At a cozy farmhouse in Spotsylvania, Virginia, a photographer from Minnis and Crowell out of Richmond waits for his subject. At first, the subject – C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson – declines the request. But after a convincing talk from his wife Anna, Jackson obliges.
He puts on his best Confederate uniform, which was given to him as a present by C.S.A. Major General and cavalry officer J.E.B. Stuart, and arranges his own hair, which is unusual for him. He does not wear the old, worn VMI forage cap that he often wears in the field. With his hair curled in ringlets, Jackson sits down on a wooden chair in the downstairs hallway that has been set up for him. He sits very still, but just as the photographer takes the photo a strong wind from an open window blows in Jackson’s face, causing him to frown. The end result is a sternness, which his wife Anna dislikes because it’s not the spirited husband she knows and loves. But Jackson’s troops and others in the Confederate army who will later view the photo love it because they feel it represents who he is as a soldier and commander. Strong, determined, serious in battle. It represents the man who was “standing like a stone wall” against the enemy on the Manassas battlefield (known as Bull Run in the North) in July 1861.
In Bardstown, Kentucky, there is a lot of talk in the 2nd Michigan Infantry about the desertion of their brigade postmaster, Frank Thompson. Word has spread that Frank was not “Frank” at all; the gossip is that Frank is actually a young woman and ran off when her alleged lover, Assistant Adjunct General James Reid, was relieved of duty to take his very sick wife back home to Scotland where doctors believe she will be more prone to recover in her native land. Reid is a young, attractive man who had only recently married his wife Anna. He had originally been a Lieutenant in the 79th New York Highlanders, a primarily Scottish group, but was captured in the Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas) in July 1861 and spent six months in a Confederate prison near Richmond. In November 1862, after Major General Ambrose Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac, the 79th was combined with the 2nd Michigan. It was there that Reid and Frank Thompson met.
The rumors are somewhat correct. “Frank” is indeed a female, (Sarah) Emma Edmonds. She is not the only female who has successfully enlisted in the army as a male. A few months ago a baby had been born to a corporal in a New Jersey regiment, who went into labor while on duty to the complete shock of her comrades. But Emma’s situation – whose real name only a few in the 2nd Michigan know – hits closer to home for them. While there is evidence that Emma and Reid were close, the nature of their relationship is unknown and Reid always remained devoted to his wife Anna. But the two had spent a lot of time together in his tent, alone; and given that Emma had deserted right when Reid left, it fueled speculation of a romantic relationship.
Though it is possible Reid’s departure played some part in Emma’s decision to leave, she is physically sick and emotionally drained. Her physical health has relapsed from the malaria she had contracted earlier in the year, and she felt that if she stayed in Bardstown that medical personnel would discover her secret. She had requested a medical furlough but was denied; she had no choice but to leave. So the week of April 12 she left Bardstown, by foot, and decided to go west to Cairo, Illinois, one of the bigger cities “nearby” – 230 miles away. On April 19 she saw her alias “Frank Thompson” listed on a desertion list, a crime punishable by death if caught. As she continues to Cairo, sick and in fear of being captured, she makes the decision that she will obtain women’s clothes once in town and return to living the life of “Emma.” She will seek out care and be faced with a decision on how to live her life as a female, something she has not done since she enlisted back in June 1861, almost two years ago.