An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864
"I don't know how long before i shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part i don't care. I don't feel afraid to go. I don't believe there are any Rebel's bullet made for me yet."--Pvt. Lyons Wakeman. Similar sentiments were expressed by tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers in their diaries and in their letters to loved ones at home. What transforms the letters of Pvt. Lyons Wakeman from merely interesting reading into a unique and fascinating addition to Civil War literature is who wrote them--for Private Wakeman was not what "he" seemed to be. The five-foot tall soldier's true identity was that of a simple young farm girl from central New York state named Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. Her letters, the only such correspondence known to exist, provide a rare glimpse of what life was like for a woman fighting as a common soldier in the Civil War under the guise of a man. Written shortly after she left home to pursue her fortune in 1862, Rosetta's letters over the next two years tell of army life in the defences of Washington, D.C. and on the march and in battle during the 1864 Louisiana Red River Campaign. She wrote frequently to her family in Afton, NY, and her letters contain feelings and observations like those expressed by the majority of her fellow soldiers. We read of her determination to perform honorably the duty required of a soldier, the trials of hard marching and combat, her pride in being able to "drill just as well as any man" in her regiment, and her eventual fatalistic attitude toward military service, and her frequent expressions of faith in God and the afterlife. Although Rosetta did not survive the war, her letters remain as an singular record of female military life in the ranks, a phenomenon largely ignored by historians and researchers. Private Wakeman was not alone in embarking on her strange adventure. Hundreds of women, from both the North and South, disguised themselves as men and enlisted in the armies of our nation's bloodiest war. The experiences of these women during the Civil War are just beginning to be recognized as elemental to understanding the life of this country during those turbulent times. Little is known about these women precisely because they enlisted and served in constant secrecy, fearful of revealing their true identities. This unique collection of letters offers a firsthand look at the personality and character of a woman who defied convention to take a man's place in the Union army.
A must-have about one of many women's role in the Civil War
By Beth A. Emmerling - December 29, 2001
Lauren Cook Burgess has given us an important look into the heart of one (of what is turning out to be many)woman's story who fought dressed as a man in the American Civil War. Crossing the gender line was not just a daytime exercise for these women and Wakeman's revelations about what it was like for her to live as a man amongst men who were serving their country.Driven more by economics than patriotism, Wakeman's letters reveal a woman who desired to be economically self-sufficient and who embraced one of the few options available to women in the 1860s by cross-dressing. It is a fascinating read for what it tells us about gender, war, comraderie, and the economic stresses that women from poor backgrounds faced in the 19th century. It is a miracle to have this information, scant as it may be, so that we can celebrate women's achievements in this bloody war that claimed so many young lives and literally changed the course of U.S. History.
By Jim Nichols - January 15, 2001
If you want to know what it would of been like to have been poor and chose to go into the Army, this is the book. The amazing part is that this book reminds us how gender has nothing to do with duty and honor. I have read a lot of Civil War books and this one I will always remember. I can still picture her guarding the unfinished capitol building. You cheer her all the way through the book. The honor she is paid is all that she would have asked. We owe so much to those like her, men and women. The author should be commended for sharing Sarah Wakeman'experience with us.
An uncommon soldier, an extraordinary book
By Michael J. Mazza - February 10, 2005
"An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153d Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864" is edited by Lauren Cook Burgess and contains a foreword by James M. McPherson. The book collects the letters of a young woman who disguised herself as a man in order to enlist in the Union army during the United States Civil War.
In her letters Sarah discusses the draft, army training, pay, troops' living conditions, and her relationship with her family. Along the way she reveals interesting facts about army life. But her letters do more than just convey facts. We also learn of her religious faith, her pride as a soldier, and her hopes for the future. Her letters reveal a courageous, determined, and feisty personality.
The book is full of illuminating features. There are many period photos that help bring Sarah and her world to life. There are even photos of her handwritten letters and of army records that... read more
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