Pauline Cushman was a spy for the Union during the Civil War, eventually promoted to the rank of Major as you will read below -
This brilliant and impulsive being, whose life, if it could be fully written, would sound like some tale of romance, is of French and Spanish descent, and was born in New Orleans, in 1833. As she grew to womanhood, the charms of her person and the impressiveness of her manners drew her irresistibly to the stage, where she has had a brilliant career.
When the war commenced, in 1861, she was playing an engagement in Cleveland, Ohio, and soon after went to Louisville, where her histrionic success continued, and was even greater than ever before. Early in the year 1863, while playing in Wood's Theatre, she received many attentions from paroled rebel officers, who were then in Louisville; and, with the desire of making that foolish and ill-timed parade of secession sentiment, which was so often considered true bravery among them, one of these officers proposed to her to offer, in the midst of one of her parts, a toast to Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy. She consented to do so; and, upon reflection, it occurred to Miss Cushman that here was afforded her an admirable opportunity of serving her country, and at the same time gratifying her own love of romance and wild adventure. She at once sought and obtained an interview with Colonel Moore, the provost marshal, who, after serious consultation, and becoming convinced of her genuine loyalty, received her proposition to enter the secret service of the United States.
She took the formal and solemn oath administered before entering that hazardous branch of the service; and the following night, in the midst of her part, and while the crowded theatre had all eyes riveted upon her graceful acting, proposed this astounding toast: "Here's to Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy. May the South always maintain her honor and her rights."
The sentiment fell upon the audience like the explosion of a shell. All the loyal persons present were at once mortified and indignant, while the southern sympathizers were delighted. Very prompt action was taken. Miss Cushman was formally expelled from the theatrical corps, and sent south, in the direction of her "sympathies," to be lionized as a victim of Yankee tyranny. She went to Nashville, and sought an interview with Colonel Truesdale, the chief of army police, who gave her the most minute instructions and details as to the information which she must endeavor to obtain in the rebel lines. Thus equipped, and with full confidence in luck and her mimetic talent, she started out on the Hardin Pike, as the people there call the road which leads from Nashville in the direction of Shelbyville. Within a few days, and amid a variety of adventures, she was able to collect many important items of information, with which she was about to return to Nashville, when for a time the run of good fortune was changed; and one night, while stopping at the house of a quiet farmer, by the name of Baum, she found herself under arrest, and was ushered into the presence of that renowned guerrilla and marauder, Jack Morgan. Jack had too much chivalry to be anything but civil to a prisoner so fair, young, and fascinating, and was truly profuse in his generosity as he was conducting her to Forrest's headquarters, offering the beautiful Pauline all his friendship, a magnificent diamond ring, and a silver-mounted revolver, and urging her to accept a position as aid-de-camp on his staff, as soon as she should be released.
Forrest she found a rougher custodian, and much less susceptible, than "Johnnie," as she familiarly called the other freebooter. Her first interview with him was a fine piece of melodrama, and would have excited applause and admiration in any theatre in the country.
"Well," said the hero of the card-table and the bowie knife, "I'm really glad to see you; I've been looking for you a long, time; but I've got this last shuffle, and intend to hold you. You've been here before, I take it -- know all the roads -- don't you? and all the bridle paths, and even the hog paths -- don't you?"
Our heroine, drawing herself to her full height, and flash in indignant scorn from her black eyes, exclaimed, --
"Sir, every word you utter is as false as your own traitorous heart! I've never been here before, and I should like to send a bullet through the man who is mean enough to make the charge."
The ruffian gazed on her a moment, and with the savage gleam of the eye that he afterwards wore at Fort Pillow, replied, "Yes, and I'd send one through you, if I could, if you dared to repeat the assertion." Then his admiration for pluck got the better of his temper, and he added: "Well, you've got good fighting stuff in you, if you are a woman."
In the sharp skirmish of cross-questioning which followed, her woman's wit enabled her to spring a doubt in the mind of the cautious desperado, and he turned her over to Provost Marshal General McKinstry, who, he assured her, was a humane and just man, and would investigate the charges made against her, and decide on them with fairness.
After a little more bandying of words, the fair Pauline was dispatched to the headquarters of General Bragg; and as she rode away, Johnnie Morgan bade her adieu in the following elegant vernacular: --
"Good-by; I hope we shall meet again, where we shall have something better than corn bread baked in ashes, and rot-gut whiskey at fifteen dollars a quart."
Some months after, she saw the great marauder under circumstances very different. He had been captured, in his famous raid north of the Ohio, and was confined, like any other felon, in the Penitentiary at Columbus, in prison stripe, and with hair dressed by the prison barber. Advancing to him, she held out her hand, and laughingly exclaimed, "How are you, Johnnie?" "Ah," replied the jolly rebel, "the boot is on the other foot now."
Bragg she found a different man from either of the cavalry chieftains; and her talk with him was not so spicy, nor so cheerful in its termination.
She saw before her a bony, angular, sharp-pointed man, without kindness or humanity, or any of the milder parts of human nature in his composition; of blunt address, impatient gestures, and heartless physiognomy.
Her colloquy with this cast-iron rebel ran somewhat as follows: --
Bragg. Of what country are you?
Pauline. I am of French and Spanish descent.
Bragg. Where were you born?
Pauline. In New Orleans.
Bragg. Your speech savors of the Yankee twang.
Pauline. Well, as an actress, I've been playing Yankee parts so long that I suppose I've caught the "twang."
Bragg. But to the point: you have important papers in your possession, and if they prove you to be a spy, nothing can save you from a little hemp.
Pauline (carelessly). Well, go on; root the whole thing up, if you like.
Bragg (picking up a package of letters). Without sending out any spies, I know what goes on at the Yankee head quarters better than the clerks there know.
Pauline. Suppose I am found guilty; what will you do with me?
Bragg. Why, you'll be hanged; that's all.
Pauline. Come, now, general, I don't think I'll be either useful nor ornamental dangling at the end of a rope. Won't you let me choose my method of dying?
Bragg. Well, really, I couldn't, as you might choose to die in your bed, in the natural way.
Pauline. Come, now, won't shooting do just as well? It wouldn't hurt quite so bad, you know.
This interview had given our light-hearted heroine an idea. She was soon after taken very ill, and seemed in a fair way to cheat the general out of his pleasant little amusement of hanging a female, for she was tried (or was so informed, at least), found guilty, and condemned. The execution was delayed only by her continued sickness. At the eleventh hour her fortune changed. As our heroine was lying on her cot one fine morning in the last days of June, feeling that she would soon be well enough to be hung, there were signs at the headquarters of the rebel general of sudden commotion; and, before she was in formed what it meant, the joyous sound of the Union bugles, playing the national airs, reached her sick room; and soon Rosecrans' advance guard was in town. Bragg had fled for the mountains, and she no longer felt the terrors of her unfortunate position.
General Garfield, in consideration of her long service, and suffering and danger, in the Union cause, and of two severe wounds, received while engaged in the secret service, conferred on the heroine the rank and title of major, by which she was afterwards commonly known.