One of the most famous female soldiers of the Civil War was Jennie Hodgers. Born in 1843, her pre-war life seems filled with controversies and scandal. She emigrated from Ireland, possibly Belfast, to the United States. Eventually she enlisted with the 95th Illinois Infantry under the name Albert Cashier and began her military career.
Dressing as a male was nothing new to Jennie Hodgers. It has been told that Hodgers' step-father, short on money, dressed her up like a boy to get a job. When her mother died, she moved to Illinois and worked as a laborer, farmhand, and shepherd.
In August of 1862, "Private Albert D. Cashier" enlisted in the army at Belvidere, Illinois. Diminutive in size, Hodgers resembled many Irishmen of the time. She continued to go unnoticed. No one thought anything of a quiet soldier seeking privacy for bathing and dressing. This was common. All in all, Jennie fought as an infantryman in forty battles. Even when receiving treatment for diarrhea, she escaped being detected as a woman. Corresponding with a family from Illinois, they frequently asked Albert if he had bought a dress for his sweetheart.
In May, 1863, Private Cashier participated in the Siege of Vicksburg, during which time he was captured while performing a reconnaissance mission. He escaped by wrestling a gun away from a Confederate and was chased on foot, narrowly reaching the safety of the Union lines.
Private Cashier served a full enlistment. Even well after the war his comrades remembered the slight soldier as a brave fighter, admired for heroic actions and undertaking dangerous assignments, yet never receiving a scratch.
Intriguing as Albert Cashier's war experiences were, so too was the manner in which his secret was revealed. After the war Albert returned to Illinois, and, still disguised as a man, did odd jobs for Illinois State Senator Ira Lish. Unfortunately one day, Senator Lish ran Albert over, breaking his leg. It was then that the town doctor discovered his secret. Moved by Albert's pleas, the doctor agreed to maintain his confidence. This was a soldier with a pension. Had the secret been revealed, not only would the pension be revoked, but Albert would now be relegated to the menial life of a woman. Cashier's leg never healed, and the Senator arranged for him to be placed in a rest home for male veterans. While the staff was aware of Cashier's double life, they never broke their confidence.
Over time, Albert's physical and mental health deteriorated. He was nearly declared insane by the State of Illinois. Newspapers leaked the secret and word was about. The government then decided to charge Private Albert Cashier with defrauding the government in order to receive a pension. An investigation was launched, but luckily his comrades from the 95th Illinois rallied and testified that this was not Jennie Hodgers but Albert Cashier, a small but brave soldier. Man or woman, this soldier had indeed shown bravery on dangerous missions. In the end, Albert/Jennie did receive veteran status, but sadly, was shipped to a mental institution and forced to wear female clothing, greatly affecting her mental state. At 67 years old, frail and unaccustomed to walking in women's clothing, she tripped and broke her hip. Unfortunately, she never recovered from the injury and spent the rest of her life bedridden.