Secret agent for the Union

By this time, Edmonds was a master of disguise. After all, she had fooled everyone for almost a year by pretending to be a man. To increase her value as a spy, she also studied weapons, military strategies, local geography, and biographies of the South's military leaders. For her first mission, she used a chemical called silver nitrate to darken her skin and posed as a black man named Cuff. She knew that the Confederate Army used black slaves as laborers in their camps, so she hoped Cuff would not attract much attention. The disguise worked. She crossed into Confederate territory and began working in the kitchen of an army camp. She overheard valuable information there, then slipped back to the Union side to report her findings.

For her next assignment, Edmonds tied pillows around her waist, put on a dress, and posed as a heavy Irish peddlar woman named Bridget O'Shea. Once again, she crossed into Confederate territory without attracting attention. She wandered into the Confederate Army camp and

Emma Edmonds Cuff Slave

Emma Edmonds disguised as a black man in the Confederate lines.

(Reproduced by permission of Corbis Corporation [Bellevue].)

Emma Edmonds disguised as a black man in the Confederate lines.

(Reproduced by permission of Corbis Corporation [Bellevue].)

sold thread, paper, matches, soap, and tea to the soldiers. She also took note of the Confederate defenses and collected other valuable information. When she was finished, she stole a horse to ride back to the Union line. She was shot at and wounded in the arm by Confederate forces, but she escaped. Another time, Edmonds went behind enemy lines disguised as a middle-aged black woman. While doing laundry for the Confederate soldiers, she found official papers in an officer's coat. She slipped out of the camp in the middle of the night and took the papers to Union leaders.

In late 1862, Edmonds's unit was transferred from Virginia to Kentucky. Kentucky was one of four "border" states that allowed slavery but remained loyal to the Union. Many people in Kentucky and the other border states, however, secretly supported the Confederate cause. As a result, a great deal of information about Union forces and strategy in the state was passed to the Confederates. Edmonds was assigned to go to the city of Louisville to learn the identity of Confederate sympathizers and spies there. This time she posed as a young Southern gentleman named Charles Mayberry. She got a job, attended society parties, and generally blended into the population of Louisville. Over time, she successfully uncovered the Confederate spy network that had been operating in the city.

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