We've begun a thread on women who fought in the Civil War and there are several women I would like to tell you about before we get to Sarah Edmonds and Loreta Janeta Valesquez. Today I'd like to tell you about Jennie Hodgers, alias Albert Cashier. While Jennie isn't the only woman to serve as a male during the Civil War, she is the record holder for longest documented service in a single unit, having served three years in the 95thIllinois Infantry Regiment. Jennie is interesting and different from other women in that she continued to live as a man after the war ended. She did household chores for the one time State Senator Ira Lish and it wasn't until after an unfortunate automobile accident that he discovered her true identity. Senator Lish accidentally hit her leg while he was backing up and called a doctor who upon examination discovered that Albert was in fact a woman. Jennie begged them not to reveal her identity. Instead, they helped her gain admission to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home at Quincy, Illinois. The commandant of the home was the only person who was told her secret. Jennie enjoyed her time there and reveled in telling of her war exploits.
Jennie, born in Ireland in 1844, stowed away onboard a ship bound for the United States disguised as a man. She joined the 95thIllinois Infantry Regiment in September 1862, at age 18, as Albert Cashier whose occupation was listed as farmer. It seems it wasn't hard for Jennie to assume a man's identity after her trip to the United States.
In January, 1863, the 95thIllinois headed south for Mississippi. The unit's mission was to support General Grant's campaign against Vicksburg. They landed at Miliken's Bend, fifteen miles above Vicksburg on January 26thand marched to Grand Gulf encountering the enemy along the way. Captain Bush, the unit's commander, often picked Albert for foraging and skirmishing duty, Albert's small size and dependability were great assets. On one such skirmish, Albert was captured by Confederate soldiers but managed to seize a gun from the guard, knock him down and flee to safety. Jennie's career as Albert would have been short lived had she not escaped.
On May 18, 1863 General Grant launched an unsuccessful attack on Vicksburg and subsequently ordered the men to withdraw. He again ordered an attack on 22 May. Civil War historian J. T. Headley, reported:
"All along the frowning fortifications, there streamed an incessant sheet of fire, bursting through the thick smoke, on the brave, uncovered ranks below, that still pressed dauntlessly forward, heedless of the destruction that wasted them". For two fearful hours, they struggled desperately to reach this blazing vortex, and quench its deadly fires, but struggled in vain"[and] the bleeding army was at length compelled to fall back, and abandon the struggle."
Casualties from the attacks increased and the tropical climate caused fatigue and disease to run rampant. Unable to overrun the Vicksburg defenses, Grant put the city under a siege, that lasted until July 4th, 1863 and forced the Confederate garrison to surrender when starvation and disease greatly reduced their ranks. The Vicksburg monument to Illinois soldiers includes Albert Cashier among the 36,000 names of those who fought there.
The 95thIllinois participated in the battle at Brice's Cross Roads on June 10th, 1864, the battle of Nashville, Tennessee, December, 1864 and the siege of Mobile, Alabama, in the spring of 1865. Mobile surrendered two days before Lincoln's assassination, April 12, 1865 and the survivors of the 95thmustered out after three years of hard service. Albert was never wounded and after forty battles and skirmishes he and his fellow soldiers returned to Illinois and a hero's welcome. The fact that he was never wounded was a major reason for his true identity not being discovered.
After mustering out, Albert settled in Saunemin, Illinois, keeping the male identity he had assumed during the war, and worked as a farm hand and handyman. A history of the Soldiers' Home documented "he [Cashier] was well liked, kept himself clean and neat, marched in patriotic parades in complete Civil War uniform, chewed a little tobacco, and was considered an asset to the community."
Albert applied for a Government pension on February 13, 1890 but because he refused to take the required medical examination was denied. He applied again later claiming three-fourths disability and was approved. In 1907, Albert began collecting twelve dollars a month.
Although a few people knew Albert's real identity, it didn't reach the public until 1913. Albert gradually became erratic and difficult to manage. On March 28, 1913 he was deemed "insane", if you can consider "no memory, noisy at times, poor sleeper, and feeble" (Hall, p 24) as symptoms of insanity and sent to the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane The next day the Washington Sunday Star headlined the story:
POSED AS MAN 60 YEARS
"Albert" Cashier, Who Served in
Civil War, Committed to
The story accompanying the headline told of Jennie's birth in Ireland, how she came to America as a stowaway and of her military service during the Civil War. It also described her postwar years and of her time at the Soldiers' Home. When her true sex was discovered she refused to talk about her family and didn't reveal her real name until later.
In May follow-ups by other newspapers widely spread her story. Without knowing it or even trying to become one she was a national celebrity. A Quincy Whig reporter visiting her in her room wrote:
"The little woman does not know that the story of her secret has now been chronicled in every newspaper over the country, and is still under the belief that Colonel Anderson and one or two attachés of the hospital, together with ex-Senator Lish, are the only ones who know that she is a woman. She chatted freely yesterday with the reporter but was elusive of answering pointed questions". Before the story of the revelation of the sex of Cashier was carried by the Whig, inmates of the home did not know that the little old veteran was a woman. Some of them suspicioned that she was, and had heard rumors that a woman man soldier was harbored some place at the home, but they did not know that it was Cashier. Since the story of her extraordinary life appeared in print, many pictures of her have been taken and probably at the present time one-third of the veterans in the home have photographs which will be preserved by their children and grandchildren as souvenirs."
When word got out that Albert Cashier was in truth a female, comrades in the 95thRegimental Association talked about her at conventions, showing pictures of her as Albert and sharing personal stories of her exploits. Her comrades thought highly of her and it showed and the fact that she was indeed a female made no difference to them. According to historian Rodney O. Davis, "The veterans were protective of their fellow soldier, but that protection was simply due to one fallen on hard times, on the basis of past association and past performance".bonds were even closer among those who had fought and bled together as members of the same units."
Albert's bravery and fortitude was stressed rather than the issue of gender. Everyone thought of him as nerveless in combat and tireless on the long marches. Author Gerhard P. Clausius wrote:
"He was the equal of any in the company".In spite of his lack of height and brawn, he was able to withstand"the problems of an infantryman as well as his comrades who were bigger and brawnier. If a husky comrade assisted Albert in handling a heavy assignment [one which required lifting or pushing], Albert would volunteer to help with his chores of washing clothes or replacing buttons; Albert seemed especially adept at those tasks so despised by the infantryman."
Former First Sergeant Charles W. Ives visited "Al" at Watertown and said, "I left Cashier, the fearless boy of twenty-two at the end of the Vicksburg campaign. When I went to Watertown, I found [her] a frail woman of 70, broken, because on discovery, she was compelled to put on skirts. They told me she was as awkward as could be in them. One day she tripped and fell, hurting her hip. She never recovered." Jennie during one visit with Ives, said, "Lots of boys enlisted under the wrong name. So did I. The country needed men, and I wanted excitement."
Ives remembered one time when he and Albert were separated from the rest of the unit and were too outnumbered to go anywhere. They stayed protected by fallen trees with the enemy hidden in front of them. Ives recalls, "She hopped on top of the log and called; 'Hey! You darn rebels, why don't you get up where we can see you?" Another time Albert climbed a tall tree to return the Union flag that was shot down by Confederates. Ives, not knowing that Albert was a girl, assigned her to picket duty and to carry water as all the men did.
Jennie received special care at Watertown and on October 10, 1915 died there at the age of 71. The Saunemin post of the Grand Army of the Republic gave her a burial with full military honors, wearing her Union uniform, and with a flag draped casket. The inscription on her tombstone read: ALBERT D. J. CASHIER, CO. G, 95 ILL. INF.
By the time of her death, Albert Cashier's pension had grown to around five hundred dollars. After funeral and burial costs were taken out there was still almost three hundred dollars in her estate. Within two months after her death, an Irish family named Rooney, some of whom were in the United States, filed claims to be Jennie's heirs. They claimed to be nieces and nephews of Jennie Hodgers. Michael Rooney, in Dundalk, Ireland insisted that Jennie Hodgers was his mother's half-sister. Apparently the claims could not be validated and in 1914 the estate was turned over to the county treasurer.
What a wonderful tribute to this lady that even after her true identity was revealed her former comrades in arms supported her, talked about her at their regiment meetings, and visited her at the home. And then the final tribute a full military burial. In their minds nothing had changed. She was still "Albert Cashier"!!
Photos of "Albert Cashier" in 1864 and then in later life:
Hall, Richard. "Patriots in Disguise Women Warriors of the Civil War" New York, Paragon House,1993.