According to the Civil War trust website, there are over 400 documented cases of women disguising themselves as men in order to fight in the Civil War. The man known as Albert Cashier was really Jennie Irene Hodgers and became the most famous of these brave women.
Jennie Hodgers was born on Christmas Day in 1843 in Ireland (or England). Jennie didn’t share much about her early life but history tells us that in 1862 she lived in Belvidere, Illinois. Information on her circumstances is vague but it has been stated in many places that Jennie already dressed as a man long before signing up to fight as a soldier during the Civil War. On August 6, 1862, Jennie changed her name to Albert Cashier and enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry in Rockford, Illinois. Albert’s records stated that though he was slight of stature, he was a fit and good soldier. Fellow soldiers noticed that Albert didn’t like to bunk with anyone and always kept his shirt buttoned right up to the neck even in the hottest of weather.
Albert served with the 95th Illinois regiment for the entire Civil War. This regiment fought in several key battles including VIcksburg, the Battle of Nashville and the Red River Campaign. Though records again are vague about Albert’s actions during the war, two stories were later shared. The first took place at Vicksburg when Albert was captured while on a reconnaissance mission. Apparently, Albert overpowered his captor, taking his gun and escaped by outrunning him. There were no further details including if the captor ever heard that Albert was actually a female.
Another story portraying Albert’s bravery took place during another battle. When the regiment’s flag was shot down by enemy fire, Albert grabbed the flag, and while enemy bullets buzzed all around him, climbed a tree and tied the flag a high branch.
Albert stayed with the regiment until they were all mustered out in August 1865. The regiment had lost 289 men to fighting and disease during the war.
Unlike the other women who donned men’s clothes and fought in the Civil War, Jennie didn’t revert to life as a woman when she returned home after the fighting. She continued to live as Albert Cashier, settling in Saunemin, Illinois. Albert found and worked many jobs including farm hand, cemetery worker, and lamp lighter to name a few. He collected a pension from the war and even voted in elections.
In November of 1910, disaster struck when Albert was hit by a car. It was at this time that Jennie’s secret was finally revealed. The treating doctor and the hospital agreed to keep Albert’s secret and he was sent to the Soldier and Sailor’s Home in Quincy, Illinois to recuperate. Again, the staff agreed not to divulge the truth. It was not until Albert showed signs of dementia and was sent to the state hospital for the insane in the spring of 1914 that the whole story came to light.
In the state hospital Albert once again became Jennie and even though she put up a tough fight, for the first time in over 50 years, she was forced into a dress. Some stories say that Jennie was so unaccustomed to wearing the skirts that they would lead to her death. She supposedly tripped over the skirts and broke her hip. This and her advancing dementia caused the death of Jennie Irene Hodgers.
To say that the men in Abert’s former regiment were surprised by the information of Albert’s real identity would be an understatement. But these men who had lived with Albert and fought next to him, rallied to once more stand by his side. They protested the treatment of Albert in the state institution.
The men in the 95th Illinois made sure that when Jennie died on October 10, 1915 that she was laid to rest as Albert Cashier. Buried with full military honors in his full dress uniform and under the name of Albert Cashier with his military ranking listed on his stone. Eventually, in the 1970’s another tombstone bearing the name of Jennie Hodgers was placed next to the Albert Cashier one.
Though, as mentioned earlier, Jennie was not the only woman who would leave the usual trappings that belonged to the fairer sex to fight as men, she did become one of the most remembered. Some of the others were wounded and their secrets revealed during the war, some later shared their secret when the war ended. There were others who secret came out when their lifeless bodies were prepared for burial. A few of these tragic cases were not found out until years after they died, when their bodies were dug up from the battlefield to be laid to rest either in their hometowns or national cemeteries.
Countless stories have been told of the bravery shown by both men and women during the tragic Civil War. But these women who were willing to hide their true identity to stand next to men and boys and face the hail of bullets and cannon fire all while worrying that their secret would be revealed, deserve to have their stories told as well.
It speaks volumes that Albert Cashier’s fellow soldiers respected him enough to fight for his right to be buried under the name he chose for himself in life. It didn’t matter to them that Albert was really Jennie. They knew that bravery doesn’t belong only to a certain sex and they all knew that whether he was Jennie or Albert, he was willing to sacrifice everything in the defense of his country.
Copyright © 2015, Kathi Kresol