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In Civil War, Women Fought For Freedom "Like A Man"

Albert D.J. Cashier was the shortest soldier in the 95th Illinois Infantry. In one of the few existing photographs of Cashier during the Civil War, you can faintly detect the outline of breasts under his uniform.

But that's if you're looking for it. And the military apparently was not. "They didn't conduct physical exams in those days, the way the military does now," says Rodney Davis, a retired professor of history at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. "What they were looking for was warm bodies."

Jennie Hodgers, masquerading as Cashier, 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," Davis says. "She stuck it out."

Davis' own great-grandfather was Cashier's commanding officer and one of several former comrades who rallied to Hodgers' defense when officials considered taking away her veteran's pension for identity fraud. To her fellow soldiers, Davis says, her status as a Union Army veteran trumped her identity as a woman.

"She demonstrated that she was as good as they were," Davis says.
"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."

Why Live As A Man?

After her secret was discovered, Hodgers told different stories to different people about why she had chosen to live as a man. She reportedly told one newspaper that lots of people had enlisted under fake names, and she did, too. "The country needed men, and I wanted excitement," she said.

But to get another idea of why Hodgers may have subjected herself to the rigors of war, it helps to know a little about the U.S. job market in 1861.

"A private in the Union Army made $13 a month, which was easily double what a woman would make as a laundress or a seamstress or even a maid," says Deanne Blanton, co-author of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. Blanton has documented hundreds of cases of women who masqueraded as men during the war. She says many joined for both patriotic and economic reasons.
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This piece is from a while ago, but Women's History Month reminded me of it and how amazing it was to discover these women soldiers, so I wanted to share it with all of you.
Tags: women
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