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Albert D. J. Cashier: Woman Warrior, Insane Civil War Veteran, or Transman?

By Amy Benck

When thinking of the American Civil War, most people think of men firing cannons at each other. Most people do not, however, think of women, and if they do, it is in the context of nursing hurt or ill soldiers. Most people do not think of women soldiers fighting in the battle right alongside men. Many women, however, did in fact enlist as soldiers in the Civil War. One of these women is Jennie Hodgers / Albert Cashier. Cashier lived his life as a man, and therefore for the entirety of this biography, I will refer to Jennie/ Albert solely as Albert Cashier, and I will use masculine pronouns, because I believe that that is what he preferred. By modern definitions, Cashier likely would be understood as either transgender or homosexual.

Albert Cashier: Who was he?

Albert Cashier was born Jennie Irene Hodgers on Christmas day, 1843 in Clogherhead, Ireland[1]. Aside from this information, many details of Cashiers early life have been difficult to verify because Cashier told conflicting stories about his background for reasons which are unknown. Most commonly, Cashier is said to have had a step-father who dressed him (Jennie) as a boy so that he could get a job to support the family. Cashier’s step-father was poor and his mother passed away early in his life[2], though a specific year is not known. Cashier then found his way to Illinois as a stowaway[3][4], though the timing of this is also unclear. He worked a few different jobs including as a laborer, farmhand, and shepherd[5], all the while passing as male. In August of 1862 he enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry, Union army of the American Civil War as “Albert D. J. Cashier” in Belvidere, IL[6][7]. He remained in the army for three years before he returned to civilian life[8].

“Passing” as Men

Of course, in order to be perceived as a man, Cashier took steps beyond just taking on the name “Albert D. J. Cashier.” The physical exam that men would be subjected to when enlisting into the army was often times much more relaxed and limited than we would expect. One of Cashier’s former comrades from the army explained, “When I was examined for enlistment, I was not stripped and a woman would not have had any trouble in passing the examination”[9]. Another soldier stated that all they had to do was show their hands and feet[10]. Another said that during the exam the only traits sought after when enlisting men to fight included the man being of a “reasonable height, having some teeth present in order to rip open powder cartridges, and the presence of a trigger finger”[11].

During that time no one carried any form of identification with them, and most people did not have birth certificates[12], so people could essentially become a completely different person if they wanted to. This is exactly what these female soldiers did. A total of “at least 400 females likewise fighting on the Union side, most of whom were never ‘outed’ after their years of service had ended”[13] were able to successfully pass using the alternate identities they created for themselves, signifying both the ease with which women could don new identities and that passing as a male soldier was a phenomenon, and not just an isolated case limited to Cashier.

One would assume that menstruation would give these women away easily, but that is not necessarily true. Often times, women would become amenorrheic, meaning they would stop bleeding, due to “intense athletic training, substantive weight loss, caloric deprivation or poor nutrition, and severe psychological stress”[14]. Women likely experienced any or all of these things at some point or another during their service. Later, after Cashier’s service, “The lady who did his laundry reported that he wore red flannel underwear”[15]. This could have been his disguise to cover up his menstrual bleeding so that no one would suspect he was a woman.

During the mid-19th century, gender roles (including jobs and activities performed, style of dress, and expectations of how to act and interact) were strictly enforced and assumed to the point where people literally did not know, and could not imagine, what women would look like wearing pants. These female bodied soldiers therefore could put on pants and their male comrades would not detect anything strange because the assumption in the 1860’s was that a person wearing pants was by definition a man, making a woman in pants unimaginable[16].

Another aspect of the system that helped women ‘pass’ was the fact that younger (i.e. adolescent) men were also enlisting to fight, and so they could be passed off as just an adolescent boy who did not have facial hair or a lowered voice yet. This also helped write off the fact that the female bodied soldiers were smaller in size than the average male soldier[17]. Another method some women used to trick others into truly believing they were men was to engage in male activities and habits, such as drinking, gambling, smoking, swearing, and chewing tobacco[18].

Some female bodied soldiers, including Albert Cashier, are actually said to have had relationships with other women. It is unclear whether their reason for doing this was in order to continue their disguise, essentially ‘proving’ their masculine heterosexuality, or, whether it was an actual relationship, as is possible with Cashier. He exchanged several letters with The Morey family of Babcock’s Grove, IL discussing a ‘sweetheart’ in which the family asked him to bring her home with him and whether he had bought her a new dress. Curiously, none of Cashier’s letters to the Moreys have been found. The information about the ‘sweetheart’ was gathered from the Moreys’ letters to Cashier[19]. Appearance was also important. Cashier had the ‘advantage’ of looking less feminine due to small pocks scars[20]. In addition, his appearance, which has been described as “a light complexion, with blue eyes and auburn hair, was similar to other Irish-American young men. He was just seen as a small but well built young man”[21]. At one point he was hospitalized, but only for one day, and was not discovered during that time[22].

Motivation(s)

So the question remains: Why did he do it? Why did he enlist and, moreover, why did he continue to live as Albert after serving in the military when maintaining that identity was not necessarily required? There are actually a few different interpretations which could be true when considering why Cashier decided to remain living as Albert Cashier. One news article actually questioned his motives, not attempting to claim any reason, but rather stated “There does not appear to be any clear reading as to why it was so important to Albert to remain a male in the eyes of the community”[23].

Albert bio doc 1.pdf

Albert Cashier's application to the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Home

One explanation offered by scholars was that female bodied soldiers who enlisted were attempting to, at least temporarily, escape female oppression. Another explanation given by the Minerva Center, Inc., which is “A Quarterly Report on Women and the Military […] to bring military women the sense of history, identity and respect they’ve been lacking,[24]” is that Cashier’s choice to remain in ‘disguise’ could be attributed to extreme combat stress. The Minerva Center frames it as a post war adjustment, claiming he could not return to being ‘Jennie Hodgers’ because he was too traumatized by the war and too used to ‘masquerading’ as male to adjust back to the ‘normal’ life of a woman. The Minerva Center, Inc. claims this because he showed symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), including “‘no memory, noisy at times, poor sleeper, and feeble’ (48)”[25]. While this could be true, this explanation does not take into account the fact that Cashier had already been living as a man prior to enlisting in the army. It is possible that Cashier chose to live as Albert because he truly felt he was a man, though he had been born female, and therefore would be ‘transgender’ by modern definition. It is also possible that he was homosexual by modern definition[26], considering he supposedly had a girlfriend, and living as a man was the only acceptable way of expressing that desire. Ultimately, Cashier told several different stories about his background, so there is no one clear story that can be assumed as the ‘truth.

Albert bio doc 2.pdf

Albert Cashier's record of military service

Responses and Reactions to Cashier and other Female Bodied Soldiers

Some reactions to the phenomenon of female bodied soldiers include others thinking they belonged in a lunatic asylum, or that they were foolish. Captain Benedict J. Semmes of the Confederacy, upon reflecting on the capture of Dr. Mary Edward Walker, stated that “[We] were all amused and disgusted…at the sight of a thing that nothing but the debased and depraved Yankee nation could produce. She was dressed in the full uniform of a Federal Surgeon…not good looking and of course had tongue enough for a regiment of men…she would be more at home in a ‘lunatic asylum’ (24)”[27]. Sadly, this is where Cashier lived the last days of his life, only giving credence to this remark. Similarly, a Union soldier was quoted as saying “I’ve picked up a great many wounded rebs & took them to our hospital among these were found a female dressed in mens clothes & a cartridge box on her side when we picked her up. She was shot in the breast & through the thy [sic] & was still alive & as gritty as any reb I ever saw. I hope our women will never be so foolish as to go to war or get to fighting”[28]. With this remark, this soldier was likely implying that because this female bodied soldier whom he encounter happened to be injured, her injury proved that women were indeed incapable of fighting and should not even been foolish enough to try.

Albert bio doc 3.pdf

Information on Albert Cashier in the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Home

Reactions to Cashier himself were actually fairly positive. For the majority of his life, no one actually knew of his secret and those that found out were very supportive. When Cashier was under investigation for committing fraud, “His comrades from the 95th Illinois rallied and testified that this was not Jenny Hodgers but Albert Cashier, a small but brave soldier”[29]. They also defended him when he was forced to wear a dress at the very end of his life[30]. The senator who ran into him with his car agreed to keep his identity a secret, as did the physician[31]. Interestingly, one soldier claimed that when they were in the army, they called Cashier “half and half.[32]” At this point the meaning they intended is lost, but it certainly suggests that they knew something was different about him.

Returning to Life as a Civilian

Returning back to civilian life, he chose to remain living as ‘Albert Cashier’ and performed civilian jobs such as street lamplighter and farmhand. While performing a job for Illinois State Senator Ira Lish, Cashier was hit by a car driven by the Senator. His leg was broken. The doctor who examined Cashier’s leg then discovered his secret, but “moved by Albert’s pleas, the doctor agreed to maintain his confidence”[33]. At this point, it was decided that Cashier should move to the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers and Sailors Home. In 1913, due to dementia, Cashier was moved to a state hospital for the insane. It was there that his sex was again discovered and he was forced to wear a dress[34]. This was ultimately what led to his demise as he, wanting to remain comfortable, pinned his skirt in order to attempt to make pants[35], that he was accustomed to wearing. He tripped and fell, breaking his hip, which led to an infection that ultimately took his life. Albert Cashier passed away on October 10, 1915, and was buried in his full military uniform[36].

References

  1. Civil War Trust. “Jennie Hodgers.” http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jennie-hodgers.html.
  2. National Park Service “Jenny Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier.” http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=187.
  3. “Posed As Man 60 Years,” Washington Post, March 29, 1914.
  4. “Played Man All Her Life,” New York Times, March 29, 1914.
  5. National Park Service “Jenny Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier.” http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=187
  6. National Park Service “Jenny Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier.” http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=187
  7. DeAnne Blanton, “Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Part 2,” Prologue Magazine, Spring 1993, http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/spring/women-in-the-civil-war-2.html (accessed October 25, 2012).
  8. Blanton and Cook, 28. 
  9. Herb Phillips, “Reliving a Civil War Battle That—for One Soldier—also was a Masquerade”
  10. Blanton and Cook, 28.
  11. Blanton and Cook, 27.
  12. Blanton and Cook, 27.
  13. Earnest McBride, “Women in the Civil War,” Jackson Advocate, March 31, 2011.
  14. Blanton and Cook, 46.
  15. "A Line O' Type or Two" Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1966.
  16. Blanton and Cook, 47-48.
  17. Blanton and Cook, 49.
  18. Blanton and Cook, 52.
  19. Blanton and Cook, 54.
  20. Blanton and Cook, 48.
  21. Blanton and Cook, 51.
  22. Blanton and Cook, 102-103.
  23. "A Line O' Type or Two" Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1966.
  24. Fern Shen, “Women of ‘War and Wisdom’: Journal Chronicles the Lives of Pirates, Soldiers, Military Figures” Washington Post, June 29, 1993.
  25. Mercedes Herrera-Graf, “Stress, Suffering, and Sacrifice Women POWS in the Civil War,” Minerva Center, Inc 16 (December 31, 1998).
  26. Blanton and Cook, 54.
  27. Mercedes Herrera-Graf, “Stress, Suffering, and Sacrifice Women POWS in the Civil War,” Minerva Center, Inc 16 (December 31, 1998).
  28. Blanton and Cook, 19-20.
  29. National Park Service “Jenny Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier.” http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=187
  30. Blanton and Cook, 173.
  31. National Park Service “Jenny Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier.” http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=187
  32. Elizabeth D. Leonard, All the Daring of the Soldier (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999), 186.
  33. National Park Service “Jenny Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier.” http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=187
  34. Civil War Trust. “Jennie Hodgers.” http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jennie-hodgers.html
  35. Leonard, 189.
  36. Civil War Trust. “Jennie Hodgers.” http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jennie-hodgers.html