She became too sure of herself. She’d been told not to write anything down but to memorize everything which should be easy for an actress used to memorizing text. But she made drawings of some secret Confederate sites, stole a map from a Confederate officer and put them between the inner and outer sole of her boots.
She was caught, taken to Shelbyville, Tenn, tried as a spy, found guilty and sentenced to hang. She was good enough as an actress to pretend to be very ill. The Confederates didn’t want to hang an obviously ill woman so they postponed the execution until she recovered. It was said that the Confederates thought people would be disappointed if they hanged a dying woman. The truth was more likely that enough southern manners remained that they thought it unseemly to hang her at that point.
Then when General Rosecrans Union Army of the Cumberland started his advance toward the Confederates where Pauline was being kept the Confederates pulled out without her because they didn’t want an ill woman to hamper their departure. She was rescued by Union troops.
In recognition of the service she gave to the Union Army, General James A. Garfield (future president of the United States) awarded her the honorary rank of Major.
After the war, she tried acting again but was not so successful. Then P.T. Barnum put her on a tour dressed in the uniform of an Army Major. The stories she told were thought to be a bit embellished.
The war experience, however, had its effect on her. A biographer wrote, “Fits of depression would seize her and great tears would steal unconsciously down her marble-like features.” She married twice more, both of her children died, she became ill and started taking opium. She deliberately took an overdose when she was 60 years old in 1893. But she wasn’t forgotten by the Union. The California Grand Army of the Republic buried her with full military honors in their San Francisco cemetery.