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Pauline Cushman

Dates: June 10, 1833 - December 2, 1893

An actress, Pauline Cushman toured after the Civil War touting her exploits as a spy who had been captured and sentenced, saved three days before her hanging by the invasion of the area by Union troops. She was given an honorary commission as a major by President Lincoln.

Her story is that she became an agent when, appearing in Kentucky, she was offered money to toast Jefferson Davis in a performance. She took the money, toasted the Confederate President -- and reported the incident to a Union official, who saw that this act would make it possible for her to spy on Confederate camps. She was publicly fired from the theater company for toasting Davis, and then followed the Confederate troops, reporting back on their movements to Union forces. It was while spying in Shelbyville, Kentucky, that she was caught with documents giving her game away, and she was sentenced to hang.

She spent the rest of the war and the years after again as an actress, telling the story of her exploits. P.T. Barnum featured her for a time. She published an account of her life, especially her time as a spy, in 1865: The Life of Pauline Cushman. Most scholars agree that much of the biography is exaggerated.

She eventually returned to San Francisco. At her death, of an overdose of opium which may have been intentional suicide, she was buried by the Grand Army of the Republic in San Francisco with military honors.

Pauline Cushman on the web

About Pauline Cushman

  • Categories: female spy cross dresser female Civil War soldier
  • Organizational Affiliations: Union
  • Places: United States
  • Period: 19th century

Also on this site

Print Bibliography

  • Sarmiento, F.L. Life of Pauline Cushman, the Celebrated Union Spy and Scout: Comprising Her Early History; Her Entry into the Secret Service of the Army of the Cumberland, and Exciting Adventure with the Rebel Chieftains and Others While Within the Enemy's Lines; Together with Her Capture and Sentence to Death by General Bragg and Final Rescue by the Union Army under General Rosecrans. 1865.
  • Christen, Bill. Pauline Cushman, Spy of the Cumberland. Publication date: 2003.

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