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The incredible story of an Irish woman who lived as a man – and fought as an American soldier

Soldier Albert Cashier, who fought notably bravely in the American Civil War, was born Jennie Hodgers in Co Louth in 1843.

Ella Hassett

Here is the story of Albert Cashier/Jennie Hodgers, the sixth instalment of NWCI’s “Sharing Stories of Women in History” series…

YES, YOU ARE reading both a male and female name on this week’s article. This is the incredible story of an Irish woman who lived as a man, eventually becoming a Union soldier in the American Civil War.

It was a difficult story to write, as I did not want to offend anyone by making assumptions regarding gender identity. My thanks to the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (www.teni.ie) for their advice on approaching this challenge.

Albert Cashier [Jennie Hodgers] (c.1843 – 1915), Soldier

Albert Cashier (born Jennie Hodgers) was a veteran of the American Civil War, which was fought to decide whether the United States was to be a group of sovereign states or the unified nation it is today. Cashier’s story is an unusual one, an Irish woman who began a new life in the United States as a man, in the guise of one of the most iconic male roles in history – a soldier.

This story is a difficult one to tell, as there is no written evidence to indicate that Cashier identified as being a male although born a female. It is clear that Cashier decided to dress as a man once arriving in America and it certainly brought about advantages that would not have been available to women at the time. For the purposes of this article, while acknowledging that Hodgers may have identified as a man privately, I will examine her remarkable life both as a woman and as a man. It is the story of two distinct individuals within the same physical body, the female Jennie Hodgers and male Albert J.D. Cashier.

Jennie Hodgers was born in Clougherhead, Co Louth on 25 of December 1843, but further details about her early life are unknown. She emigrated to America at some point before her enlistment date and it has been suggested that her transition to Albert J.D. Cashier occurred during this period.

We cannot define her motives for becoming a man, but it is clear that the lack of opportunities for women in mid-nineteenth century America was stark. Middle class women could gain an education and earn a small income, but lower class women had few options outside marriage. As an illiterate Irish woman (Cashier signed all documents with an ‘X’), without family in America, her options were limited. Although life as a soldier was fraught with danger, it provided a good salary, and if you completed a full service, a military pension.

Being a man also afforded freedoms that women were not entitled to, such as voting and owning property. On the 6th August 1862, Cashier enlisted for the 95th Illinois Voluntary Infantry of the Union army and was noted as the smallest soldier in the row, at 5ft tall.

Cashier was noted for extreme bravery in combat

Over the next three years Cashier fought in some of the major battles in Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee, serving a full enlistment. In Blanton and Cook’s book ‘They Fought Like Demons’ they provide evidence for at least 400 women disguising themselves as soldiers and going to war.

For many, it was to escape the drudgery of domestic life or to follow a husband or son into battle. Many, like Cashier, remained undiscovered, as there was no bodily examination of new recruits and their baggy service uniforms disguised female forms. Menstruation, a difficult female facet to hide, was often disrupted by the hardship of army life, such as poor nutrition and strenuous physical activity.

Fellow comrades often joked about Cashier’s lack of facial hair and short stature, but ultimately never realised that he was born a woman, mainly due to his extreme bravery in combat. One fellow soldier, C.W. Ives, remembered Cashier climbing a tree to replace a Union flag that had been shot down, putting himself in the line of sniper fire, while another spoke of the time he jumped onto high barricades to taunt the enemy.

When Cashier’s sex was discovered many years later, his comrades from the 95th rallied around him, testifying that he was a brilliant and brave soldier who stood beside them through many dangerous engagements, such as the Red River Campaign, the Siege of Vicksburg and the occupation of Mobile.

After the war 

Incredibly, Cashier survived the war and mustered out on 17 August 1865 choosing to continue life as a man. This decision meant that he could live independently, earn a living and even vote. He eventually settled in Saunemin in 1869 and earned a living as a general handyman.

He worked for and was particularly close to the Chesbro family, who built him a small house and set aside a space in the family plot for his burial. He applied for and received a military pension for his service in 1890, but applied for an increase due to declining physical health in 1899. This was certified by his doctor and many members of the community, showing the high esteem in which he was held.

The truth about his sex was hidden until 1911 when in a tragic accident, he was hit by a car driven by his employer State Senator Ira M. Lish. The accident rendered Cashier disabled and it was arranged that he be moved to the Soldier and Sailor’s Home in Quincy, Illinois. By 1913, Cashier was infirm and in mental decline. His doctor in the home Dr Leroy Scott began to document Cashier’s tales of his life and by 1914, the sensational headline of a woman in the Union army became widely publicised.

Fellow veterans insisted on showing their support

Once the story had broken, the Pensions Bureau began an investigation of Cashier and the County Court declared him insane, sending him to reside at the Watertown State Hospital. Cashier was visited by many fellow veterans of the 95th Regiment there who wanted to show their support, despite the revelation about his sex.
C.W. Ives was saddened by his visit to Cashier, stating “I left Cashier a fearless boy of 22…when I went to Watertown, I found… a frail woman of 70, broken because, on discovery, she was compelled to put on skirts”. This was protested by friends and Cashier himself but the hospital was adamant. In early 1915, in the face of strong evidence, the Pensions Bureau had no choice but to declare that the elderly woman in the hospital was indeed Albert J.D. Cashier and continue the pension payments.

Several months later on the 10 October 1915, Cashier passed away and was buried with full military honours at the request of local veterans. In recent years a gravestone with the name Jennie Hodgers has been placed beside the original, bearing Cashier’s name and rank.

The story of Jennie Hodgers/Albert J.D. Cashier is an incredible tale. Without focusing on issues such as gender or identity, it is clear that Jennie Hodgers was a remarkably brave young woman who took the opportunity to make a new life for herself. Cross-dressing would have been a dangerous venture at the time, but a life as Cashier offered adventure and a kind of freedom that would not have been possible as a woman. Cashier was also a brave individual, to fight in a war and to choose to live as a man for the remainder of his life.

Ella Hassett is a part time library assistant in Trinity College, Dublin, with a MPhil in Public History and Cultural Heritage, who devotes much of her time researching remarkable women in Irish history.

This post was first published by the National Women’s Council of Ireland and is reproduced here with permission. 

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Ella Hassett

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