Soldier's Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero

Soldier's Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero

Book Information

Amulet Books, September 2012
Social Studies Curriculum
        “I'm part of a grand adventure, no
question about it.” So says Frank Thompson, 19-year-old farm hand,
run-away, book-seller, Civil War nurse, and impersonator. Because
Frank, you see, is really Sarah Emma Edmonds, a young woman who
trades an abusive and constricting home life for the surprising
freedom of being a man.

        Based on a real person and actual
events, Sarah is the narrator of this immediate and thrilling story
told in the present tense. She takes the reader back to her miserable
life on a farm in Canada with a brutal father and cowed mother and
brother. When her father arranges a marriage of convenience between
her and an elderly neighbor, Sarah has enough. Momentarily alone in
the house, she steals a pair of her brother's pants and a shirt, runs
to the woods to bury her dress and apron, invents a good strong name
for herself, and embarks on a life as a male. Doing man's work comes
easily; she was her father's main hand on the farm. She is also good
with horses, a crack shot, and an excellent observer of life around
her. She quickly learns to imitate “manly” mannerisms such as
spitting, sitting with knees apart, and looking another man square in
the eye. Her days of picking up odd jobs come to an end when she is
hired as a traveling book-seller. Sarah avidly reads all the
merchandise, then ably imparts to her customers a retelling of the
stories. She quickly becomes the company's best book-seller.
        While exploring her new sales
territory in Michigan, Sarah, as Frank Thompson, gets caught up in
the excitement of the War Between the States and is determined to
serve her country. It takes her two tries to get past the recruiters
– not because she looks female, but because she looks too young to
sign on as a soldier. However, she requests a job as a field nurse,
of which there is a shortage, and she is on her way to Washington DC
and the Army of the Potomac.
        Undaunted by the long hours of
bootcamp, Frank still has to be inventive in hiding her gender,
especially from her tent-mate, Damon. She discovers she has a special
talent in the army hospital, not just in binding wounds or offering
comfort, but also in listening to her patients and writing heartfelt
letters home for them. She does not shrink from the terrors of the
battlefield, but charges in to pull wounded men back to safety. Her
work gains admiration from an officer who asks her to carry mail to
and from the army, not a safe or easy task, given the unexpected
presence of enemy pickets along the route and the very real chance of
getting a vicious horse as your mount. Sarah, or Frank, accepts each
new order with enthusiasm, but when she is asked to work as a spy she
finds her true calling. Who better to work under a disguise than a
female who has been impersonating a male for 3 years?
        Frank's most difficult challenge,
however, doesn't occur on the battlefield or in the hospital, or even
in espionage. Frank is falling in love with fellow nurse Jerome
Robbins. How can she reveal her true self to him without endangering
the career she loves? Frank must grapple with living a lie versus
being true to herself. As her life in the army continues, an
overriding desire to build and maintain a home for wounded soldiers
grips her; perhaps that is her true calling.
        Interspersed with actual Civil War
photos, this book also includes “The Story Behind the Story” at
its conclusion, as well as  brief biography of key officers, and an
abbreviated Civil War timeline. Although other women served in the
Civil War disguised as men, Sarah Emma Edmonds was the only woman to
be recognized by an act of Congress as an honorably discharged
soldier, which provided her a pension, and the only woman allowed to
join the Grand Army of the Republic for veterans of the Civil War.

        This is a marvelous book to give to
the student who loves true-life adventure stories or one looking for
a history project with a completely different angle.

        I highly recommend it for girls or
boys, middle school, high school, and adult readers.

Ages 12 and up   400 pages   978-1419704277

Reviewed by Jane C Behrens, Teacher Librarian, Iowa USA 



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