VIDEO: The Transgender Man Who Fought in the Civil War: The Amazing Life and Tragic End of Albert Cashier
The makers of The Danish Girl share five digital shorts about transgender pioneers
Albert Cashier hid his identity to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Years later, however, his role in the war – and as a man – came under fire.
The new documentary series We’ve Been Around looks at remarkable, often little-known stories of trans people who made history.
Rhys Ernst, the Emmy-nominated co-producer of Transparent, and Focus Features, the film company behind The Danish Girl, teamed up to create the series, launching exclusively on PEOPLE.com, EW.com, Essence.com and Advocate.com. (Alicia Vikander won an Oscar on Sunday for playing the wife of transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, now out on DVD and On Demand.)
In this video clip, a narrator tells the dramatic story of a transgender man who hid his identity for years in order to fight for his country.
“Though Albert started his life as a girl, his cropped hair and manner of dress raised no questions,” the video says about a 19-year-old Cashier in 1862.
Two years earlier, Cashier was a stowaway and journeyed from Ireland to the United States to start his new life as a transgender man.
“To join the Union Army, a person had to be able to march and run,” the narrator says. “You had to have a trigger finger and enough teeth to rip open a powder cartridge. You had to be a man.”
Cashier joined the 95th Illinois regiment and participated in over 40 engagements, making him among the few transgender men known to have fought in the Civil War. Members of his regiment knew him as “Al” or “Little Albert” and he was considered an honorable member of the regiment.
“These were his brothers,” the video says.
But in 1910, while working as a handyman in Saunemin, Illinois, Cashier had his identity exposed when he had to go to the hospital with a shattered leg. His boss made arrrangements so he could stay in the local soldiers’ home.
Though some stood by him, others were not as accepting. And when he started showing signs of dementia, he was taken to a Watertown State Mental Hospital, where he was forced to stay in the women’s ward. They even made him wear a dress, which he tried to fashion into pants. He was exposed in the news, and the federal government opened an investigation, claiming he committed identity fraud.
His friends from the 95th regiment defended him when his pension was questioned, and the charges were dropped. However, the medical ward would still not recognize him as a man.
One day, he tripped on his skirt and “never recovered” after breaking his hip, according to the video. And after his death, his fellow Civil War veterans of the 95th regiment made it their mission to have a full military funeral for Cashier.
For more from the We’ve Been Around series, watch these videos:
• Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the “fierce mothers” of the transgender rights movement
• Wilmer Broadnax, a popular gospel singer known as “Little Axe”
• Lou Sullivan, a pioneering AIDS activist
• Lucy Hicks Anderson, a transgender woman of color who thrived during Prohibition and fought for her marriage rights