Choosing between the army and marriage to a man she despised was easy. Sarah cut off her hair, put on men’s clothes, and joined the Union Army.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hate my father, but I never hated him more than the day I left home. He’d beaten and humiliated me for years, but when he decided I should marry Zeke Kunkel, who owned the farm next to ours, I refused. Zeke was as cruel and violent as my father, and wanted to marry me only to get his hands on our farm. So I packed some provisions and went to Flint to live with my mother’s sister, who had a hat-making business. Not that I intended to make hats for the rest of my life – far from it. I had decided to join the Union Army and fight for my country.
Late one night, I cut my hair short, dressed in men’s clothes, and went from being 16-year-old Sarah Louisa Wheelock to being 18-year-old Neddy Compton. Next day I joined the 2nd Michigan Regiment as a member of the Flint Union Greys. No one questioned me at all.
It wasn’t so bad at first, since I was used to hard work, was a good shot, and had my own rifle. Soon we were sent to Washington City, but we weren’t there much more than a month when we were ordered to move out, and I suddenly found out just how horrible war can be. We marched to Manassas, Virginia, where we fought the Battle of Bull Run. I hadn’t really thought about actually killing another person. But I did, and watched him die before my eyes.
But then everything changed when the colonel found out I was a woman, and only 16. Suddenly, I wasn’t in the army any more, and was wearing dresses instead of a uniform. I had two choices, either go to jail or go to work for Mr. Pinkerton as a detective. So now, I’m a spy for the Union.
Come on with me and let me tell you what it’s like to be a soldier, a spy, and a woman during the Civil War.
This Booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart