, three of whom died in infancy. A congressional bill in 1884 recognized her service to the Union and granted her a pension of twelve dollars a month. The charge of desertion from the army was removed by Congress in 1886. In the early 1890s the Seelye family moved to La Porte, Texas, and on April 22, 1897, Sarah Seelye became a member of the McClellan Post, Grand Army of the Republic, in Houston, Texas-the only woman member in the history of the GAR, though as many as four hundred women may actually have served in the Union army. At the time of her death Seelye was writing her memoirs of the Civil War. She died in La Porte, Texas, on September 5, 1898. Three years later, at the insistence of her fellow members of the McClellan Post, her remains were transferred to the GAR plot in the Washington (German) Cemetery in Houston.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Sylvia G. L. Dannett, She Rode with the Generals: The True and Incredible Story of Sarah Emma Seelye, Alias Franklin Thompson (New York: Nelson, 1960). Betty Fladeland, "Alias Franklin Thompson," Michigan History 42 (December 1958). Betty Fladeland, "New Light on Sarah Emma Edmonds, Alias Franklin Thompson," Michigan History 47 (December 1963). Mary Hoehling, Girl Soldier and Spy: Sarah Emma Edmundson (New York: Messnor, 1959). Houston Post, September 7, 1898, June 2, 1901, February 26, 1967.

Paul F. Cecil

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Paul F. Cecil, "SEELYE, SARAH EMMA EVELYN EDMUNDSON," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fse16), accessed July 11, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.