Soldier Jennie Hodgers: Irish Woman Fought in America's Civil War

The life and times of Private Albert D.J. Cashier are one of those historic anomalies that make you scratch your head and wonder, ‘How the hell could that happen?’

Private Cashier served in the ranks of the 95th Illinois for three years – from their muster-in on September 4, 1862, until the regiment was discharged in August 1865.

Cashier was a member of the regiment’s Company G, and was present at hard-fought battles like Vicksburg and Nashville. A comrade later remembered Cashier as being the type of person who preferred their own company and who never took part in any of the sports or games that were organised by the unit.

Pictured, Private Cashier aka Jennie Hodgers

So far so unremarkable, but the other distinguishing thing about Private Cashier was that the soldier was, in fact, a woman by the name of Jennie Hodgers.

In his book, The Irish in the American Civil War, Damian Shiels documents the fascinating story of Hodgers, who was born in Clogherhead, County Louth, in 1843.

Jennie emigrated to the United States shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. It is thought her uncle may have got her a job in an all-male shoe factory on her arrival – a position that may have opened her eyes to the possibilities of masquerading as a man.

If that is the case then it certainly prompted her to take on an extraordinary challenge when she presented herself for enlistment in Belvidere, Illinois on August 3, 1862 as one Albert Cashier.

There was no medical examination conducted and so she was duly signed up, spending the next three years with her regiment marching across the South without her secret ever being discovered.

Jennie remained in the guise of ‘Albert Cashier’ after the war, even spending time working as a labourer before moving to Saunemin, Illinois, in 1869, where she continued to live her life as a man for the next 40 years.

At one stage, through illness and an injury to her leg, Cashier’s true sex was revealed to her friends, but they kept her secret. It wasn’t until her old age, when Jennie moved to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois, in 1913, that the truth about Jennie / Albert finally came out.

The news caused a sensation. A reporter writing in the The Hartford Republican went to visit Cashier and described the scene: 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.

Poor Jennie / Albert was eventually moved to an insane asylum, where she died October 11, 1914. The headstone in the local cemetery now bears both her names – Albert Cashier, the former Union soldier, and Jennie Hodgers, the woman who gave as good as she got in a man’s world.


Views: 776

Tags: American Civil War, combat, cross-dresser, transvestite, war, women in combat

Comment by Claire Fullerton on September 26, 2015 at 8:43pm

Interesting, David. But I do wonder how it came to be that she was eventually moved to an insane asylum, as in if there were any other causes beyond her being discovered as a woman.

Comment by David Lawlor on September 27, 2015 at 3:30am

I suspect the idea of cross-dressing males or females was regarded with horror in those times - an illness of the mind that needed to be treated in a suitable environment, probably with shock therapy. Happily, we've moved on, somewhat, from those days.

Comment by Claire Fullerton on September 27, 2015 at 9:42am

As I suspected, yet wanted to hear it from you!

Comment by Jill Fuller on September 28, 2015 at 9:18am

David, great article. Coincidentally enough, I'm the local history librarian in Belvidere, Illinois where Jennie enlisted. Our local museum has a whole exhibit on her and she got a full page in a recent local history book that was published. She is definitely remembered around here! I love her story and find it inspirational. Thanks for sharing your insight here!

Comment by David Lawlor on September 28, 2015 at 9:30am

Thank you, Jill. It's great to know that she has not been forgotten and is recognised for her unique contribution to both millitary and social history

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on October 2, 2015 at 8:21am

Even in our  'supposed' enlightened era; it is still very difficult for both women and men to exert their sexuality.. Take the boxing promoter here in England - Frank Kelly - it took him the best part of his life to 'come out' ....

Happily, for him his colleagues in the sporting world accepted his transgender personality. However, it is not so easy for other ordinary people to open up about their sexuality.  More education about the biology of the body in the womb , what actually takes place  to determine what our sex is going to be , may help enlighten the world on the concept of pregnancy, that it is not just about being pregnant and at the end of 9 months ; a beautiful baby is born. 

A friend of my late husbands was born with no genitalia at all  - so it took years of  physiological therapy , operations and explanations to family and friends. Exhausting; frustrating and very painful for all concerned.

Lovely article David ; bringing  to mind that sexuality in bygone era's was a traumatic event . so much so that this person lived a double life , all his/her life.    

Comment by David Lawlor on October 2, 2015 at 8:33am

The boxing promoter Fran Maloney's story is fascinating. Boxing sometimes gets a bad name, but if those engaged in the sport can be so accomodating, then other areas of society should follow their example and open their arms to those who happen to be different, but no less special.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on October 2, 2015 at 10:56am

I absolutely agree David Lawlor , we are after all only human - all of us,


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