Women Posed as Men to Fight on Both Sides of Civil War

Jenny Hodgers

Jenny Hodgers “Albert D.J. Cashier”

Some folks are surprised to learn that hundreds of young women posed as men to enlist in the Civil War.

Common sense would seem to dictate that a basic pre-enlistment physical exam would reveal a recruit’s true gender. But not in that war.

Physicals on both sides were just to decide whether a recruit could see fairly well, carry a rifle and be fit enough to march or ride a horse. They were seldom asked to disrobe.

civil war women soldiers

Frances Clayton

Soldiers lived in close quarters in barracks and campgrounds, but anatomical differences were not readily apparent, starting with the fact these imposters were mostly young women. They looked a lot like the 13-to-16-year-old boys who lied about their ages to join their respective armies.

They would give themselves masculine names, cut short their hair, bind their breasts and wear loose clothing.

As far as undressing and using toilet facilities are concerned, “Prologue” the quarterly magazine of the Federal government’s National Archives and Records Administration has reported:

“Victorian men, by and large, were modest by today’s standards. Soldiers slept in their clothes, bathed in their underwear, and went as long as six weeks without changing their underclothes.

“Many refused to use the odorous and disgusting long, open-trenched latrines of camp. Thus, a woman soldier would not call undue attention to herself if she acted modestly, trekked to the woods to answer the call of nature and attend to other personal matters, or left camp before dawn to privately bathe in a nearby stream.”

There were an estimated 400 to 500 women who passed as men. Some continued to hide their gender for months or years. But there were times when other enlisted men or officers got suspicious and exposed them as imposters.

Some of these secret soldiers were wounded or became ill and army doctors or nurses who treated them were shocked to learn they were actually women, at which point they were usually discharged from service.

The reasons WHY these young women would go to extremes to serve in the army are all over the map.

The overwhelming majority of them came from poverty, and joined up for the money, because the Union Army pay of $13 per month was at least double what they could earn as a maid or a seamstress. Others enlisted to be with their brothers or husbands or lovers.

But they all must have had a genuine love for their country, USA or CSA.

Sarah Edmunds

Sarah Edmunds “Franklin Thompson”

One of the more successful female soldiers was Sarah Edmonds, a Canadian by birth, who called herself Franklin Thompson. She enlisted in the Second Michigan Infantry early in the war. Private Thompson was a nurse and mail carrier and took part in the battles of First Bull Run (Manassas), Fredericksburg and Antietam.

In 1863 she deserted because she caught malaria and feared that doctors might learn her secret.

After the war private Thompson married, had three children and was given a U.S. government pension for her military service.

At least a few of these female soldiers would today be described as transgender persons; their personalities and psychologies were male, but their bodies female.

One such enlistee was Jennie Hodgers, born in Ireland in 1843. When the war broke out, she enlisted as Albert D.J. Cashier and joined the 95th Illinois Infantry.

Rodney Davis, retired history professor at Knox College in Illinois says, “She marched thousands of miles during the war. She was at the siege of Vicksburg and the surrender of Mobile. Her regiment took part in more than 40 skirmishes and battles.

“Albert Cashier seems to have been in (the war) from the beginning to the end. She stuck it out,” Davis said.

Years after the war government bureaucrats wanted to take away her veteran’s pension on the grounds of identity fraud, but several of her officers and comrades came to her defense.

“To them, her status as a Union Army veteran trumped her identity as a woman,” Davis said. “She was as brave as they were; as effective a soldier. For her to be a woman was obviously worthy of remark, but it’s not anything that seems to have made them turn away from her.”

After the war Hodgers continued to live as Albert Cashier and settled in tiny Saunemin, IL about 100 miles south of Chicago. As a Civil War veteran, she was respected in the community and found work usually done only by men, such as village lamplighter.

In recent years a tombstone was erected at her gravesite. It carries two names: “Albert D.J. Cashier/ Jennie Hodgers, 1843-1915.” It has become a bit of a tourist attraction.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: There have been several books written on the female soldiers in the Civil War. Some are at local libraries and on Amazon.com. Search for: Women soldiers in the Civil War.)

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