Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jennie Hodgers

Jennie Hodgers, daughter of Sallie and Patrick Hodgers, was born in Clogherhead, Ireland on December 25, 1844. She sailed to America as a stowaway and settled in Belvidere, Illinois. Little is known about her early life because her true identity was not discovered until a few years before her death.
By 1862, Jennie was living in Belvidere, Illinois. As the Civil War escalated that July, President Lincoln sent out a call for an additional 300,000 men to serve in the Union Army, inspiring 19-year-old Jennie Hodgers to serve her country. So, on August 6, 1862 she disguised herself as Pvt. Albert D.J. Cashier and enlisted in the Union Army’s 95th Illinois Infantry regiment. She marked an "X" on the enlistment papers, because she couldn't read or write, and passed a cursory physical exam that involved nothing more than a quick look at the eyes and ears.
Described as five feet, three inches tall and weighing 110 pounds, she was the shortest person in her regiment. Other soldiers thought that "Cashier" was just a small man who preferred his privacy, which was not unusual in those days. She endured long marches, lived out in the open and performed all duties required of a Union soldier. Comrades later recalled she was a skilled rifleman.
The 95th Regiment mustered into Federal service at Camp Fuller, Illinois on September 4, 1862 and headed to Grand Junction, Tennessee a month later. There it became part of General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee. They fought in the Red River Campaign, the combat at Guntown, Mississippi, where they suffered heavy casualties, and the Siege of Vicksburg. (When Hodgers was captured by the Confederates during the Vicksburg Campaign, she managed to escape by grabbing a guards rifle and knocking him senseless with it.)  During 1864, the 95th pursued Confederate General Sterling Price during his Missouri raid. In December of that year, they fought at the Battle of Nashville, the last major battle in the Western Theater. Sent to the Gulf of Mexico, the regiment ended its military service by taking part in the siege and capture of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely in March 1865.

Hodgers was mustered out of the Union Army with the remainder of the regiment on August 17, 1865, after serving for three years and 11 days in the ranks. She had marched thousands of miles, fought in more than 40 battles and earned a reputation for bravery and tenacity under fire.
She and her fellow soldiers returned to Illinois where they were honored with a huge public rally before returning to civilian life. Jennie had escaped the war without serious injury, allowing her to keep her identity a secret. She returned to Belvidere and soon moved on to several other Illinois towns, working at odd jobs. Still posing as Albert Cashier, she finally settled in Saunemin, Illinois in 1869 where she bought a small house.

Jennie performed many different jobs over the next 40 years: janitor of a church, farm worker, town lamplighter and handyman. She also voted in elections, long before Illinois gave women the right to vote, and gained a reputation of being a somewhat eccentric. She applied for a veteran's pension in 1899, but didn't complete the process until 1907 because it required a medical exam. She somehow convinced the examining board not to divulge her secret and the pension was granted.
Her secret began to unravel in November 1810 while at work picking up sticks at the home of Illinois State Senator Ira M. Lish. Unable to see her small form behind him, the senator backed his car down the driveway and struck her, breaking her leg. A doctor discovered her sex while examining her leg. She pleaded with them to keep her secret, and they decided that no good would be served by making her true gender public knowledge.

Jennie never recovered fully from the accident, and within months, the Senator and doctor agreed that she needed institutional care because she was totally disabled. On May 5, 1911, she was moved from Saunemin to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Quincy, Illinois where she was admitted as a man. In March 1914, the Home decided that the continuing decline in her mental health warranted her being placed in the State Hospital for the Insane at East Moline, Illinois. This required a court hearing, and although her gender was not referred to at the hearing, word got out and the press broke the story. At the hospital, she was forced to wear dresses for the first time in more than 50 years. She fought back for a long time before
finally giving in.
She died at the Watertown State Hospital on October 10, 1915. Wearing her Union uniform, of which she was so proud and with her casket draped with an American flag, she was given a military funeral in East Moline on October 12. Her body was moved to Saunemin, where she was buried as Albert Cashier in Sunny Slope Cemetery. Upon the headstone over her grave was inscribed the masculine name she carried into battle and bore throughout her life. In the 1980s, measures were taken to correctly identify the gravesite. Visitors will now find two headstones in place - the original veteran marker and a larger memorial stone.

It took W.J. Singleton, executor of her estate, nine years to track Cashier's identity back to Jennie Hodgers. The people of Saunemin have not forgotten their little soldier of the Civil War. On Memorial Day, 1977, they erected a larger monument that bears the name Jennie Hodgers. Her name is also inscribed on the Illinois monument at Vicksburg.

What separates Jennie from the other females who dressed as men to fight in the Civil War is that she was the only one to serve for the full time that her unit served, and the only one to survive the war without anyone discovering her gender. Sooner or later, all the other women were found out and told to go home, or served as nurses in field hospitals. Why she continued to live as a man long after her military service ended remains a mystery.

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