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An Actress Got The Role Of A Lifetime When She Became A Spy For The Union Army

As a bloody civil war threatened to tear America apart, Pauline Cushman risked life and limb to help the Union Army to victory in the South. So why have so few people heard her name today? An actress-turned-spy who escaped certain death at the hands of the Confederates, she deserves her time in the spotlight as a true heroine of the 19th century.

Clandestine missions

Starting her career on the stage, Cushman accepted a daring bet that would change the course of her life for good: she was persuaded to spy on behalf of the Union.

True to the challenge, she carried out clandestine missions right under the noses of the Confederate Army. And even when she was caught red-handed, her adventure was only just beginning.

Harriet Wood

Arriving into the world in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1833 Cushman — whose real name was Harriet Wood — was the daughter of a French immigrant and a Spanish merchant.

Her maternal grandfather, reports claim, was one of the soldiers who had fought alongside Napoleon Bonaparte. But it was the young girl herself who would grow up to bring military glory to the family.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

When Cushman was still just a young girl, her parents relocated more than 1,000 miles north, settling in the town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. There, they set up a new trading post. 

Growing up with many brothers, she soon learned how to fire a gun and ride a horse, spending much of her time exploring the rivers and streams surrounding the family property.

Dreams of the stage

But Cushman was harboring far bigger dreams. And when she was just 17 years old she left Grand Rapids and headed straight for the bright lights of New York City.

There, she hoped to make a name for herself as an actress. In the end, though, she only stayed in the Big Apple for a year before returning to her birthplace of New Orleans.