Long, long ago in a city by a river – actually, it was Louisville where I was born and raised, and it was quite a long time ago too, that my mother told me about Pauline Cushman. Now 70 years later I’m wondering how my mother knew about Pauline. Maybe her story had been published in the Louisville Courier Journal.
Not long ago Rob Cox asked about women fighting in the Civil War. After reading his comments about the movie “Saving Private Ryan” in his movie review about “Gravity” in last Thursday’s Daily News I realized that he has a “feel” for history. What Cox wrote was, “I was absolutely pinned to my theatre seat with awe and horror and new-found respect for the men who carried out the D-day invasion.” I bet he’d write a fine story about the memories of a local veteran or two.
Pauline Cushman (real name Harriet Wood) was born in New Orleans in 1833. She moved to New York where she became an actress. During the Civil War, while playing at the Woods Theater in Louisville, she got the opportunity to spy for the Union.
Kentucky was a border state and it wasn’t always easy to know who sympathized with the North or who sympathized with the South. When two Confederate officers bribed Pauline to toast Jefferson Davis she told Union officers who thought she should accept because it might help them identify southern sympathizers.
So Pauline stopped her next performance to lift a glass and say, “Here’s to Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy.” The place went wild. Confederate sympathizers cheered - Union sympathizer’s booed. She became a favorite with Confederate troops and helped the Union by letting them know when Confederates were shipping supplies and who the Confederate spies were and so on.