Pictures and Illustrations.
Albert D. J. Cashier -- Two pictures taken nearly fifty years apart -- the earlier one was made during the war, and at the time of the latter, Private Cashier was at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home at Quincy.
Tombstone of Private Cashier in the cemetery at Saunemin, Illinois.
The Little Soldier of the 95th.
Albert D. J. Cashier
An amateur historian, the author, Gerhard P. Clausius, is a practicing optometrist in Belvidere, Illinois. He is a member of the Boone County and Illinois State Historical Societies and the Chicago and Rockford Civil War Round Tables. He is at present working on a biography of Stephen A. Hurlbut, Lincoln's friend and Civil War general.
"THEY SURELY must want soldiers badly, if they take that little fellow at the end of the line," said a citizen of Belvidere, Illinois, on August 6, 1862. He was referring to a small, dark-haired youth who, with seventeen other recruits, was being marched to the railroad station where he would entrain for Rockford, to join the Ninety-fifth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, being formed in that city. The companion of the man who had made the remark replied that after the losses at Shiloh the Union needed every man who was willing. Many Belvidere boys had been in the Shiloh battle, for the town's first recruits had been assigned to the Fifteenth Illinois Volunteers, which had suffered many losses in the battle. The people of Belvidere were thus conscious of the need for men if the Union cause was to emerge victorious.
The "little fellow" en route to Rockford that August day was listed on the muster roll as Albert D. J. Cashier; he was one of the smallest soldiers to be accepted in the army: just five feet tall!
381Cashier, with his comrades, joined the other boys from Boone and McHenry counties at Camp Fuller, and there he began the life of a volunteer infantryman. The Ninety-fifth Volunteers drilled and learned the art of soldiering, and in November, 1862, were given orders to leave for Cairo, Illinois. There the regiment, with Albert Cashier, embarked on a river steamer for Columbus, Kentucky, a former Confederate stronghold. From Columbus the regiment was shipped via railroad to Jackson, Tennessee, where they reported to another Boone County soldier, General Stephen A. Hurlbut, who had distinguished himself at the Battle of Shiloh. After a short stay at Jackson, the Ninety-fifth was ordered to Grand Junction, where it became part of the Army of the Tennessee, under command of General Grant.
The Ninety-fifth proved to be a fighting regiment; it took part in most of the important battles of the western field of operations and at Vicksburg was one of the first regiments to enter the fallen city.
Albert Cashier, too, proved to be a good soldier: in spite of his lack of height and brawn, he was able to withstand the long marches, the rigors of camp life, and the problems of an infantryman, as well as his comrades who were bigger and brawnier. If a husky comrade assisted Albert in handling a heavy assignment (one which required lifting or pushing), Albert would volunteer to help with his chores of washing clothes or replacing buttons; Albert seemed especially adept at those tasks so despised by the infantryman. However, in handling a musket in battle, he was the equal of any in the company.
Cashier was not a soldier to fraternize with his comrades in the company. A visitor to Company G of the Ninety-fifth Illinois Volunteers, would probably have seen Cashier
382sitting apart from the little group of soldiers, silently smoking a pipe and appearing to have thoughts of distant places on his mind.
After taking part in the Red River Campaign under General Nathaniel P. Banks, the Ninety-fifth was assigned to the command of General Samuel D. Sturgis, which had been ordered by General Sherman to proceed from Memphis into northern Mississippi in pursuit of the Confederate cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. (This assignment proved to be a very difficult one, particularly with a commander as inept as General Sturgis.) The Ninety-fifth was made part of a brigade which also consisted of the 81st, the 108th, the 113th, and the 120th Illinois Infantry, and one artillery company. By June 7, 1864, they were at Ripley, Mississippi. The weather was exceedingly hot and humid, and the march to Ripley had been rapid; the brigade was almost in a state of exhaustion.
Sturgis had been advised that Forrest's forces were in the vicinity of Tupelo, Mississippi, preparing an expedition to cross the Tennessee River so that they could cause trouble to the supply lines of General Sherman, who was then at the gates of Atlanta. Hearing that Sturgis' forces were coming down state, Forrest moved rapidly to meet them. Conforming to his reputation, he surprised a small part of the advance Union cavalry, brought his troops up rapidly, and at a small crossroads known as Brice's he opened the engagement on June 10. Forrest's ability to bring up the most men "firstest" stood him in good stead. The exhausted Union infantry was slow in coming up to support the advance cavalry; Forrest gained the initiative and would not relinquish it. In the hot June weather, Union infantrymen fell from heat prostration even before arriving at the scene.
383The Ninety-fifth came up rapidly, but not "double quick," for their colonel, Thomas W. Humphrey, felt that a forced march in the heat would so exhaust his men that they would be unable to fight when they arrived at the scene of the battle. They fought stubbornly when they did reach the scene, however. Early in the afternoon their beloved Colonel Humphrey was killed, and the command fell to Captain William Stewart, next in rank. He served but a short time when he was severely wounded and had to be removed from the field. The command now devolved on Cashier's commander, Captain E. N. Bush, of Company G, who also was killed after a short interval. Up from the officers' ranks came Captain Almon Schellenger to assume command. Meanwhile, the battle continued. The regimental historian states that during this severe fighting neither the commanding general nor any of the staff appeared to direct the disposition of the troops or the ordering up of ammunition to refill the now-empty cartridge boxes. The Union forces became disorganized and, pressed hard by the confident Confederates, began a retreat toward Memphis. The time was about 5 P.M. After sustaining severe losses in men and material, the thoroughly beaten army -- what was left of it -- arrived back in Memphis.
After the debacle of Brice's Crossroads, the Ninety-fifth was given a chance to reorganize and recruit.
By now Cashier was a veteran infantryman, and the Ninety-fifth Illinois Volunteers a tough, experienced infantry outfit. They were to see more severe action as they participated in such terrific engagements as the pursuit of Price in Missouri, the battles of Spring Hill and Franklin, the defense of Nashville under Thomas and the pursuit and defeat of Hood. By February, 1865, the Ninety-fifth was
384down around New Orleans, where it participated in the investments of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely before Mobile. Meanwhile, the successes of Grant in the East brought the war to a close.
On August 15, 1865, the Ninety-fifth returned to northern Illinois, and Albert Cashier -- with his comrades of Company G -- received a welcome for heroes at Belvidere. They had served for three years and, according to the regimental historian, had traveled 9,960 miles.
Albert Cashier lingered around Belvidere for a short tune; then the urge to travel (which apparently had brought him
385to Belvidere originally) caused him to pack up his few belongings and move on again. He went south in Illinois, to the village of Saunemin, in Livingston County, near Pontiac. At Saunemin he made his living as a truck gardener and handy man around town. Proud of the record of his Company G, he would become incensed when the village boys teased him by calling him a "drummer boy." "I was a fighting infantryman," he would shriek at them.
In 1911, while in the pursuit of his occupation as handy man, he was working one day in the garage of State Senator Ira M. Lish, an early automobile enthusiast. In some tragic way Albert Cashier was struck by the automobile and sustained a fractured leg. A physician was summoned -- probably over the protests of Albert Cashier -- who, in attempting to reduce the fracture, discovered that this hero of many savage battles was a female person! Imagine the surprise and mortification!
Senator Lish and the physician agreed with Cashier that it would be better for her to remain in the role of Cashier for the time being.
Three months later Lish and the doctor decided that Albert should be taken to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Quincy, Illinois. Albert Cashier's sex was divulged to the superintendent and physician of the home, and they agreed to keep it secret. As Cashier was now crippled and bed-ridden by injury and infirmities of age, it was easy to do so. She was sixty-six years old when she entered the home.
In her application for admittance, she gave her real name as Jennie Hodgers, and stated that she had been born in Ireland on December 25, 1844, and had come to this country as a stowaway. This application was signed by her mark; she had never learned to write.
One of the highlights of her stay at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home was a visit she received from the captain of her old Company G. He recognized her in her uniform, and they recalled their days of soldiering. Whether this meeting was prearranged in order to dispel all doubts as to her identity is not known, but it is a possibility.
Cashier remained in the home about three years, when her mental condition necessitated her transfer to the insane asylum at Watertown, now the East Moline State Hospital. The paper committing her to that institution listed her symptoms as "no memory, noisy at times, poor sleeper, and feeble." This was in March, 1914.
At the asylum she had to wear dresses, which caused a "little Civil War" in itself. But protests availed Cashier nothing. After some rebellion, Jennie finally assumed the garb of her real sex, ending a masquerade which lasted from
387before 1862 until 1914. On October 10, 1915, she passed away in the asylum.
Her comrades in the G.A.R. wanted to give her a military funeral, and they requested that she be allowed to be buried in her soldier's uniform. She was buried with full military honors in the little cemetery at Saunemin, and the flag she loved was draped around her casket. Peacefully she sleeps with the secrets of her unusual life.
Tombstone of Private Cashier in the cemetery at Saunemin, Illinois.
At the time of her admittance to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, Cashier was receiving a soldier's pension of $70 a month. Having practically no expenses at the home, she gradually accumulated an estate of $500. When she was adjudged insane in 1913, the Illinois State Bank of Quincy was appointed conservator of this estate. If it had been an estate of $5,000 instead of $500, no better care could have been taken of it. The officer in charge, a Mr. Singleton, kept meticulous account of all details, and when Cashier died, the bank became the administrator of the estate. After all expenses were paid, such as pastors' fees (two officiated at her funeral) and the cost of grave digging and bringing her body to Saunemin, $281.86 remained.
Several purported heirs came forward to claim this small estate, but apparently none of their claims could be validated, for in 1924 (nine years after the death of Cashier) the residue was turned over to the county treasurer. It remains on the county books even to this day.
So ends the story of Albert D. J. Cashier, or Jennie Hodgers, whichever you will. Why did she forsake her sex? Why did she come to Belvidere? Many other questions remain unanswered, and forever will be. Yes, it is stranger than fiction!