Soldier Jennie – the Irish woman who fought as a man in the American 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 they were 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.

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, Co. 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.

Pvt Cashier aka Jennie Hodgers

Pvt Cashier aka Jennie Hodgers

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 on 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.

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About historywithatwist

I am an Associate Editor with a national newspaper. I have a keen interest in history and in writing. I have published one novel, Tan, and am currently working on a sequel
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26 Responses to Soldier Jennie – the Irish woman who fought as a man in the American Civil War

  1. glynissmy1 says:

    Brave lady! A, for joining up as a man, and B, for living among the soldiers deprived of women, while at war.

  2. Yes, she was one tough cookie, Glynis

  3. robpeecher says:

    Another interesting blog post, David! There were a surprising number of similar stories of women who masqueraded as men and fought in the American Civil War, though this is the first I’ve heard of a woman who continued to live as a man after the war. There were also a lot of women who were spies during the war for either the Confederates or the Federals, and many of them dressed as soldiers at one time or another. My personal favorite of these women is Kate Warne, the Pinkerton agent who served as a Union spy during the war.

  4. An insane asylum. That was the answer for so many women that men couldn’t understand. It boggles my mind to think of how she handled the logistics of keeping her secret during the war. If you haven’t read “One Thousand White Women” by James Fergus, I encourage you to look it up.

  5. dubmantalks says:

    Hey Dave, What an amazing woman? Why ever would any woman want to do such a thing and to sustain it for so long? Imagine, having to be on alert in your concealment efforts over such a period. It must have been quite a strain. What about the fighting engagements she may have been involved in? The likely epic rough and tumble of such events which no doubt may have severely challenged the most rough necked men? Gosh! Amazing.

    • Hi Frank, yes she was p-retty special to be able to do that for so long. It speaks volumes for her friends, though, that they kept her secret when it was discovered. Sad how she ended up. Typical closed mind of the authorities of the time, I suspect.

  6. Laurie Boris says:

    This is fascinating. I’ll bet there were more women out there than history knows about.

  7. Great story! And she’s not the only one – Anne Holland’s book on The Secret of Kit Cavenaugh will be published by The Collins Press in October 2013!!

  8. nancyhvest says:

    Women were a lot tougher than society believed. She is an example of that. And I agree with the comment about her going to the insane asylum. Little room for non-conformity in those days.

    • You’re right, Nancy, but even today many societies frown on women who buck the trend. There were several women who fought as men down through the years – The Fighting Nun is one who springs to mind. There’s a post about her on this blog. Then there are those who fought as women and who were very effective. There’s a post on them called The Fighting Fair Sex. Tough ladies indeed…

  9. Reblogged this on Jean Reinhardt and commented:
    I’ve just come across this blog. Very interesting reading on it and this particular post appeals to me, as a woman and as someone who comes from the same county as Jennie/Albert.

  10. Thanks for this interesting post, I so enjoyed reading it and the comments too. I’ve re-blogged it if you don’t mind. I’m from county Louth, not too far from Clogherhead so it really appealed to me.

  11. Wow. What a woman! A couple of things come to mind. Because of zero privacy, it’s interesting she hid / covered up a particular female condition in the field. ⭐

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