The Story of Albert Cashier – True Identity Discovered in the Illinois Veterans Home of Quincy
Although newspapers across the U.S. and abroad carried Albert Cashier’s obituary when he died in 1915, the Civil War veteran had lived in obscurity. A loner, Cashier during his service bedded down apart from other members of Company G of the 95th Illinois Infantry. After the war, he settled in Saunemin, a village about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.
A 1864 portrait of Albert Cashier, who enlisted with the 95th Illinois Infantry in 1862 and served as a rifleman through three years and some 40 Civil War battles. (AP)
A 1864 portrait of Albert Cashier, who enlisted with the 95th Illinois Infantry in 1862 and served as a rifleman through three years and some 40 Civil War battles. (AP) A handyman who never married, Cashier wore his old uniform every Memorial Day, despite the teasing of the village’s children. “Were you a bugle boy?” they’d ask the old soldier who stood barely 5 feet tall.
Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy - Once home to Albert Cashier
 In fact, Cashier was a rifleman — and a darned good shot — as a reporter wrote in May 1913 from Quincy, Illinois: “Of all the war tales veterans will tell on Memorial Day in a thousand American cities, towns and villages, there is not one so strange and so full of heroism as the tale of the veteran I have just visited here in the Illinois Soldiers’ Home. “Albert D.J. Cashier, who fought through the three hardest years of the Civil War, who draws a pension from the United States, and is a member of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), is a woman!” When the news of Cashier’s biological sex reached Washington, the bureaucrats thought that Cashier was a scam artist — a woman who had never set foot on a battlefield and was faking a soldier’s identity. But when they threatened to revoke Cashier’s pension, veterans of Company G came forth to testify that the person in the Soldiers’ Home was indeed the private who fought alongside them. “I was with the (company) till after the capture of Vicksburg,” Robert D. Hannah said in a deposition taken by a special examiner of the federal Bureau of Pensions. “There has never been any doubt in my mind since it came out that Cashier was a woman but that it is so.” The saga thus verified, Cashier continued to be good copy, though the stories weren’t necessarily consistent. The Macon (Missouri) Republican asked: “Why did a pretty young Irish girl enter the Union army, and serve all through the terrible days of a war unparalleled for fierceness?” The Belvidere (Illinois) Republican-Northwestern reported that, “According to the woman’s story, she donned boy’s clothes in her native country, Ireland,” adding that “Cashier was in love with a member of the regiment, and enlisted to be near him.” The Leavenworth (Kansas) Post wrote that in Ireland, she “always went under the name of George,” but “declared her proper name is Georgia Hughes.” Yet The Guardian, a British paper, reported: “She has refused to disclose her name or tell her family history.” The Green Bay Press-Gazette punted, identifying Cashier as a “woman whose real name will probably never be known, because recently she became demented.” In 2006, the little house Albert Cashier’s employer built for him in 1885 was brought back to Saunemin, Illinois, and completely restored. It is shown Aug. 27, 2019, near the corner of Center and Maple streets. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune) Indeed, Cashier was transferred to the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane in 1914 and died there the following year. But one biographical entry is incontrovertible: Cashier insisted for decades on being known by masculine pronouns, a choice Flashback will honor. Was Cashier transgender, as it’s now known: someone whose sense of gender does not match his or her sex at birth? Our research doesn’t reveal the definitive reason why Cashier lived as a man. Born in Ireland on Dec. 25, 1843, he came to the United States and, on Aug. 6, 1862, responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers by enlisting in the Union Army. He was already dressing as a man. One tradition has it that Cashier, perhaps encouraged by a relative, thought that gave him a better chance of finding a job. Whatever the case, his fellow soldiers accepted Pvt. Cashier as a taciturn type but a faithful comrade in arms. Half a century later, an old comrade, Robert Horan, recalled another aspect of Cashier’s personality. “But we did think sometimes that she acted more like a woman than a man,” Horan told a reporter. “And she did lots of washing for the boys — she used to wash our shirts.” Cashier’s valor was never questioned. Doing reconnaissance at the siege of Vicksburg, according to one recollection, he was taken prisoner by a Confederate soldier. Cashier grabbed his captor’s gun, knocked him down with it and made his escape to the Union Army’s lines. On another occasion, Sgt. C.W. Ives marched with Cashier on a column that got cut off from the rest of Company G. In his diary, Ives noted that when the soldiers took cover behind some fallen trees, Cashier jumped up on a log and yelled: “Hey you darn rebels, why don’t you get up where we can see you?” After being discharged April 17, 1865, Cashier made his way to Saunemin, where again he was known for his gentle side. “Many times he came to our place to stay a while, and he could rock my baby daughter to sleep better than we could,” a neighbor recalled for the local historical society. Another noted that, despite the children’s teasing, Cashier would give them candy and ice cream after the Memorial Day parade. He was a church janitor and the town’s lamplighter. The Chesbro family, for whom Cashier worked, built a small house for him in 1885. He took his meals with the Lannon family, and W.J. Singleton, a banker, led the fight that secured Cashier’s pension. In 1911, he was serving as a chauffeur for a local politician, state Sen. Ira Lish. Cashier was under the car making a repair when Lish inadvertently drove into him. The surgeon who set his broken leg discovered Cashier’s secret, but the senator and the surgeon vowed not to divulge it. Some say the Lannons already knew. A government grave marker, front, which replaced the original, and a new headstone acknowledging Albert Cashier's origins stand in succession at his gravesite at Sunny Slope Cemetery on Aug. 27. 2019, in Saunemin, Illinois. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune) Still, it was obvious that Cashier could no longer work or live on his own. So Lish got Cashier admitted to the Soldiers’ Home on May 5, 1911. There his secret was again discovered when male attendants attempted to bathe him. He asked for a female nurse who informed the superintendent, and Col. J.O. Anderson decided to say nothing for the moment. But as Cashier’s mental condition deteriorated, Anderson thought there was less need for discretion. As the reporter who broke Cashier’s story noted: “She does not know, however, that the world has learned her secret. And her comrades in the home, who have treated her always with touching kindness and respect, still call her ‘Albert,’ and give no hint that they understand.” That changed when Cashier was transferred to the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane. His beloved Union Army uniform was taken away, and he was forced to wear women’s clothing. Might that have contributed to his retreat from reality? When Cashier died, the Watertown post of the Grand Army of the Republic made the funeral arrangements. “Thirty Moline veterans gathered to pay their last tribute to the departed,” the Moline (Illinois) Dispatch noted. “J. G. Sholes, post commander, spoke; there was singing by nurses from Watertown hospital, and post exercises were carried out.” Cashier’s remains were escorted from the funeral parlor to the railroad station and put aboard the 3:45 train to Saunemin. Two women, themselves long deceased, had provided for a cemetery plot there for Cashier who had done some work for them. Buried in his uniform, he left an estate of $282. The executor was Singleton, the banker who got Cashier his pension. He spent nine years trying to find an heir, as several people said they were a relative. Their claims didn’t check out, so the money was deposited in the county treasury. But during his research, Singleton discovered Cashier’s birth name: Jennie Hodgers. In 2006, the little house Cashier’s employer built for him was brought back to Saunemin. It had been moved from town to town, and it was restored and placed near the corner of Center and Maple streets. On the edge of town is Sunny Slope Cemetery, where the Memorial Day parade would end and Cashier would give the children candy and ice cream after marchers put flowers on soldiers’ graves. His gravestone is supplemented by another. The original marker, by the 1970s, was badly weathered, and more was known about the town’s hero, so the new monument was lettered accordingly: ALBERT D.J. CASHIER Co. G 95 ILL. INF. CIVIL WAR BORN JENNIE HODGERS IN CLOCHER HEAD, IRELAND 1843-1915 A Kindle book is available with more details on the life of Albert Cashier here: Shopping on Amazon through the links below helps support History in the Heartland and our efforts to document History through America's Midwest!

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