Burgess, Lauren Cook, ed. An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. The Minerva Center. 1994. Bibliography. Index. 110p. ISBN 0-9634895-1-8.
Although not allowed to serve, women did sometimes disguise themselves as men and enlist in Confederate and Union military units. Since their continued service depended on secrecy, information about women soldiers serving in the Civil War is very hard to find and verify. Those who were discovered were discharged, often leaving in disgrace.
Burgess has successfully documented well over 150 women soldiers who saw military service during the Civil War. In An Uncommon Soldier, she applies her skill and knowledge gained by that research to bring to life the experiences of one woman, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, whose letters home were preserved and passed down through the years by family members.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (1843-1864) was the first of nine children born to Harvey and Emily (Hale) Wakeman. She apparently left her home in Afton, New York in 1862, disguising herself as a man in order to work on the Chenango Canal. She then enlisted in the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers in 1862 as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman.
In her letters home, Wakeman often expresses her love for family and pride in her military service. She is also well aware how Army life has changed her. Writing home just before Christmas 1863, she explains, "I have enjoyed my self the best since I have been gone away from home than I ever did before in my life. I have had plenty of money to spend and a good time asoldier[ing]. I find just as good friends among Strangers as I do at home." At other times, Wakeman writes about farming techniques, day-to day camp activities (her descriptions with these topics are particularly appealing), and her belief she will survive the war. Sadly, she died from diarrhea contracted during the Red River campaign and was buried at Chalmette National Cemetery.
Pvt. Wakeman's letters were carefully edited by Burgess to retain the writer's voice while adding punctuation and standardizing spelling for the convenience of modern readers. The many explanatory notes are very welcome additions and help clarify events and identify people mentioned by Wakeman. If you're interested in reading the unedited letters, however, photocopies are available at the Library of Congress.
Recommended for students, Civil War buffs, and genealogists with specific interests in the Wakeman family and the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. The book is widely available at many libraries in the U.S. as well as at several online vendors. Cloth and paper editions are for sale at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, beginning at about $10. Amazon also sells the Kindle edition for $9.99 while Lulu.com sells the eBook (pdf) edition for the same price.