PRIVATE ALBERT D.J. CASHIER: AMERICA’S FIRST TRANSGENDER PATRIOT?

By, Christian Meade

Albert D.J. Cashier was born “Jennie Hodgers” on Christmas Day, 1843 in the tiny village of Clogherhead, Ireland.

Albert-Cashier.jpg

It is believed that Jennie and her family migrated to America during the Potato Famine in Ireland in the late 1840s. After arriving in America, she moved to Belvidere, Illinois and was raised by an uncle. Shortly after arriving in this industrial town, Jennie decided to identify as a male, so she cut her hair, began wearing trousers and managed to get a job in a shoe factory that only employed male workers.

When Lincoln called for more people to join the Union Army during the Civil War, Jennie decided to continue her masquerade and enlisted on August 6, 1862 as Private Albert D.J. Cashier in the newly formed 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. She easily slipped through the physical, as typical military inspections at the time focused only on hands for shouldering weapons and feet for marching. Although she stood just five feet three inches tall, had no facial hair, and kept her collar high—often tying a scarf around her neck to hide the fact that she had no Adam’s apple—she was successful in her guise and was quickly accepted as one of the boys.

As self-identifying male, Albert fought for three years in over 40 skirmishes and battles in the Western Theater of the Civil war, including Vicksburg where his regiment made two devastating charges on the rebel ramparts in May of 1863. It has been documented by secondary sources that during this campaign, when a Union flag was shot off a flagstaff near Albert, he quickly picked up the fallen banner and climbed a tall tree and fastened “Old Glory” to the highest point while Confederate sniper bullets zipped closely by his ears! Because of this bold act of bravery on the front lines, Albert became a household name and a favorite of the 95th Illinois Infantry.

After mustering out of the Union Army in 1865, Albert headed back north and resided in Saunemin, Illinois—a sleepy, little farming community where he continued to identify as a male for the next 45 years. He was well-liked by the townspeople and did simple jobs as a handy man and farmer. Albert continued a comfortable civilian life, undetected, until an automobile accidentally backed over him in 1911, breaking his leg. Soon the town physician discovered Albert’s true biological gender, but out of respect, kept his secret from the townspeople. His secret, however, was exposed two years later when he retired to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois to recuperate from his nagging leg injury. When word of Albert’s true gender leaked, it immediately became regional and national news. Soon, the federal government stepped in and accused Albert of fraudulent activity, i.e. pretending to be a veteran who falsified pension documents. Fortunately, during subsequent inquiry and depositions, many of Albert’s former comrades of the 95th Illinois came to the rescue. One by one, they unanimously testified that Albert was, without any doubt, their messmate Private Albert D.J. Cashier. They also confirmed that they had absolutely no knowledge of his true biological gender.

By 1914, perhaps due to the events described above, Albert suffered severe dementia and was transferred to Watertown State Hospital for the insane. His advanced condition took its toll and he died on October 10, 1915. As burial preparations were made, the men of the 95th Illinois returned to Albert’s side again. This time they made sure he was buried with full military honors. So, on a cool, crisp Autumn day, he was laid to rest with full military honors wearing his old uniform with a flag draped over his coffin. His headstone was appropriately inscribed, “Albert D.J. Cashier Co. G 95 ILL Inf,” just as he wanted.

Private Albert D.J. Cashier’s life story now begs the question, “If it was not for his unfortunate car accident, would Albert’s secret have gone to the grave with him?” If so, another important question remains outstanding, “How many other transgender Civil War soldiers were buried in battlefield trenches or survived the war and now lie in quiet cemeteries across America?” Perhaps we will never know.

albert cashier's grave.jpg

What we do know is that Private D.J. Cashier was a true American patriot—one who just happened to have been born a female, but who heroically served his country as a male. May he rest in peace.   

Learn more about Private D.J. Cashier in the new historical fiction novel Friends of the Wigwam: A Civil War Story by John William Huelskamp.