Sarah Rosetta Wakeman

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Sarah Rosetta Wakeman
Born (1843-01-16)January 16, 1843
Chenango County, New York
Died June 19, 1864(1864-06-19) (aged 21)
Marine USA General Hospital
in New Orleans
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Union
Unit 153rd New York Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars American Civil War

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (January 16, 1843 – June 19, 1864) is one of several women who disguised themselves as men in order to fight for the Union in the U.S. Civil War. Because she died while still enlisted, no one in the Union Army knew that she was a woman until long after. Sarah Wakeman served in the 153rd Regiment of the New York State Volunteers. Her letters written during her service remained unread for nearly a century because they were stored in the attic of her relatives.

Early life[edit]

Wakeman was born January 16, 1843, in Chenango County, New York, to Harvey Anable Wakeman and Emily Hale Wakeman. Sarah was the oldest of nine children. Wakeman left her home in 1862 and disguised herself as a man to work as a boatman for the Chenango Canal. While on her job she met enlisted men who encouraged her to join the Union Army and she did so on August 30, 1862, using the name Lyons Wakeman, and claiming to be 21 years old. The description on her enlistment papers stated that she was five feet tall, fair-skinned, with blue eyes.

Military Service[edit]

Her regiment was assigned guard duty in Alexandria, Virginia, later to Washington, DC, to protect the nation's capital. The first letter Wakeman sent home contained information about why she left home and what she was doing. Wakeman often sent money home in the hope of making amends. Sarah Rosetta Wakeman used her birth name when signing her correspondence; if her letters had been intercepted, this act could have ended her military career. Wakeman often wrote about being financially independent, something many women of the time wanted. She was religious and proud to be a "good soldier". The 153rd Regiment was transferred to an active battle field in 1864. The battle that ensued took place at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. This force probably numbered around 11,000 soldiers. After her arrival she sent her last letter home from the Grand Ecore Landing on the Red River.

The last letter Sarah sent reported: "Our army made an advance up the river to Pleasant Hill about 40 miles (64 km). There we had a fight. The first day of the fight our army got whip[ped] and we had to retreat back about 10 miles (16 km). The next day the fight was renewed and the firing took place about eight o'clock in the morning. There was a heavy Cannonading all day and a Sharp firing of infantry. I was not in the first day's fight, but the next day I had to face the enemy bullets with my regiment. I was under fire about four hours and laid on the field of battle all night. There was three wounded in my Co. and one killed. I feel thankful to God that he spared my life, and I pray to him that he will lead me safe through the field of battle and that I may return safe home."

Death & Legacy[edit]

Of the deceased soldiers Rosetta wrote, they lay "sometimes in heaps and in rows… with distorted features, among mangled and dead horses, trampled in mud, and thrown in all conceivable sorts of places. You can distinctly hear, over the whole field, the hum and hissing of decomposition." The Red River campaign claimed several lives including Wakeman's. She contracted chronic diarrhea which she eventually died of on June 19, 1864 in the Marine USA General Hospital in New Orleans. Wakeman was not the only one; thousands of Union soldiers were killed by drinking water contaminated by rotting animals. Wakeman's identity was not revealed during her burial as her headstone reads "Lyons Wakeman."[1]


  1. ^ Lauren Cook Burgess, ed., An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862–1864 (Pasadena, Md.: The Minerva Center, 1994)

Further reading[edit]

  • Eggleston, Larry G. (2003). Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders, and Others. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0786414936. 
  • Wakeman, Sarah Rosetta (1994). An Uncommon Soldier: the Civil War letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. Pasadena, Md.: The Minerva Center. ISBN 0963489518. OCLC 30933373. 

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