Sarah Rosetta Wakeman was born in 1843 in Afton, New York. She was the oldest child of Harvey and Emily Wakeman. Like Sarah Edmonds, she was raised on a farm. http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/view/ancmag.2513.asp
Sarah did receive some formal education and at the age of 17, she worked as a domestic servant close to her home.
By the age of 19, she decided that wearing men’s garb and seeking employment as a man would better help her large family, since she didn’t believe marriage to be in her immediate future.
In a letter to her family, she wrote: “I know that I Could help you more to leave home than to stay there with you, So I left.” All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies, p. 191
A family conflict may have been the cause of her leaving home, because she wrote that she hoped they would put their problems behind them. She wrote her mother: “I want you should forgive me of everything that I have done, and I will forgive you all the same …” All the Daring … p. 191.
In August of 1862, Sarah accepted a job as a boatman in New York Chenango Canal disguised as a man. While employed there, she was approached by soldiers who urged her to enlist. She did, earning $152 in bounty money in Company H of the 153rd New York State Volunteers under the name Lyons Wakeman. All the Daring … p. 152
Like Jennie Hodgers, Sarah was small, only five feet tall. But she adjusted well to army life. She served for two years with the troops defending Washington, D.C. She also was involved in the 1864 Louisiana Red River Campaign.
In a letter she wrote home, she said: ” … but I sleep as warm in the tents as I would in a good bed. I don’t know the difference when I get asleep. We have boards laid down for a floor and our dishes is tin. We all have a tin plate and a tin cup, and a knife and Fork, one spoon. We have to use the floor for a table. I like to be a soldier very well.” All the Daring … p. 193
Her letters home that her family carefully preserved, showed her to be happy in the life of a male soldier. She wasn’t afraid to be sent out in battle and didn’t fear death. In one of her letters, she wrote that she was proud to have bested another soldier in a fight, despite being half a foot shorter than the man.
Unlike Sarah Edmonds and Jennie Hodgers, who survived the war and continued to live as men, Sarah Wakeman died while still in the army. She wasn’t killed in battle, but succumbed to chronic diarrhea. Despite being hospitalized, her sex was never discovered by the army.
She died on June 19, 1864 and was buried as “Lyons Wakeman” in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans.
Sources: All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies by Elizabeth D. Leonard
An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864, edited by Lauren Cook Burgess with a Foreward by James M. McPherson
In my next blog in this series, I’ll talk about how these and other women soldiers managed to hide their identities.