Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Private Albert D.J. Cashier of the 95th Illinois Infantry was captured by Confederate defenders during the Siege of Vicksburg in May of 1863. An aggressive and hard-fighting soldier, Cashier managed to escape by physically overpowering the guards, seizing a weapon and outrunning a squad in hot pursuit. Cashier went on to fight in at least a dozen battles and skirmishes with the 95th throughout the Red River campaign and into the heart of Louisiana. Private Cashier was with the Army of the Cumberland when after six days of bombardment it broke through Confederate defenses in one of the conflict’s great drives toward Richmond and victory.  Known throughout the regiment for bravery and fearlessness in combat, Cashier overcame all odds to finish the war without wound or injury.  But “Albert” carried a secret thru all that campaigning.  Private Cashier’s real name was Jennie Hodgers, a female immigrant from Ireland who had decided that in her new land, men had a better future than women.
            Jennie was not alone. I have personally researched and verified at least 240 similar Civil War stories and agree with the experts in believing that as many as 1000 “secret” female warriors served on both sides during that titanic struggle. Martha Parks Lindley (AKA James Smith) served with the 6th U.S. Cavalry where her skill with horses as well as with sword and carbine saw her promoted to Sergeant twice.  And then there was Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, a southern officer who raised a Company of fighting militia and led them into battle. The self-proclaimed “Lieutenant’s” real name was Loretta Janeta Valazquez and her hunger for action took her to several battlefields, where she was once wounded and twice injured, still managing to disguise her gender despite medical treatment (a scenario which brought most female disguises to light). After two years of field service she became an undercover spy for the Confederate government, making a real name for herself in espionage history.
            Sarah Edmunds serving with the 2nd Michigan Infantry as Private Franklin Thompson, shouldered a musket, carried the mail (very dangerous duty), and tended the wounded through many engagements, including the costly battle of Fredericksburg, about which Edmunds carried searing memories for the rest of her very active life. (She wrote a book when it was all over.) Another “secret” soldier at Fredericksburg somehow managed to delay the birth of a child – surprising General Ambrose Burnside to say the least – until the battle was over.
            It is known that at least five female soldiers fought at Gettysburg, including two Confederates who died in Pickett’s Charge, and a third who was shot, captured and had a leg amputated in a Northern hospital.
            One of the most fascinating of all these stories is that of Marie Lewis of the 8th New York Cavalry, a black woman who had escaped slavery, and passed herself off as a white male through 18 months of military service fighting for the cause of abolition, actually being selected to serve on a special honor guard presenting captured Confederate flags to the War Department in Washington.
            Once “discovered”, female soldiers were often kept in their chosen regiment to nurse the wounded or otherwise serve in a support role. Most were promptly discharged and sent home where they were apt to be treated with disrespect by disapproving civilians.
            In a particularly violent war and in an era in which men were expected to do the fighting, why would so many women wish to endure the everyday hardships of camp life and the welter of combat in such numbers?   For many, the reasons were not that different than their male counterparts: patriotism, devotion to a cause, and the attraction of bonuses and regular pay. Some were trying to escape either an unhappy and unfulfilling home life or the oppressive social restrictions of the times. By far, most female soldiers enlisted to be with and support husbands, brothers, fathers or sweethearts, and many did so openly and with the knowledge of their commanders – especially in the South.  One Confederate General said “they fight like demons; I wish I could recruit a hundred more.” 

Confederate Lieutenant Harry Buford on the left and Loretta Janeta Velazquez on the right were one-and-the-same.  Wealthy enough to afford false facial hair and body-molding wire bracing, this southern lady managed to show up on battlefields in the east and in the west, in addition to engaging in espionage. It is believed she may have been involved in the planning of an early Lincoln assassination prior to the Ford theatre event. She remains a controversial historical figure to the present day.
P.S.  Ironically, Al Cooper, a descendant of abolitionist/Union forbears, was honored by then Governor  Zell Miller of Georgia with an appointment as “Lieutenant Colonel” in the Georgia State Militia for interstate cooperation during the Olympic Games.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea so many female soldiers fought during the Civil War. 1,000! I'm interested to look up Marie Lewis and find out more about her. My daughter and I study someone from black history every Sunday night before she goes to bed, and this woman would be a good addition to our study. Thanks for sharing!