Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1861-1865
Sarah Emma Edmonds
Sarah Emma Edmonds was born Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmondson in December 1837 on a farm in Maguadanick, New Brunswick, Canada. She was the youngest of the five children of Isaac and Elizabeth Edmondson and went by the name of Emma. From the time she was born until Emma left home at about 20 years old, she was treated like a boy by her father. In order to escape an unhappy home life, Emma left home and emigrated to the United States changing her last name to Edmonds. Needing a job and wishing to remain undetected, Emma began posing as a man named Franklin Thompson and became a traveling bible salesman in Flint Michigan.
Her role during the Civil War
On May 17, 1861, Emma enlisted under the name “Franklin Thompson” in Company F of the 2nd Regiment of the Michigan Volunteer Infantry in Fort Wayne, MI for a period of three years. According to the Military Records of Private Franklin Thompson, she performed the duties of nurse, and Regimental Mail Carrier during the war. There are also periods of time that the records show that Private Thompson was absent on duty. In her memoirs, Emma states that she was a spy for the Union in addition to being a nurse, and therefore the general consensus is that the dates when Thompson was listed as absent on duty coincide with her spy missions. The 2nd Michigan participated in several battles during the war including the Battle of Second Manassas on August 29, 1862. During the battle, Sarah was thrown into a ditch while acting as a courier, breaking her leg and suffering internal injuries. These injuries would plague her for the rest of her life and were the main reason for her pension application after the war.
Emma served as Franklin (Frank) Thompson until April 19, 1863 when fearing discovery, she left in order to get treatment for malaria. When Emma left, Franklin Thompson was listed as a Deserter.
After recovering from malaria, she worked with the United States Christian Commission as a female nurse, from June 1863 until the end of the war. In 1865, Emma published her autobiography Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: The Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps and Battlefields. Her book was dedicated to the Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the Army of the Potomac. The book is reported to have sold 175,000 copies, and with the exception of $1,000.00, Emma donated the proceeds of her book to various soldier relief associations.
Emma married Linus H. Seely In 1867 and they had three children. They changed the spelling of their last to Seelye after they married. Emma and Linus lived in a number of places during their marriage finally moving to LaPorte, Texas in the early 1890s. In 1883 she attended a reunion of the 2nd Michigan and was warmly received by her comrades. The Charles T. Foster Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Lansing, Michigan invited Emma to be a daughter of their Post and helped her petition to have her have the charge of desertion removed from her military records. On July 5, 1884, an Act of Congress officially removed desertion from Franklin Thompson's records and Emma was given an Honorable Discharge. She was granted a pension was $12.00 a month. She became a member of the George B. McClellan GAR Post in Houston, Texas on April 22, 1897. She is the only woman member of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Death and Burial
Mrs. S. Emma Edmonds Seelye died on September 5, 1898 at her home and was buried in Morgan Cemetery near LaPorte, Texas. On Memorial Day 1901, the members of George B. McClellan GAR Post arranged to move Emma's body from the Morgan Cemetery to the military section of the Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas. A GAR marker was placed at her grave on February 13, 2010, by the Sisters of the Sarah Emma Edmonds Detached Tent #4, with the assistance of members of the Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lee U.S.N. Camp 2 of Houston, Texas of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Sarah Emma Seelye Auxiliary 1 of Houston, TX, Ladies' Auxiliary to the Lt. Edward Lea U.S.N. Camp.
Sarah Emma Edmonds as she looked when she went under the name of Frank Thompson
Grave marker at the Washington Cemetery in Houston, Texas.