Three soldiers by the names of John Evans, Albert Cashier, and Jack Williams fought for the Union Army in the US Civil War.
But there more to these enlistees than anyone knew. Despite being assigned to different regiments, they shared a common secret.
- All three enlisted.
- All three went to war in disguise.
- And, all three were women.
The Union and Confederate armies banned the enlistment of women to take up arms during the war so they served in other capacities. Many went to work as nurses. A few made their mark as spies.
Most kept the home fires burning while their husbands, sons, fathers, and boyfriends went off to thick of battle.
Some women, however, needed to express their patriotism in a more proactive way.
So they trimmed their hair, slipped into men's clothing, and enlisted as men. It's surprising to learn that an estimated 400 women concealed their identities so they could serve on the front lines. Others put the number at closer to a thousand.
About 250 women secretly joined Confederate forces. Here are the stories of three women-soldiers:
Mary Owens assumed the name of John Evans and spent eighteen months at war.
The reason Owens went to war was to be with her lover, William Evans, whom she had secret married in Montour, PA, over her father's objections. Soon after the war was underway, she enlisted in Company K, 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The accounts differ as to assignments.
One says Owens and Evans served in different divisions. Another report, however, contends they fought side-by-side until William was killed in action. Despite his death, Owens continued to battle on pretending to be Williams' brother.
The lie wasn't discovered Owens was a woman until she was seriously wounded. She was discharged and sent home to Pennsylvania. As to why she wanted to serve, Owens said, "I wanted excitement."
Owens achieved a reputation as a daring soldier and demonstrated a "nerveless performance in combat situations. . . "
Owens, who later married welsh-born coal miner Abraham Jenkins and moved to Stark County, Ohio, died around 1881. She was in her early 40s, and survived by a son, daughter, and a sister.
Jennie Hodgers enlisted in the 95th Illinois infantry as Albert Cashier on August 6, 1862.
Her regiment, part of the Army of Tennessee, fought in over 40 conflicts, including the Siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Nashville, and the Red River Campaign.
Hodgers, considered the shortest soldier in the regiment, spent three years in uniform until her discharge in August 1865. She was the most famous among those women who enlisted because she continued to live as a man after the war.
Her secret emerged when, in November 1910, she was struck by a car and broke her leg. The hospital, wouldn't reveal her true gender and sent her to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois.
Three years later, Hodgers was diagnosed with dementia and she was sent to a state hospital for the insane.
That's when the staff discovered she was a woman and forced her to wear a dress. The publicity that followed surprised her former military comrades but they protested thee way she was treated.
When Hodgers died, October 10, she was buried in her uniform. The tombstone was inscribed with the name Albert Cashier. A second tombstone was added in 1970 with her real name.
Frances Clayton enlisted in the army with her husband in the fall of 1861 and called herself Jack Williams.
The back of a photograph of Clayton, dressed as a soldier, contains handwriting saying she served in the 4th Missouri Heavy Artillery, Company 1, as well as the 13th Missouri Cavalry, Company A.
According to newspaper accounts, Clayton served along side her husband, Elmer Clayton, until 1862 when he was killed in the Battle of Stones River. The reports indicate she saw him die at a skirmish in front of her and then stepped over his body and joined other soldiers in mounting a charge against the Confederates.
Clayton, sometimes referred to as Frances Clalin, succeeded in carrying off her masquerade by assuming the persona of her comrades.
She was a tall woman with a few masculine features. She taught herself to walk "with a masculine stride" and speak in gruff voice. She also learned to swear, drink, and gamble.
From a skill standpoint, fellow soldiers described her as an excellent swordsman. A superior described Clayton favorably when he wrote, "She stood guard, went on picket duty, in rain or storm, and fought on the field with the rest, and was considered a good fighting man."
Clayton fought in about seven more battles and sustained a wound to her hip. That's when her identity was revealed, and she was discharged. She returned to Michigan, tried to re-enlist, but was rejected.
Women involved themselves in the Civil War in a variety of ways and in muliple roles.
Taking a page from the Continental Army, some women traveled with their husbands' units, helping in a variety of ways, whether it involved carrying water to troops or helping launder clothes.
Most Civil War soldiers were farmers. Farm families, of course, had a tradition of working side-by-side, so the idea of separation didn't set well. As a result, they often traveled together. Some soldiers even refused to enlist unless their wives were allowed to join them.
Ironically, many of the wives or girlfriends could shoot as well as their partners, so their services were valuable during the war. Others helped as scouts, telegraphers, clerks, or worked in armories.
Several women achieved the rank of officer, the highest being a Union major.
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