While pretending to be a male soldier, farm girl Sara Brewster falls for a handsome Union army surgeon. When her secret is revealed, will a lavish Christmas Eve ball work in her favor–or will her heart be broken?
Kirk Ellison is shocked to discover the assistant he thought of as a boy is a young woman disguised as a man. As his feelings for Sara grow, he must convince her she can fit into his society life, if he’s to make her his own.
This story is based, in part, on the stories of real women soldiers, who served in disguise as men, during the American Civil War.
Although we have had women participate in wars throughout history, women soldiers during the American Civil War was unheard of. After all, the 1860s was the height of the Victorian era, where women, at least high and middle class ones, were thought to be delicate creatures, who needed to be taken care of and protected by their menfolk. The idea of a woman charging into battle, firing on the enemy or worse, yet, being wounded or killed was unimaginable.
Even women who nursed wounded soldiers were often frowned upon by polite society. But in the book, All the Daring of the Soldier, by Elizabeth D. Leonard or An Uncommon Soldier, by Lauren Cook Burgess, these real life women warriors are finally exposed for the true heroines they were.
Women weren’t allowed to join either army during the American Civil War, but according to Leonard, many young women were driven not only by “Patriotism and the love of a good man…” but also by “…their quest for adventure and their hope for a different sort of paying job than was typically available to them.”
What’s unique about Sarah’s story is, like scores of other young women during the American Civil War, she disguised herself as a man and served in the Union Army as a private. And during the years she served, no one ever discovered her sex.
Many other women also enlisted in male disguise, since women at that time weren’t permitted to serve, but some were quickly discovered and either sent home or were arrested and sent to prison on false charges of prostitution. That was the only reason army officials could come up with for women to dress as men, although it would have been hard for them to ply their trade and not be found out. Others weren’t caught until they were hospitalized or killed in battle. While others served out their time and returned to civilian life without ever being found out.
Sarah was born on January 16,1843, the eldest in a fairly large farm family. She was used to hard work and in 1862, at the age of 19, with no prospects for marriage, she left home to seek outside work to help with the family finances that included a large debt owed by her father. Disguising herself as a man, she found work as a manual laborer on a coal barge for $20.00 for four trips up the Chenango Canal in New York state. On her first trip she encountered soldiers from the 153rd New York Regiment, who urged her to sign up. The enlistment bounty of $152.00 would have been more than a year’s wages, even if Sarah continued civilian work as a male, and so was a great enticement.
Sarah told the recruiters she was 21 and on August 30, 1862, signed up under the name of Lyons Wakeman. Her regiment was stationed in Washington, as one of many, to guard the Capital from the surrounding hostile territory.
In her frequent letters home, she asked her family not to be ashamed of her for the choices she’d made. She also sent money home on a regular basis, much more than she could have earned as a civilian. In February 1864, the regiment was transferred to the field to take part in the ill-fated Red River Campaign. By the end of the campaign, Sarah developed chronic diarrhea and ended up at a regimental hospital.
She died on June 19, 1864, never having been discovered.
Like Sarah, most of the women who disguised themselves as men to serve in the army were lower class, or immigrants, who had little education. Sarah is unique, however, in that she could read and write and, as a result, left her legacy of letters so we’d have the opportunity to see why a woman would choose to hide her identity to serve her country.
For more information on Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, read An Uncommon Soldier, by Lauren Cook Burgess, Oxford University Press, ISBN-0-19-512043-6
Excerpt from The Christmas Ball
Sara breathed deeply, put at ease by the woman’s demeanor. She hadn’t met many big city folks before, and the few she had looked down their noses at a simple farm girl who wore boys’ britches. “Only if you’ll call me Sara,” she said.
Mary glanced at her brother and sighed. “She’s lovely.” She waved her arm toward the doorway she’d emerged from. “Please, both of you come into the parlor. Greta will take your coats and hats.”
A young blonde woman wearing a plain brown dress and apron, strode down the hall.
“Greta, if you please,” Mary said.
“Yes, ma’am.” The woman held out her arms. Sara shrugged out of her greatcoat and handed it to her. Doc Ellison did the same. The maid turned to Mary. “Will there be anything else, ma’am?”
“Yes, could you bring a tea tray into the parlor after you hang the coats?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The maid departed.
Mary ushered them into the parlor. Sara’s gaze was drawn to the brightly decorated Christmas tree set on a maple table. The mantel on the far side of the room was adorned with holly branches. Flames from the fireplace flickered invitingly, warming the small area and sending the scent of wood smoke mixed with pine throughout the room. A plush settee sat before the fire, with chairs on each side. Mary led them in and urged them to take a seat.
She settled on the settee with Kirk beside her. Mary took a seat on her left in one of the upholstered chairs. After Mary adjusted her skirts, her gaze swept over her.
“I’m sure I can find you an old dress of mine you can wear to dinner. I’ve had rooms fixed up for each of you if you care to spend the night.”
Sara turned to Doc Ellison, whose brows rose. “Well, I would be delighted to stay here rather than spend a night at the hospital. If Miss Brewster agrees to stay, then so shall I.”
His eyes twinkled. She bit her lip. Glancing around the cozy room, she decided it would be wonderful to spend the night in a room all her own. She’d never had that luxury. The alternative was spending the night in a small cramped room with two men, who she’d have to mask her identity from.
“I’d be happy to accept your hospitality, ma’am.”
She grinned. “Yes, Mary.”
Kirk’s sister clasped her hands together. “I’m so happy you’re both staying.”
The maid returned with the tea tray and set in on a table before the settee. Sara marveled at the little cakes on a platter beside the teapot.
After pouring the tea, their hostess waved her hand over the cakes. “Help yourself. I’m sure you’re tired of all that army food.” She wrinkled her delicately shaped nose. “After our tea, I’ll take Sara to her room and outfit her for dinner.”
Sipping her sweetened tea, she helped herself to a few small cakes, delighting in the cinnamon and vanilla flavor, but she worried what the rest of Doc Ellison’s family would think of her.
The Christmas Ball available from The Wild Rose Press http://www.thewildrosepress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=5026
For the chance to win a PDF copy of The Christmas Ball, plus a $10.00 gift certificate for The Wild Rose Press, be sure to leave a comment on this post. I’ll announce the winner in the comments section tomorrow and on my own blog http://susanmacatee.wordpress.com