Hundreds of women on both sides in the American Civil War took on male names and appearances, so that they could join the fight for their respective sides. Some saw it as an adventure, but there was also the question of pay and freedom. …
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Why should only men be able to fight for what they believed in? Also of course a soldier earned roughly double what any woman, whatever her profession or trade, could earn at the time. A ‘man’ had freedom which a woman could not enjoy, so some of these women kept up the pretence for the rest of their lives, although the majority were spotted at some early point. Jenny Hodgers was one of the women who believed that there were more opportunities given to young men than would ever be available to women at that time. It is even possible that she saw it as the only way she could survive in her adopted country.
Righthand gives an estimate of about 400 such women who actually served as soldiers. ( Righthand 2011) Yet in 1909 the United States Army issued a statement, saying that they denied the fact :-
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. (quoted by Johnson, 2009).
Jennie Irene Hodgers was one such woman. Born in Ireland into a poor family she somehow managed to survive the famine and eventually arrived in America, perhaps from Belfast. The date is uncertain, but she possibly already dressed as a man. Crombie suggests that she was a stowaway ( Crombie , 2005). One suggestion is that her step father made her dress as a boy in order that she could earn the family necessary money ( Vicksburg National Park , undated). She took work as a labourer, as a shepherd and as a farmhand, but America was already split by war, and had been so since 1861. Aged only 19 in 1862 she enlisted in the 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment ( O Coisdealha, 2010). There was a medical examination, but this was only concerned with the eyes and ears of the new recruits. She didn’t even have to commit forgery as she could neither read or write, so just made her mark (Crombie, 2005). There was no space on the form for writing male or female. It simply wasn’t considered as a possibility. There followed a month or so of basic military training and then the company marched off to Kentucky and their real war began. During the next three years Jennie would march some 10,000 miles back and forth as the war progressed. Despite being only 5’ 3”, and so one of the shortest people in the regiment , she held her own in some 40 battles under the leadership of General Ulysses S.Grant. She was simply thought of as a bit of a loner , as when he /she sought privacy for such things as bathing. It is believed that the other soldiers were unaware of her true gender. This she was able to keep up even when she had a severe attack of diarrhea (Vicksberg National Park, undated). She was captured at the siege of Vicksburg, but escaped by knocking her guard cold. She managed to get through the whole war without serious injury, although there were times when many around her suffered serious wounds. This meant her body was never examined closely all that time . Years later when her true identity was finally revealed one of her former messmates would say :- “I never suspected at any time all through the service that Cashier was a woman.” There was agreement that she pulled her weight as well as any other soldier. The men slept in the clothing they had worn all day. Sometimes they would go weeks without undressing and bathing. All of this would help Jenny to keep up her deception. The war was over at last in August 1965, and she, along with all the other soldiers, was demustered with an honourable discharge. She was then left to make her own way ion life , as were all the other veterans. Faced with an uncertain future she decided to keep up the disguise. She returned to the one place she knew well, Illinois , where of course she was
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