Pvt. Lyons Wakeman

Sarah Rosetta WakemanCredit: Pwarlick

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman was a very intelligent young lady who learn how to beat the pay inequality of her day. Back in 1800‘s, the jobs for women were few, and menial at best, not to mention the pay. To get around this unfairness, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman pretended to be a man in order to secure a high paying job in the coal industry. This impersonation eventually landed her an enlistment into the army and led her to become a female heroine that fought in the Civil War.


Sarah Rosetta Wakeman was born on January 16, 1943 in Alton, New York. She was the first at what would be a rather large family that included nine children. Her father was Harvey Anable, and her mother’s name was Emily Wakeman. Her parents owned a large dairy farm and her father served as the town constable. As Sarah became older, she along with the rest of the family helped out on the farm. She was no stranger to hard work. The family was in debt and everyone had to do their part. She took low paying side jobs as a housekeeper to supplement the family income.

Shortly after her 19th birthday, Rosetta left home in search of work and moved to Binghamton, New York. She took odd jobs as a housekeeper and a laundress, however these low paying jobs would never afford her the lifestyle that Rosetta so desperately wanted. She quickly realized that her options for work were minuscule, so Rosetta decided to disguise her female anatomy and pretend to be a man in order to acquire a higher paying job. Impersonating a male, she secured a job as a boatman aboard a coal barge on the Chenango Canal. If she completed four trips on the barge Rosetta would make $20.

By the time she complete her first trip up the canal, Rosetta had met and made friends with some of the Union soldiers from the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. She was making good money on the barge, however, they informed Rosetta that she could make more by enlisting. The pay was $13 dollars a month, but the sign on bonus amounted to $152. After completing three more trips on the barge, Rosetta decided to join. On August 30, 1862, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman was accepted into the regiment as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman.


The first year of her military career was easy enough for Rosetta except for a bout with the measles. She sent her pay home to her family except for Rosetta’s very first check. She was outsmarted by some officers, and Rosetta gave them some money in lieu of a promissory note that was never honored. By November her regiment was relocated to Washington D.C. to defend the capitol.

During her tour of duty in Washington D.C. Rosetta was assigned to guard the prisoners. She participated in drills, and did the normal activities that in male in her battalion would perform as well, and in some instances even better. She was in one fight with a comrade in which Rosetta punched him in the nose. She could fire her weapon as good as any man.

Her regiment was called to battle on the following year. They were stationed at Camp Franklin in Algiers, Louisiana. Her commander was Major General Nathanial P. Banks. He had specific orders that no female, even army nurse could accompany them on their mission to establish a strong presence on the Texas border without written permission from Headquarters. No one ever suspected that Pvt. Lyons Wakeman was a woman.

Before they reached their quest they encountered the Confederates and the Battle of Pleasant Hill ensued. Her battalion fought for two days solid before taking the 100 mile journey back home. On the second day of the march Rosetta’s company was ordered to camp out and ambush the Confederate soldiers, it was fight or die. They were triumphant in their battle. She had proven herself a worthy component.

Not realizing the dangers of bacteria her troop had drank from the streams while on assignment. The waters around the battle field had rotting animals dispersed throughout it’s banks. She and others in regiment had come down with dysentery. This was a chronic disease that claim the lives of many during the Civil War including that of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. She was given a soldiers burial and placed in the Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. It was until the release of a her published letters home found many years latter in the attic of the farmhouse in which she use to live that the army realized that she was a woman. Her letters were published in the collection called  An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. heir gender was disguised, their bravery and honor cannot be debated or ignore.  These women stood beside their fellow man and fought and died with courage, honor, and diginity.  Even in death, their gender was not discovered, made public, or acknowledged by the government untilLyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864.

At least 135 women were discovered to have served during the Civil War.  Many historians estimate that there were at least 400 women that actually served.  Even though t years later.  Today they are getting the respect that they deserve because of the Women's History Month.  Take this time during the month of March to learn more about this and other interesting women of history and lets salute these interesting women of history.

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