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Cushman after the war





Pauline Cushman (1833–1893)

In 1862, Pauline Cushman was a struggling actress employed in a Louisville playhouse. In a play that required her character to give a toast, she was dared on one occasion to toast Jefferson Davis. She agreed, but gained the permission of the federal provost marshal first. Perceived now as a self-proclaimed Southern sympathizer, Cushman was expelled from the theater. In 1863, a new opportunity presented itself, the chance to spy for the Union. In lace and petticoats, she became a camp follower of the Confederate army in Kentucky and Tennessee. Her allure and beauty aided her in obtaining information that would be of value to the federal army. Yet the frustrated actress soon proved to be wanting in spying as well. She aroused suspicions and was finally caught with secret papers. General Bragg had her tried, and a military court sentenced her to hang, whereupon her health broke and her sentence was delayed. Yet military operations intervened. Bragg moved his army and left Cushman behind. Rescued by Yankees at Shelbyville, Tennessee, she traveled north to much acclaim. President Lincoln made her an honorary major, and wearing her new uniform, she lectured about her clandestine adventures behind rebel lines.

After the war, Cushman’s fame mostly ebbed. She tried acting again and married for the second and third times. Her last marriage ended in separation. For an illness, she began taking opium and died of an intentional overdose at sixty. Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic paid tribute by burying her with military honors in their cemetery in San Francisco.

Mathew Brady Studio (active 1844–1883)
Collodian glass-plate negative
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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