Soldiers in Disguise

Probably the most interesting and least written about women in the Civil War are what Richard Hall called “patriots in disguise.” While we know they had various reasons for dressing as men to fight alongside male soldiers, it was not an acceptable occupation for women and when their true identities were discovered, they were sent home. It is often these women that we know about. There are others that wrote about their lives as soldiers: Loreta Velasques and Sarah Emma Edmonds write of some exciting adventures, particularly as spies. And there is Rosetta Wakeman, a young lady from New York who expresses some insights into why women joined the army and daily life through letters to her family. Some women, like Jennie Hodges, took on the role of Albert Cashier both in war and in peace, not being discovered until late in life. These are the patriot warriors that represent all women known and unknown that fought and sometimes died for their country.

Albert Cashier -- Jennie Hodges

Albert Cashier holds the record for the longest documented length of service by a female soldier from her enlistment in the 95th Illinois Infantry, Second Brigade, 17th Army Corp in September 1862, about a month after the regiment was formed. She was 18 years old at her enlistment and listed her occupation as farmer. This was not the first time she had been disguised as a man. An Irish immigrant, Jennie arrived in the United States as a shipboard stowaway and disguised as a boy at a young age. Albert took part in forty battles and skirmishes with her regiment, including Vicksburg, Nashville, and Mobile. He was never wounded. During the Vicksburg campaign, Captain Bush, her commander, often selected Albert for foraging and skirmishing duty “because he was considered very dependable, was in vigorous good health, and was apparently fearless.” She was captured once, but she seized a gun from the guard, knocked him down and fled back to her regiment. After the war, Cashier worked as a farmhand and handyman in small towns in Illinois before settling down in Saunemin. It wasn’t until a freak automobile accident in 1911 that her true identity was discovered, but Cashier convinced the doctor and his employer, former State Senator Ira M. Lish to keep her secret. Because Albert had managed to secure a military pension in 1907, Senator Lish and the physician were able to help Cashier gain admission to the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home at Quincy, Illinois. The story of her secret life didn’t leak out to the public until 1913. When the news of her secret was published in the Washington Sunday Star, fellow soldiers from the 95th Regiment spoke out, commenting on “Albert’s” soldierly skills, bravery and fortitude. He had impressed them all with his nerveless performance in combat situations and tirelessness on the march. Gerhard P. Clausius wrote about his handling of the musket in battle. He was equal on 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. Once her secret was discovered, she was forced to wear a skirt. It was so awkward that she fell and hurt her hip. She never fully recovered. When former First Sergeant Charles W. Ives, visited her at the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane, he found a frail 70-year old woman whose spirit was broken because of the discovery. She told Ives during the visit, “Lots of boys enlisted under the wrong name. So did I. The country needed men, and I wanted excitement.” Hodges died on October 10, 1915, at age 71. She was buried wearing her Union uniform with a flag draped casket with full military honors. The inscription on her tombstone in Saunemin Cemetery reads: ALBERT D. J. CASHIER, CO. G, 95 ILL. INF.

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