Full disclosure: I have what I consider a mild fetish for what my partner refers to as “Civil War porn.” This should not be confused in any way with, say, a perfectly healthy imaginative use of Confederate gray and Yankee blue to act out a “siege of Fort Sumter” fantasy between consenting adults.
Rather, this is more like me late at night sitting alone by lamplight—like Grant and Lee at Spotsylvania, or Cletus and Sanji at 7-Eleven—watching “Ken Burns: The Civil War,” and listening to the rumbling, bassy voice of the late Shelby Foote as he describes a Rebel soldier at Gettysburg telling a rabbit to “run ol’ hare.” Pass the Kleenex (wink).
This year, Hollywood—and therefore all of America—commemorates the War Between the States, with a Grand Parade of offerings that includes the Steven Spielberg-directed big-budget biopic “Lincoln,” the bloodsucker-craze-inspired/history-tweaking “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and even—God help us—“Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.”
Of course, none of these can depict with any accuracy the true horror of the deadliest war in U.S. history, one that claimed more than 750,000 American soldiers and an untold number of civilian lives. One truly “Amazing Story” (thank you, Spielberg) from that heroic and tragic conflict gives new meaning to the oft-used phrase, “Brothers’ War.”
Albert D. J. Cashier was born on Christmas Day of 1843 in County Louth, Ireland, and later moved to the United States. On August 6, 1862, he enlisted into the 95th Illinois Infantry, a regiment of the Army of the Tennessee under the command of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Cashier’s unit fought in about 40 battles, including Vicksburg.
An account exists of Cashier’s capture in battle and subsequent escape after overpowering a prison guard. He served his full three-year enlistment and was mustered out on August 17, 1865 with the rest of the 95th Illinois; the unit had lost 289 soldiers to death and disease.
After the war, Cashier returned to Illinois, where he lived in the town of Saunemin for more than 40 years. He took his voting franchise seriously (which is notable, in light of subsequent events), casting his ballot regularly and standing up to claim a Civil War veteran’s pension.
Cashier’s life took an extraordinary turn in November 1910, when he was hit by a car and broke his leg. The following May, he was moved to Quincy, Illinois, where a place was found for the Civil War veteran at the Soldier and Sailors home. After the onset of geriatric dementia, Cashier was moved in March 1913 to an institution that bore the unfortunate name of Watertown State Hospital for the Insane.
It was in his final extremity that Cashier’s lifelong “secret”—one which had apparently been shared with trusted intimates throughout the course of what must have been a remarkable life—“came out.” Cashier had been “born” a female, but had “chosen” to live as a man.
While in Watertown State Hospital, attendants trying to bathe him learned that Cashier was female-bodied. Exhibiting the characteristic sensitivity of the age, officials forced the war hero to wear a dress. After word leaked to the press, the story went “viral” that Cashier had been a woman incognito.
Many of Cashier’s Civil War comrades protested his treatment. Fellow soldiers remembered Cashier as being small, with a preference for being left alone (something that was not at all uncommon).
Albert Cashier died October 10, 1915. In 1924, his executor learned that Cashier had been born Jennie Irene Hodgers. He was buried in his Union Army uniform, and his tombstone read, “Albert D. J. Cashier, Co[mpany]. G, 95 Ill[inois]. Inf[antry].” In the 1970s, a second tombstone was added that contains both of his names.
It must be noted that during those days 100 years ago when Cashier/Hodgers was living in the “khaki closet,” the earliest form of proto-DADT for transgender troops was taking place, as when the Adjutant General of the U.S. Army responded to a 1909 request concerning woman soldiers of the Civil War.
Wrote Gen. F. C. Ainsworth, “I have the honor to inform you that no official record has been found in the War Department showing specifically that any woman was ever enlisted in the military service of the United States as a member of any organization of the Regular or Volunteer Army at any time during the period of the civil war.”
(The general weakly acknowledged, “It is possible, however, that there may have been a few instances of women having served as soldiers for a short time without their sex having been detected, but no record of such cases is known to exist in the official files.”)
Although the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—which prohibits any citizen from being denied the right to vote based on his or her sex—wasn’t ratified until five years after Cashier’s death, his transgender-identity was a regular sight at the Saunemin, Ill. ballot box. There’s no record, to my knowledge, of which candidates Cashier supported during those decades in which he exercised his “right” to vote, but I cannot help but wonder, in light of all that we know now, for whom he would cast it in November.