Researchers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., have found evidence that at least 400 women -- and perhaps many more -- disguised themselves as men to fight in the American Civil War. The Confederate and Union armies both included women who cut their hair, put on trousers, and took up arms, some fighting for a cause and some for a paycheck. “If you had teeth to tear open a cartridge and a working thumb and forefinger, that was enough,” said historian Elizabeth Leonard.
Women in the ranks:
- Among male recruits barely past puberty, the smooth face of a woman could easily have passed without comment. Ill-fitting clothing concealed body shape, while the inability to grow a beard was attributed to youth.
- Most of the people who fought in the Civil War were “citizen soldiers” with no prior military training. Prevailing 19th-century social customs compelled most soldiers to sleep clothed, bathe separately, and avoid public latrines.
- Albert Cashier served in the Union Army as a man and was buried at age 71 with full military honors in 1915. But Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, was biologically a woman, one of the many cross-dressers and gender defiers who have served in the U.S. military.