Civil War Soldier
Albert seized the gun from the Confederate guard, knocked him to the ground and fled back to his Union encampment. What makes this so unusual is that Albert was really Jennie Hodgers.
Nineteen-year- old Jennie had arrived in the United States as a stowaway from Ireland. In the summer of 1862, she found her way to Illinois. President Lincoln’s urgent call for more volunteers appealed to Jennie’s sense of adventure. Eager to do her part, she enlisted.
Jennie could neither read nor write. That was no problem as an enlistee could use an X for their name. The Army’s physical consisted primarily of a tap or two on the chest and a quick look at the eyes. There was no spot on the recruitment form to mark male, or female. And so, Jenny, an uneducated immigrant, became Albert Cashier, Private First Class, Company 6, 95th Illinois.
Women enlisted in the Civil War for a number of reasons. If a woman posed as a man, she could make twice as much money as a woman. She would even be able to vote in an era when women had no vote. Some sought adventure, the need to make a living, or just to follow their husbands. Most were found out and quickly dismissed.
After a month of basic training, Jennie’s company set off for Kentucky where they joined the army under General Grant. During the three years of Jennie’s enlistment, she traveled some 10,000 miles with the 95th. Throughout, her true identify remained a secret. Fellow soldiers just assumed Albert was shy and wanted to be by himself. Even though she was only five feet tall and the smallest man in the Company, Jenny held her own in some forty battles. Notable among them were, Vicksburg, and the Red River Campaign.
None of Jenny’s regiment knew that they were fighting alongside a woman. Bathing was infrequent and the men sleep in the same clothing they had worn all day. Some went for weeks without changing clothes. This all worked in Jennie’s favor. The reason for her deception was never known.
The war was over and Jennie was mustered out of service in August, 1865.with an honorable discharge. After a public reception, each soldier went their own way. Jennie still held on to Albert’s identity and collected his pension. She continued to participated in various veterans’ gatherings…wearing her uniform.
In the years following, Jennie did odd jobs at a hardware store in Saunemin, Illinois. Her employer built her a tiny one room house. Jennie, always wary of strangers, would change her door locks frequently. If she were to be absent overnight, she nailed the windows shut.
For the next forty years…still keeping her identity a secret… she held a variety of jobs: lamplighter and janitor among them. Often children would taunt her and declare that her house was haunted.
In 1911, while picking up sticks in a driveway, 68-year old Albert was struck by a car. Jennie’s true identity was discovered at the hospital. Although the doctors kept their patient’s secret, Jennie began to lose ground mentally and was finally committed to Watertown State Hospital in East Moline, Illinois. She died on October 10, 1915.
The fact that Jennie had been masquerading as a man was met with shock and laughter. However, fellow vets saw to it that she was buried in the uniform of which she was so proud. Her casket was covered with the American flag and she was laid to rest with full military honors. The grave was simply marked: Albert Cashier, born Jennie Hodgers Co 6, 95 Ill. Inf.
The residents of Saunemin place flowers at the grave each Memorial Day. In 1977 a larger monument was created to mark the site. In 2006, Saunemin residents have developed plans to save her broken-down house as a memorial.
Wynne Crombie is a freelance writer and ESL teacher at Harper College. She met her husband, Kent, 40 years ago while teaching for the Departments of Defense in Berlin and she and her husband are about to become first time grandparents.