Civil War Secrets: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Contributor: Kathi Thomas. Lesson ID: 10459

What would you be willing to do to fight for a cause? Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised as a man, joined the Union Army in the Civil War. Compare history and modern culture as you learn about her service.


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


The Michigan Experience: Sarah Edmonds from iMichiganProductions:

The role of women as movers and shakers in American history is undeniable.

From the very start of the new nation during the Revolutionary War to our modern day military, women have always felt compelled to take on tasks requiring both brains and bravery, sometimes even brawn. The passion for a cause that fuels remarkable deeds was clearly evidenced by those women who engaged as spies during the American Civil War.

History records a number of women who served as soldiers during the Civil War; one such woman, disguised as a man, served as a private in the Union Army and eventually added additional disguises to move freely behind enemy lines. Sarah Emma Edmonds lived a large part of her life as Franklin Thompson, first as a Bible salesman, then as a soldier and nurse, but also as a spy.

Sarah’s life began in a home where she was reportedly resented by her father for having been born female, and was on the verge of being forced into an undesirable arranged marriage. In a bold move that was considered very uncharacteristic for women of that time period, Sarah chose to take control of her own life and left home, changing her last name from Edmondson to Edmonds in the process.

Eventually, she found herself in the United States living as a man, Franklin Thompson, in order to earn an income and support herself. When she heard there was a need for soldiers in the Union Army, she determined this was her calling and became a private in the Union Army.

This short synopsis of her life provides many of the details about her service as a male private in the Union Army: Sarah Emma Edmonds (Civil War Trust).

Talk with your teacher about the following questions:

  • As a young woman, Sarah left home without permission or assistance from her family. What challenges do you think she would have faced as a young woman on her own in 1857?
  • Her decision to disguise herself as a man would have been considered outrageous had her true identity been discovered, yet she lived as a man for years. Explain some of the difficulties Sarah would have had as she tried to live her life as a member of the opposite sex without being discovered. Would she have encountered these same difficulties if she had lived today? What other types of challenges might she have faced in this modern era?

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