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Whitley County native storyteller Carol Knarr tells the tale of a woman's experience on the Civil War battlefield

(Talk of the Town photos by Jennifer Zartman Romano) Above, Bill Heinbaugh listens intently to gripping story of a woman who dressed as a man and fought in the Civil War. Below, Gabe Tippmann's eyes are wide with wonder as he hears of the gruesome scene on the battlefield. Beneath, storyteller Carol Knarr exudes emotion as she tells her tales.

By Jennifer Zartman Romano


Her face gripped with emotion, the audience was fixated as storyteller Carol Knarr shared the dynamic tale of Sarah Emma Edmonds.
Edmonds fought in the Civil War, ventured as a spy and experienced life for two years as "Frank Thompson."
Knarr brought the real and somewhat fictionalized account of Edmonds' experience to life Wednesday night during the annual Whitley County Historical Society spring dinner at the Eagles Nest Event Center in Columbia City, with an intimate crowd eager to hear the story.
Knarr estimates that as many as 500 women fought in the Civil War dressed as men -- and for a variety of reasons. She said the figure could be higher, but an accurate count is difficult to asertain because many names were removed from roll books once their true sex was discovered.
Edmonds, a Canadian, fought with the 2nd Regiment of the Michigan Volunteers, serving largely as a battlefield nurse and later as a spy. Ironically, her soft features and delicate shape lead comrades to see her as "potentially" fit to dress as a woman and be a spy in the process -- though they believed her to be a young male. She was able to keep the secret by sleeping, bathing and using the restroom at odd times and far off, hidden places.
"Emma has really become a part of me," Knarr said, adding that she's added to Edmonds' story a bit in the storytelling process, interjecting her own feelings and emotions. "So much of the story has become a story to me. A lot of it has become befuddled."
Knarr loosely bases the story on research she's done of Edmonds. She has many accounts of experiences Edmonds had during the two years she was in the war and she said that, depending on the audience, the shifts around which stories she'll tell at an event.
"I want to be the one to tell her story as a woman telling another woman's story," she said.
Knarr is a 1981 South Whitley High School graduate and a professional storyteller.

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