Sarah E. Thompson Bacon Papers, 1859-1898

Approximately 137 items spanning from 1855 to 1904 detailing the experiences of Sarah E. Thompson during and after the Civil War

About the Digital Collection

Browse this collection: https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/thompson/

The collection of Sarah Thompson Bacon Papers consists of 137 items spanning from 1855 to 1904. The collection centers around the murder of Thompson Bacon's husband, her intelligence work for the Union army which led to the defeat of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, and her subsequent post-war struggles against poverty, largely as a single mother.

Letters among Sarah and various family members give insights to her everyday life as a working mother and the supportive relationships she enjoyed with her sister and her second husband Orville Bacon's family. Sarah Thompson Bacon's own handwritten account of Morgan's defeat details her spying activities. Her account is further substantiated with letters from several Union officers who testify to her great service as a Union spy, a hospital nurse, and a devoted patriot to the cause. There are numerous letters from soldiers to Sarah after she fled north for her safety after Morgan's defeat.

Bacon's attempts to exploit her Civil War services in order to raise money to support her family are well-documented. Letters to Sarah from publishers and various townsfolk show that she gave numerous public lectures and tried to publish her story during the late 1860s. An amazing series of appointment and layoff notices in the late 1870s reflect her employment in a series of temporary positions within various government departments. Several war officers write letters of recommendations in an attempt to gain more solid employment for her. Frustration with low wages, frequent lay offs, and single motherhood culminate in a passionate letter to her employer where she pleads her war service should make her worthy of better treatment.

During this time period there are also documents supporting her bid for a pension for her war services. Testimonials from war officers are gathered in her favor. Letters to and from family members reflect her struggle to get assistance from elected government officials to represent her case. Eventually a bill is introduced and passed in 1897 which gives her a pension allowance of $12 per month for her services as a hospital nurse.


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