For three years and two weeks, Albert Cashier fought hard and long. Comrades were killed and the horrors of the American Civil War played out.
He was one of the lucky ones, who made it home again. It was not without injury, nor had he missed out on the dreaded (and often fatal) surgeon's table. He'd received a bullet in his hand; and undergone treatment for an intestinal infection.
Back in Belvedore, Illinois, he was greeted as a hero with cheers in the streets and settled down to nurse his memories and his wounds. He never married. He was seen as a bit of a recluse. He found work as a gardener, and later as a mechanic in a garage, but he kept himself to himself.
War can do that to a person.
It wasn't until 1911, fifty years after the Civil War, that an accident nearly exposed his big lie. A car, driven recklessly into the garage, mowed Albert down before it. He screamed out his protest at being conveyed to the doctor. Those witnessing it assumed that it was a post-traumatic reaction to being in the civil war hospital tents.
The doctor found out the truth. Albert Cashier was a woman. She'd been born Jenny Hodges in Belfast, but there was little hope for a 17 year old Irish girl on her own in the USA. She'd put on clothes belonging to her step-father and made her way in the world as a boy.
Astounded that their honored Civil War veteran and hero was actually female, the doctor didn't quite know what to do. Jenny begged his secrecy and, to his credit, he agreed.
Yet this turned out to merely be borrowed time. Now sixty-seven years old and frail with it, Jenny couldn't cope well with her broken leg and other injuries. Deteriorating fast, she was consigned to a care home for war veterans, where a second doctor gave her an entrance examination.
He was not prepared to cover up for her. He was utterly outraged! It went against all of his moral standards to know that a woman, even one who had fought so bravely, was masquerading as a man. She had even voted in elections!
His views were shared by all the care home staff and she was committed instead to a lunatic asylum. Jenny was forced to wear dresses for the first time since her teens; and she was treated with the porcelain disdain of all her sex. Yet she did not go down without a fight, demanding an investigation to prove her sanity.
Former comrades, including her commanding officer, stepped forward as witnesses. They testified to her bravery and heroics during the war. Even so, it was to no avail. The very fact of having lived out fifty years of her life as a man was enough to have Jenny Hodges labelled insane.
She died just two years later, feeling that her final legacy was disgrace.
But there was a coda from her unit. Even with the truth exposed and her mental state officially tarnished, they saw her as one of their own. She was afforded full military honors at her funeral and buried beneath a soldier's headstone, as Albert Cashier, 95th Illinois Infantry. War hero.