Of the three presentations, the most entertaining and peculiar was
the story of Albert Cashier. Yes, Albert, and yes, the story is
still about a woman.
Jenny Hodgers was a feisty, independent young
girl born in Ireland. As she grew up, she longed to go to America.
But her family had no such ambition.
She came to a point in her life when she decided that if she were
to go, she would have to go alone. Realizing that a very young lady
traveling across the ocean on a ship would face certain danger, she
decided to travel the ocean as a boy. She cut off her hair, put on
clothing belonging to her brother and became a stowaway on a ship to
When she arrived in Boston, the reality of being a young female
in a large city struck her, and she realized once again that her
ruse as a male was the safest way for her to survive in the land she
had longed to be a part of.
So, Albert lived in Boston, found work as a cashier and lived
there for a while. When she started hearing whispers that there were
fortunes to be found in the West, she decided that she, too, would
make the long journey west. Still living her life as a male, she
traveled as far as Illinois. She made her way to Belleview and
settled in there, got a job and lived her life.
However, being a man as she was, she soon came under scrutiny
from town folk, as all their sons had joined the Union Army and
"Albert" was lagging behind, not doing his patriotic duty.
It seemed Jenny aka Albert had no choice but to enlist, and that
she did. Albert Cashier joined the Illinois 95th Infantry in the
second year of the Civil War. Because there was such a push to get
soldiers, much of the physical exam was ignored during enlistment.
Kay, telling the story in first person, explained: "They checked
my hands to see if I had enough fingers to shoot the gun; they
checked my teeth to see if they could pull open the powder bags; and
they checked my feet to see if I could march long distances. They
didn't look at anything in between."
Albert Cashier served in the 95th infantry for the entirety of
the war. Being a female she was naturally smaller than the other
soldiers, and many reckoned her to be a child of about 12 years old.
But in her words, she was "feisty."
Because she was small and agile, she was often sent to scout the
enemy troops. On one such occasion she was captured, but when her
captor fell asleep on the job, she popped him in the ear with the
butt of his own rifle and ran back to her troop.
After the war Cashier returned to Illinois and wandered the
state, looking for a place to call home. She ended up in Saunemin, a
small community north of Bloomington and Pontiac.
Throughout her life, Jenny remained Albert. She found work in her
new home and daily wore her blue soldier coat, which was a great
source of pride for her. She also voted in every election, long
before any other woman gained that right.
As she grew older and less capable of hard labor, she was given
the job as the town's lamplighter. She lit the torches at dusk and
would make the rounds at the end of the evening, putting them all
There was also a very wealthy man in town who looked after Albert
and promised there would always be work at his mansion, even if it
was only picking up sticks.
That same man was the first in the area to own a horseless
carriage. Kay explained that even though he was quite good at
driving the automobile forward, he wasn‘t all that good in reverse.
One day while attempting to back up the vehicle, he backed over
Cashier, breaking Albert's leg in multiple places.
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The VFW hall in Mount Pulaski filled with laughter as a very
animated Kay recounted the event.
As the driver cried out, "Call for the doctor," I screamed "NO!
Don't call the doctor!" But it went unheeded. When the doctor
arrived, Jenny was found out.
Kay went on to explain that in her elder years, Jenny resided in
a veterans home and received her pension as a veteran.
Kay said, no doubt there would have been those in Saunemin who
whispered about Jenny and the decisions she'd made, but the town on
the whole loved and respected her and her service to the Union.
When Jenny died in 1915 she was brought back to Saunemin for
burial with full military rites. She was buried as Albert Cashier.
Later her tombstone would be corrected to show both of her
identities. Today the stone can be seen at the cemetery in Saunemin,
and it reads: "Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill Inf Civil War,
Born Jennie Hodgers, in Clogher Head, Ireland, 1843-1915."
Kay also recounted, again in first person, five years in the life
of "Mother Bickerdyke." Bickerdyke was a young widow and mother
living in Galesburg during the Civil War.
She was nominated by members of her church to travel to Cairo
with a load of food and supplies for the soldiers. The trip was to
take two weeks at the most, but when she arrived, the need of her
service led her to stay with her infantry until the war was over.
Bikerdyke recounted the day when Gen. William Sherman heard a
complaint against her from his soldiers. He said if anyone wanted to
complain about Mother Bickerdyke, they would have to go to President
Lincoln, as he exclaimed, "She ranks me."
Bickerdyke stayed with the Union soldiers and accompanied Sherman
on his march to the sea. She was also allowed a place of honor in
the victory parade in Washington, D.C., after the war, riding on a
horse decorated with flowers, alongside Sherman.
The third presentation, again given in first person, was a brief
documentary on Julie Dent Grant, who was born and raised on a
Missouri plantation where slaves were commonplace. When she married
Ulysses S. Grant, they lived for a time in Missouri, and she was
given four slaves as a wedding gift. When the couple moved to
Illinois, a free state, she brought only one with her and referred
to her as the maid.
Later Grant would become a leader among leaders in the Union
Army. Julia Dent Grant was in the audience with her husband on the
day of the victory parade in Washington, where she witnessed Mother
Bickerdyke riding on a decorated horse at Sherman's side.
Betty Carlson Kay is a retired teacher. She taught in the
Springfield school system for 34 years. Today she lives in
Jacksonville with her husband, who pastors a church there. After
retiring she took up writing books on the Lincolns and the Civil
War. She travels about putting on these presentations as a means of
promoting her books.
Her books are written in short segments and are age-appropriate
for kids of junior high school age and up as well as adults.
[By NILA SMITH]