An Irish Cailín Goes to War:
Jennie Hodgers, Private, Co. G, 95th Illinois Infantry
On 3 August 1862, a 5'3" 19 year old named Albert D. J. Cashier enlisted as a private in Company G, 95th Illinois Infantry. The descriptive roll says Cashier was born in New York and was a farmer prior to joining the Army. Cashier served faithfully throughout the war and mustered out with the regiment. Over the next 50 years or so, Cashier worked as a farm hand and handyman, took part in veteran activities with great enthusiasm, and voted regularly until someone made a startling discovery:
He was really she.
The story of Jennie Hodgers' origins is unclear. She herself never learned to write so left no written record, and only told her story to others late in life when her health was in decline. Even then, she was very guarded in what she said, and what she said to one person very often conflicted with what she told another. Published accounts differ as to where and when she was born (1843 or 1844); even the year she died is sometimes given as 1914 (it was actually 1915). The usual story is that she was born on or about 25 December in Belfast or Dublin, but she told at least one person it was at Clogher Head. (So far, there's two places in Ireland I found with that name: one's in County Louth and the other in Kerry on the Dingle Peninsular. After she died and her estate was being settled, a person claiming to be a brother said the family was from Louth. Though his claim was disallowed due to lack of proof of relationship, chances are good it was the Co. Louth locale.) There's several stories as to when and why she disguised herself as a man, but it may have begun when she stowed away to America; there's various versions of how she came to America as well. By the time she enlisted, she was living in Belvidere, Illinois. The "induction physical" was rudimentary at best - another member of the regiment (Harry G. Weaver) later asserted that "All that we showed were our hands and feet" - and, although being the shortest one around, Jennie Hodgers had no trouble becoming Private Cashier of Company G.
The 95th was mustered into Federal service at Camp Fuller, Illinois on 4 September 1862 and a month later was on its way to Grand Junction, Tennessee, where it became part of U.S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee, originally assigned to the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, XIII Corps (later the XVI Corps). It took part in the campaign and siege of Vicksburg, the Meridan and Red River campaigns, Brice's Cross Roads, operations in Missouri, the Battle of Nashville, and the Mobile campaign.
(on right) with unknown comrade of the 95th Ill.
Jennie Hodgers a.k.a. Albert D. J. Cashier
Official records don't reveal she did any deeds of daring-do. In fact, maybe the only thing out of the ordinary is they report hardly anything. It doesn't appear that she was ever absent, and medical records only mention a single bout with diarrhea. Cashier took part in approximately 40 battles and skirmishes. She was regarded as a good shot and was frequently selected to go out on the skirmish line. Fellow vets recalled that she was quiet and kept to herself, not taking part in any games or sports but content to sit and watch, but kept up on the marches and never shirked duty. She repaid help received during details involving heavy lifting by doing others' laundry, sewing and the like - since she was short to begin with, no one thought this unusual. During the entire time she was in service, no one suspected her to be anything other than one of the boys and a good soldier.
After mustering out with the regiment on 17 August 1865, Cashier returned to Belvidere, but soon moved on to several other Illinois towns, maintaining her disguise and working at odd jobs. She finally settled in Saunemin, Illinois in 1869. In later years, Cashier started getting a reputation of being a bit eccentric. Boys in the town took to teasing what to them was just a "little old man", calling her a "drummer boy". Very proud of her service and not about to let anyone belittle it, this would get her dander up and she would yell back at them, "I was no drummer! I was a fighting infantryman!"
It took a long time for her secret to unravel. She first applied for a pension in 1899. However, she didn't complete the process until 1907, since it required a medical exam. Somehow she convinced the examining board not to blow her cover and the pension was granted.
One day in 1910, the neighbors across the street, who had become good friends with Cashier, learned that Albert wasn't feeling well, and the woman of the house sent her nurse over to check on "him". It wasn't long before the nurse came running back to report her discovery. But they decided there wasn't anything to be gained by letting anyone else know.
In 1911, she was cleaning up a state senator's driveway when the senator, unaware anyone was there, backed his car out over Cashier and broke her leg. A doctor was summoned, who found out Cashier's femininity, but again everyone kept mum. A few months later, the senator and doctor arranged to have her admitted to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Quincy, Illinois, based on the fact she was totally disabled. The Home superintendent and physician were let in on the secret, which they agreed to keep. At the Home, Cashier had a great time discussing her army days with the other vets, who still didn't know she was a woman. One of the highlights of her stay was a visit from her company commander, who verified her service.
In March 1914, the Home decided that the continuing decline in her mental health warranted her being placed in the State Asylum in Watertown. This required a court hearing, and although her true sex was not referred to at the hearing, somehow word got out and the press broke the story. Once at the asylum, she was forced to wear dresses, and she fought back for a long time before finally giving in.
Pvt. Cashier passed away on 11 October 1915. She was buried by the Grand Army of the Republic, in her uniform and with full military honors, in the Saunemin cemetery. The original issue headstone read "Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill Inf.". A larger monument was placed in 1977, which reads:
Albert D. J. Cashier
Co. G, 95. Inf.
Born: Jennie Hodgers
in Clogher Head, Ireland
1843 - 1915
For a lot more details (pix, records, news clippings, etc.) on Cashier, see:
The Illinois Alive! website - A Project of Alliance Library System
Updated 21 November 2004