by Heather Gustafson-
This past weekend SIUE hosted an encampment, “This Hallowed Ground,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. This two day event included both discussions relating to the Civil War and re-enactors of both Union artillery and Union cavalry. Saturday didn’t bring out many people due to the dreary and cold weather, which give me plenty of time to speak with the re-enactors. They were very generous in sharing their camp fires and stories of what they knew about the Civil War.
The Captain’s wife of the artillery unit had a particular interest in women who disguised themselves during the civil war to join the fighting. Jennie Hodgers, an immigrant from Ireland, disguised herself as a man and joined the Illinois infantry during the Civil War. Due to the poor physical examinations during the Civil War, Jennie was able to slip by and fought for several years. After the war she kept up the disguise. It wasn’t until the senator she was working for backed over her with his car in 1911, that anyone had found out she was a woman. After pleading with him to keep her secret, Jennie was able to live a few more years as man until she was admitted into the Watertown State Hospital. I was informed that when women were found out they lost their pension, but due to petitions from her fellow comrades in infantry she was able to keep it and was buried with full military honors.
I thank the Captain’s wife for sharing this and many other stories with me. She mentioned she shared this story at every encampment she attended. As a historian I was appreciative of her sharing her knowledge with many others and helping to bring the large story of the Civil War in smaller accounts of one person’s story, to help connect visitors to the American past.