On March 15, 1864, Lyons Wakeman marched with her unit some 700 miles from Washington, DC to Louisiana to take part in the Red River Campaign. The 153rd New York Infantry Regiment saw action at the Battle of Pleasant Hill on April 9, 1864. The Union army technically won but was forced to retreat back down the Red River near Natchitoches, fighting another engagement at Monett’s Bluff on April 23rd.
In a letter home, Wakeman wrote, “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…”*
Because of tainted water, many soldiers of that time period who survived the battles, came down with dysentery. On May 3, Wakeman reported to the regimental hospital, suffering from chronic diarrhea. She was transferred to the hospital in New Orleans and on June 19, 1864, she died.
Yes, I wrote she died.
Lyons Wakeman was the name Sarah Rosetta Wakeman used to enlist and fight in the US Civil War. She was one of 400 women believed to have done so. They joined for many of the same reasons men did – adventure and opportunity, the money, love of country and/or love of another. Wakeman was impressed by the signing bonus of $152 and that she was able to send money home to help pay her family’s debts while still having spending money of her own.
She was also one of the 620,000 soldiers who died during the conflict. Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease.
She was buried under the name Private Lyons Wakeman in Section 52, plot 4066 at the Chalmette National Cemetery outside of New Orleans. Only when her letters home were discovered in an attic was her identity revealed. They give great insight into the daily life of a civil war soldier, who just happened to be a woman and who “could drill as well any man.”*
My friend, Charlotte, and I drove over to the cemetery the other day to find her burial place. It was a cold day but a good time to learn a little more about our history and how many different ways women contributed to the making of these United States.
I thank them all for their service.
*The blog title and quotes come from her letters home. Read more in An Uncommon Soldier by Lauren Cook Burgess