Mississippi, 1863. The men of G-Company in the 95th Illinois Voluntary Infantry must have cheered loudly as ‘Little Al’ Cashier clambered up the tree, pulled off the tattered, gun-shot Union flag and hoisted a new one.
Or maybe they held back their applause until he was down again, safely out of sight of the Confederate snipers. Either way, all were agreed that Little Al was as courageous a soldier as any of them.
A third of G-Company were dead by the end of the U.S. Civil War, killed in action or prey to the virulent diseases that swept the lines. Far fewer were still alive in 1913, nearly 50 years later, when word reached them that Little Al had been incarcerated in a state psychiatric institution.
That might have been shocking enough but an infinitely greater surprise was in store; it transpired that Private Albert Cashier was assigned female at birth.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s order that the U.S. military no longer accept transgender individuals as recruits, it seems a fitting time to acknowledge the extraordinary life and times of Civil War veteran Albert Cashier, born Jennie Hodgers, who was the subject of a ‘We’ve Been Around’ documentary last year.
Born in Ireland in about 1842, Albert Cashier is regarded as among the first known examples of a transgender person in American history.
It is important to note that the concept of being transgender was effectively unknown in the United States at this point, although some Native American tribes did assign third-gender roles, which are sometimes described under the term ‘Two-Spirit.’