They Fought Like Demons
In the summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln called for more soldiers to enlist to put down the rebellion. All through out Illinois, many men heeded the call. For one young Irish immigrant living in Belvidere, Illinois, she too wanted her own piece of excitement in the grandeur of the Civil War. Jennie Hodgers, all of 18 at the time, signed up to join the Illinois 95th Infantry Regiment being put together in nearby Rockford on August 6 of 1862. Hodgers used the name Albert D.J. Cashier and was given the rank of private. Hodgers said, “The country needed men, and I wanted excitement.” She is one of over 400 documented cases of women serving as a soldier in the Civil War.
Little is known of the life of Albert Cashier before the war. A few facts gathered at a deposition shortly before her death reveal the life the young immigrant had before the war. Jennie Hodgers was born December 25, 1843 in Clogherhead, Ireland in County Louth. Somewhere in the late 1850s, or early 1860s, Jennie came to America and settled in Belvidere, Illinois working at a shoe factory. The historical record does not have a lot of documentation on her. On her enrollment forms, she was said to have a light complexion with auburn hair and blue eyes. She was five feet tall and weighed 110 pounds. In those days, no medical exam was required to enlist. This fact probably helped to reveal her gender.
The Illinois 95th Regiment began by training at Camp Fuller in Rockford before leaving the confines of northern Illinois to head south that fall down to Cairo. The regiment traveled by rail on the Illinois Central. There were 988 in the regiment when it left Rockford in mid-November. The regiment was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee. The regiment reached Grand Junction, Tennessee on November 21, 1862. Over the next three years, the Illinois 9th Regiment saw action in 40 places in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama including the Siege at Vicksburg in 1863.
For Cashier, all accounts that can be found point to her being a good soldier. One rumor has her being captured by the Confederacy. But she quickly escaped before she could have been found out. August 16,1865, the company was disbanded near the Gulf of Mexico. Cashier returned to Belvidere for a while before moving to Saunemin, Illinois, near Joliet. It was there that the historical record finds Albert D.J. Cashier.
However, it took her until 1907 to complete the process. The US Government required a medical exam to complete the process. Somehow Cashier got it done.
In November of 1910, Cashier was doing odd jobs for State Senator Ira Lish. Unbeknownst to Lish, when he backed up his car one morning he did not see Cashier working because of her diminutive stature. The resulting accident broke her leg and caused Cashier’s identity to be compromised. Somehow, she convinced the doctor not to reveal her true identity.
The end of life for Cashier was not pleasant. Racked with dementia, she was placed in Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Quincy, Illinois. Cashier was admitted as a man. However, in 1914, her condition continued to deteriorate. She was transferred to the State Hospital for the Insane in East Moline, Illinois. It was here that Cashier was discovered to be a female. She was forced to wear dresses. Reluctantly, she gave in to the demands. However, word leaked of her gender and the resulting news captured the attention of people across the nation.
One newspaper (The Hartford Republican, June 6, 1913) said the following upon meeting Cashier,
I had expected to meet an amazon. A woman who had fought in the death grapple of a nation and had lived and toiled as a man through half a century should be big, strong and masculine. And when I entered her hospital ward there rose and came to meet me, in her faded soldier’s uniform, just a little frail, sweet-faced, old-lady, who might be anybody’s grandmother.
Throughout the early part of 1915, Cashier gave accounts of her life as a man. Many of her former comrades were surprised at the news but somehow supported her by protesting her treatment. When Cashier died that fall, she was buried in her uniform and given a military funeral. She was buried in Saunemin with a simple marker. That marker was replaced with a more elaborate one a few years ago.
For most of the 400 women who served in the Civil War, most of them returned to live as women after the war. Cashier did not. Her desire to live as a male in a male dominated world gave her privileges she could never have had as a woman at that time including voting, certain jobs, and status in society. It is truly a remarkable story for the time period. I have always thought Cashier’s life would make a great movie.
For further reading:
The History of the Illinois 95th Infantry Regiment: http://www.archive.org/stream/ahistoryninetyf00woodgoog#page/n18/mode/2up