ENG 11, Section: 1853
October 30, 2008
Getting to know Rosetta Wakeman
Personal letters allow the possibility of honestly knowing someone whom you’ve never had the opportunity of meeting. An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864 by Lauren Cook Burgess reveals this through a series of letters from a female Civil War Soldier called Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. Rosetta Wakeman was a young woman who left home in search of a new life. She enlisted in to the army during the Civil war hidden under the alias Private Lyons Wakeman. Through her letters Private Wakeman reveals her home life and reasons for leaving, along with her relationships, and dedication to her choices. There is an identity crisis she seems to go through, that can be seen through out her letters. Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman did not survive the war.
Rosetta Wakeman lived a farmer’s life. “I was glad to learn that you was agoing to work the Ham farm this summer and milk twenty cows.”(71) It’s apparent that she was knowledgeable of the farm and was use to hard work. But something about her life pushed her to leave. Something in her life did not satisfy her thirst for Adventure. “I can tell you what made me leave home. It was because I had got tired of stay[ing] in that neighborhood. I knew that I Could help you more to leave home than to stay there with you. So I left. I am not sorry that I left you. I believe that it will be all for the best yet. I believe that it will be all for the best yet. I believe that God will spare my life to come home once more.”(31) Rosetta was in search of adventure. She was restless and bored and was eager for a chance at independence.
Rosetta Wakeman reveals her deep relationship with God, family, and friends. “I believe that God will spare my life to come home once more.”(25) She makes a reference to God in each of her letters. She is religious and open in her belief. Rosetta seems to have had many conflicts between herself and members of her family. “I want to drop all old affrays and I want you to do the same and when i come home we will be good friends as ever.” (18) She apologizes in multiple letters to different members of her family. It’s as if she is making amends incase she didn’t make it home. She works for herself and for her family. “Don’t you ever ask me to lend you some money again in this world. If you do I won’t send it to you.” (53) Parents obviously asked to borrow money and she was insulted by it. They shouldn’t ask for a loan from her when she would give it to them freely. She makes it a point to send them money every chance she gets.
Private Wakeman reveals her dedication to her choices and family. She could have left home and forgotten her old life, but she hadn’t. She dept old ties and mended damaged ones. “I want you should forgive me of everthing that I ever done, and I will forgive you all the same.” (21) She was a woman disguised as a male soldier. On occasion she might have had a desire to go back home, but never did so. “I hope the day will come when we all can meet in this world once more but I can’t come home this winter, for the have let some go home and they haven’t come back yet. Now they won’t let any more go home out of my company.”(161) Rosetta Wakeman could have easily revealed her true identity and have been sent home but she didn’t. She stuck through it.
As a 21 year old young woman, who is still discovering herself. Pretending to be a male soldier in a world that is male dominated, it’s understandable that she may go through an identity crises. She is very conscious about signing her name in a letter dated December the 28/63 “Edwin R. Wakeman or Rosetta Wakeman.”(58) She’s happy to be independent, and is confident in her ability to survive but she has mixed emotions as fear creeps in. “I feel perfectly happy. If I go into a battle I shall be alright. It is what I have wish for a good while. I hope that God will spare my life. I don’t dread it at all. Don’t forget to pray for me. There has not a day pass since I left you but I have thought of home and have had appeal with God. Let God will be done on earth as in heaven. If it is God will for me to be killed here, it is my will to die.” (28) Rosetta and Lyons are both in this passage. One is afraid of death. The other willing is willing to walk into it. “When you think of me think where I am. It would make your hair stand out to be where I have been How would you like to be into the front rank and have the rear rank load fire their guns over you shoulder? I have been there my Self.” (26-27) Her experiences must have been full of destruction and chaos. The fact that she says this face whether it be man or woman. At first she made it a point to say that she would never return home.
Rosetta Wakeman’s letters offers an inspiring story. She managed to enter an unwelcoming world of violence, and male dominance, and successfully hid her identity until death. Rosetta wanted to experience the world and she was brave enough to go after what she wanted. She fought against the generalized ideal of a woman’s place, and proved to herself and many others that a woman can fight just as well if not better than a man. “Over to Carrol Prison they have got three women that is confined in their Rooms. One of them was a Major in the union army and she went into battle with her men. When Rebels bullets was a coming like a hail storm she rode her horse and gave orders to the men.”(44) She is inspired by this and recognizes them. She successful adapted into another world while never forgetting where she come from. Rosetta Wakeman may have lived a short life, but she fought gallantly and honorably for a life worth living.
Burgess, Lauren cook, Ed. An Uncommon soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862 – 1864, New York: Oxford UP 1994