In my award winning Civil War romance, Confederate Rose, the heroine, Katie Rose O’Reilly disguises herself as a man to fight in the Confederate Army. While my story is fiction, Katie is partly based on a very real person – Irishwoman Jennie Hodgers, aka Albert D. J. Cashier.
Private Cashier joined the ranks of the 95th Illinois in September 1862 and served until the regiment was discharged in August of 1865. The regiment took part in hard fighting at the battles of Vicksburg and Nashville. Cashier was remembered as being the shortest person in the company. He kept to himself and didn’t take part in any sporting events or games.
Jennie Hodgers was born in Ireland, possibly in Clogherhead in 1843, although there are no written records to support this. She arrived in America shortly before the Civil War broke out, possibly as a stowaway. She’s believed to have worked in an all-male shoe factory, a job secured by her uncle upon her arrival in America. When she joined the army, her medical exam was rudimentary. Harry G. Weaver, a member of her regiment, pointed out, “All that we showed were our hands and feet.” According to Rodney Davis, a retired professor of history at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, “They didn’t conduct physical exams in those days, the way the military does now. What they were looking for was warm bodies.”
While Jennie claims she disguised herself as a man and joined the army to find excitement, the reason could have been the pay. A private in the Union Army earned $13.00 a month. As a laundress, seamstress or maid, she would only be able to make half that amount.
Another perk may have been the freedom experienced in Victorian society living as a man. In this time period, women weren’t allowed to vote and were dependent on men or extended families for support.
In fact, Jennie liked living as a man so much, she continued to live as Albert Cashier after the war ended. She found work over the next fifty years as a farm hand and handyman.
She applied for a pension in 1899 and her secret wasn’t discovered until 1910 when she was ailing. Her neighbors decided to keep her identity under wraps.
It wasn’t until 1914, when her mental health deteriorated, that she was placed in the State Asylum in Watertown. Word got out of her true sex and the press broke the story. In the asylum she was forced to wear dresses. She fought it at first, but eventually gave in.
She passed away on October 11, 1915. The Grand Army of the Republic buried her in full uniform in the Saunemin cemetery under the name of Albert D. J. Cashier.
In 1977, a larger monument was placed that read:
Albert D. J. Cashier
Co. G. 95. Inf.
Born: Jennie Hodgers
In Clogher Head, Ireland
1843 – 1915
For more on Jennie Hodgers, visit these sites: