The layered fashion look of the Civil War era allowed female operatives to use their clothing for operational purposes, including hiding secret written communications inside the many tucks and folds characterizing the garments.

emmeline pigott
Emeline Pigott
Photo Credit:
University of San Diego

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Emeline Pigott (1836 - 1916)

  • Confederate agent who lived on a farm along the North Carolina coast.
  • Covertly gathered and distributed mail, food, medicine, and clothing for Confederate troops.
  • Hosted socials for Union soldiers and local fishermen; these parties provided valuable intelligence concerning Federal military and naval installations.
  • Concealed pieces of paper with intelligence information, along with a variety of contraband items, within the folds of her clothing and pockets of her hoop skirt; at times, carried as much as 30 extra pounds.
  • Came under suspicion in 1865 as a spy.
  • When unexpectedly confronted, was able to swallow some incriminating documents she was relaying; other hidden objects were discovered in her skirt.
  • Imprisoned for spying and faced the death penalty; was eventually released with no explanation.
  • Activities were carefully monitored by Union forces during the remainder of the war.

Sarah Emma Edmonds (1842-1898)
  • Using the alias Frank Thompson, enlisted in the Second Michigan Infantry disguised as a man.
  • Performed espionage missions behind Confederate lines in Yorktown.
  • After coloring her head, hands, and arms with silver nitrate, infiltrated enemy lines as a black man.
  • During one three-day mission, gathered information on troop locations,
    movements, and military supplies.
Sarah Emma Edmonds
Sara Emma Edmonds
Photo Credit: State of Michigan


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