Beneath the Mulberry Tree: Sarah Edmonds and Women in Memory

By Annika Jensen ’18

In her memoir Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, Sarah Emma Edmonds, a woman fighting in the Union Army disguised as a man, employed florid diction and a subtle romantic flare to illustrate an emotional and confounding moment in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam: discovering another woman undercover. Edmonds writes of the “pale, sweet face of a youthful soldier,” of a boy trembling from blood loss who, she knew, had only a few more minutes on earth. He tasted his last sip of water, and with his remaining breaths the soldier beckoned Edmonds closer and uttered a secret: that he was really she, a woman who had enlisted and seen her brother, her only family, die upon the same field just a few hours before. The soldier confessed to being a devout Christian and asked only that she be buried by Emma, so no other might discover her true identity. She then died, “calm and peaceful.” Emma obliged the soldier’s request and buried her beneath a mulberry tree; she would be separated from her fallen comrades but rest upon the same field. Emma wrote of the woman soldier, “There she sleeps in that beautiful forest where the soft southern breezes sigh mournfully through the foliage, and the little birds sing sweetly above her grave.”

Through the lens of gender or feminist criticism, which analyzes the social and political status of women as well as their relationships within and without their gender, this is perhaps the most evocative and compelling anecdote of Edmonds’ memoir; not only is the fallen soldier made a romantic hero by the overwhelming, illustrious language, but the interaction between Edmonds and the unnamed is depicted as one between two women, not two women pretending to be men. Essentially, Emma reverts back to her true gender–her truest self–in this instance, and it is clear that the anonymous soldier found, in choosing to reveal her secret upon her death, solace in her womanhood.

Sarah Emma Edmonds, alias Franklin Thompson, served as a soldier, nurse, and spy in the 2nd Michigan Infantry. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah Emma Edmonds, alias Franklin Thompson, served as a soldier, nurse, and spy in the 2nd Michigan Infantry. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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Instruments of War: A Canadian Musician in a Rhode Island Regiment

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

Canada! America’s hat! Our friendly little brother to the north. The home of hockey and Tim Horton’s and your home, too, when that other political party elects their crazy candidate. All jokes aside, the United States has long had a close relationship with our northern neighbor, and the Civil War proved no exception. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Canadians fought during the war, typically on the side of the Union due to their geographic proximity and cultural sympathies. Of that number, approximately 5,000 were killed.

Of course, not all Canadians who partook in the war were there to fight. Among the number who volunteered in the Union army was a young musician by the name of Calixa Lavallée, who some two decades after the war became responsible for one of the most enduring symbols of Canada (at least as we perceive it here in the United States): the music of their national anthem, “O Canada.” Born in Quebec to parents of French descent, he was only sixteen when he traveled to the United States for the first time to join a traveling minstrel show based out of Rhode Island. Already an extremely versatile musician, he journeyed across the politically-tense nation to cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York to perform on tour. On 19 January, 1861, Lavallée and his troupe were in Atlanta when Georgia seceded from the Union.

Calixa Lavallée in his later years, defying typical post-war facial hair trends. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.
Calixa Lavallée in his later years, defying typical post-war facial hair trends. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

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Experiencing the Bloodiest Day: Event Report 150th Antietam

By Emma Murphy ’15 This past weekend, September 14-16, the National Park Service at Antietam National Battlefield celebrated and commemorated the sesquicentennial of Antietam. I was fortunate to be able to attend the commemoration on Friday mornin…

By Emma Murphy ’15

This past weekend, September 14-16, the National Park Service at Antietam National Battlefield celebrated and commemorated the sesquicentennial of Antietam. I was fortunate to be able to attend the commemoration on Friday morning and the some closing remarks on Sunday evening.

It was a beautiful sunny day as I pulled into the Visitor Center parking. Tents covered the lawn in front of the Visitor Center with two large trailers for the Virginia and Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show. There were many spectators and I was excited to be a part of history.

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