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Pauline Cushman

Pauline Cushman

June 10, 1833 - December 2, 1893

Miss Major Pauline Cushman

I lived for time in New Orleans, observing Creole gentility and aristocracy. But I grew up on the frontier of Michigan. I learned to ride a horse straddle. I learned to handle both a row boat and an Indian canoe, and to shoot a rifle and a bow and arrow. The


Indians called me “Laughing Breeze.” I married and moved to Ohio, thinking to spend the rest of my days taking care of my family and keeping house. I was barely 21 when my husband died, leaving me with two small children, who all-too-soon followed their dear father to the grave. Left on my own, I had to earn a living. I chose to be an actor.

For most people, the above list would be enough adventure for a lifetime. Pauline Cushman was definitely not “most people.” Her adventure was only beginning! Following the scandalous theatre life in 19th century America, Pauline was living at a theatrical boarding house in Louisville, Kentucky, being squired about by handsome young Confederate officers, certain of delivering the city, indeed the entire commonwealth, to the southern cause. She was offered $300 in greenbacks to change a toast in a play to, “Here’s to Jefferson Davis and the southern confederacy. May the south always defend her rights and honor!

There was thunderous silence in the theatre after I spoke, then shrieks and oaths reverberating. I reported next day to the provost marshal, who had sent me on the mission to begin with, and I learned that my career as a spy had begun.

Pauline Cushman continued her acting career, traveling south to perform, and visiting many army camps, ostensibly looking for her brother, who was indeed in the Confederate army. Her observations, however, were conveyed to the United States army. Whether or not her intelligence proved decisive in any battles, she risked her life to obtain it. In only eighteen months, her luck ran out in Clarksville, Tennessee. Caught with detailed notes of troop strength and deployment, she shrugged it off as simply personal notes to help her remember where she had been and make amusing tales to tell over teacups. She could not, however, plausibly explain why she had the notes concealed in the sole of her boot!

She has the distinction, if not honor, of being the only woman in the north or south to be sentenced to hang for espionage during the War Between the States. Living to tell the tale is only part of her story!

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