Next to the Genesee County courthouse in Flint is an ordinary looking Michigan historical marker. It has two names on it. One side with a woman’s name and the other side with a man’s name. It is a reminder of a remarkable person who lived in Flint over a century ago.
Sarah Emma Edmonds was born in Canada in 1841. To escape her abusive father she dressed as a man and immigrated to Flint in 1857. During the Civil War, on May 25, 1861, she enlisted as Franklin Thompson in Company F of the 2nd Michigan Infantry, also known as the Flint Union Greys. Extensive physical examinations were not required for enlistment and her true identity was not discovered. She served as a nurse and messenger and participated in several battles. She also dressed as a woman and became a spy for the Union. In 1893 Emma (or Frank) became ill and she deserted the army before she was found out to be a woman.
In 1864, Sarah wrote a book about her experiences in the Civil War titled 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. Edmonds donated the profits from her memoir to various soldiers aid organizations. She continued to travel the country lecturing and sharing her remarkable story.
In 1867, she married Linus. H. Seelye, a mechanic and a childhood friend with whom she had three children. All three of their children died in their youth, leading the couple to adopt two sons. She petitioned the government to change her desertion charge and on July 3, 1886, Congress granted Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye an honorable discharge from combat duty and a pension of $12 a month. She is the only female to be admitted into the veteran’s organization the Grand Army of the Republic and is laid to rest in a G.A.R. section of Washington Cemetery in Houston after she died in 1897
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