While “brother fought brother” during the American Civil War, women in the United States were also involved in the conflict as spies, doctors, nurses, and Soldiers. Some women hid their identity – and their gender – in order to fight with regiments. This blog features two Union Soldiers who fought for a cause, against surmounting odds.
Jennie Hodgers, a.k.a. Albert D. J. Cashier
Not much is known about Jennie Hodgers early life, but she was born in Clogherhead, Ireland, in 1844. After coming to America as a stowaway, she settled in Illinois. In August 1862, the 19 year old enlisted in the Union Army as an infantryman in the 95th Illinois Infantry Regiment, under the name (and disguise) Albert D. J. Cashier. The only physical examination required checking the eyes and ears, and she became a Private First Class. This unit became part of GEN Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee.
Hodgers stayed with her regiment through the duration of the war and was mustered out of the Union Army on August 17, 1865. She served for three years and 11 days, fought in more than 40 battles, and earned a reputation for bravery and tenacity under fire.
Also notable is that she was the only one to both serve for the full time that her unit served, and survive the war without anyone discovering her gender. This is made more amazing because she was captured once! Hodgers escaped her Confederate captors during the Vicksburg Campaign by knocking a guard unconscious with a rifle.
Sarah Edmonds Seele, a.k.a. Franklin Thompson
Sarah Edmonds was born in New Brunswick, Canada, but her abusive father caused Edmonds to run away. To aid her escape, she dressed as a man, went by the name Franklin Thompson, and went as far as the United States. Edmonds lived as a woman once in the United States, but resumed her disguise to enlist in the 2nd Michigan Infantry in 1861. As a Soldier, she served in the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, the Peninsular Campaign, Vicksburg, First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Antietam.
Edmonds military career as Frank Thompson came to an end when she contracted malaria. Fearing discovery, she left in April 1863 to seek treatment in a civilian hospital as a woman. By the time she recovered, Frank Thompson was already wanted for deserting. So she returned to the Civil War as a female nurse at Washington D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the United States Christian Commission.
In 1886, she received a government pension of $12 a month for her military service, and eventually gained an honorable discharge. She married L. H. Seele in 1867. She published an autobiography, which can be read in its entirety through the University of Michigan library: Nurse and spy in the Union army: comprising the adventures and experiences of a woman in hospitals, camps and battle-fields.
According to DeAnne Blanton, in Prologue:
Most important, recent works refrain from stereotyping the women soldiers as… anything other than what they were: soldiers fighting for their respective governments of their own volition.
Note: This entry is part of our “Women’s History Month,” as well as a new mini-series on the American Civil War. CECOM is holding a Gettysburg Staff Ride at the end of April, and the historians will feature stories, biographies, and background on the specific battle as well as the Civil War for the next month.