Emma Edmonds specialized in disguises.
It was a way of life you could say. One which began in her teens.
Back then she was a living on a farm in New Brunswick, Canada. Being raised by a doting mother and an abusive father who resented Emma for not being born a boy. He wasn’t good to her. And when he tried to marry her off at fifteen, she decided the time was right to leave.
She traveled alone to the U.S. Which is where Emma Edmonds became Franklin Thompson, probably because Franklin had more opportunities than Emma did. And Franklin became a bible salesman living in Hartford, Connecticut, and then a book seller in Flint, Michigan.
Then the Civil War started. And Emma, an ardent supporter of the Union, felt a duty to serve. So she joined. As Franklin of course. Physical checks were sparse then.
Emma worked as a nurse, but yearned for something more. She wanted to become a spy.
And that chance came.
Emma needed to infiltrate the Confederate camp stationed near her own. So Emma did what Emma knew how to do well. She changed her identity. Franklin Thompson became Cuff, a southern black man. She used silver nitrate to darken her skin. And then she wandered near the Confederate camp, expecting to be picked up for some work need. Which she was.
She learned important information over a few days in the camp. Information such as the Army building what were known as “Quaker Guns,” or cannons which looked real from a distance, but in reality were just wooden logs. Then she escaped from the camp and returned to her own. Where she told the leadership what she learned.
Emma, or Franklin, or Cuff, or an Irish peddler by the name of Bridget O’Shea, which was a future identity, would take part in eleven spy missions during the war.
Note: This story is available as a podcast at https://anchor.fm/historical-snapshots/episodes/Emma-Edmonds–a-Civil-War-spy-e1dedt.