Historians have identified about 400 women who disguised themselves as men and enlisted to fight in the American Civil War. They found army records of soldiers who were discovered to be women during their service. Historians also found pension cases for women who revealed themselves after the war ended. It is possible that the number of women soldiers was much higher, since historians only have records for those who were discovered or revealed themselves.
After the war, not every person assigned female at birth returned to life as a woman. Albert D. J. Cashier took the opportunity to establish a new identity as a male citizen. The medical doctor of his unit saw no reason to out a citizen who performed their duty admirably and kept Albert’s transition a secret from the rest of his unit.
The first set of photographs shows Frances Clayton in and out of her Union soldier uniform. At the outbreak of the war, Frances and her husband joined the Union Army together, enlisting in different states to make sure Frances was not caught. Frances took the name Jack Williams during her service. After 22 months of fighting side-by-side with her husband, he was killed at the Battle of Stones River. Frances later recalled stepping over her husband’s dead body while trying to escape a Confederate charge. Shortly after the battle, Frances revealed her true identity and the army discharged her. She then traveled the country telling her story to newspapers and lobbying army and government officials to give her the pensions and bounties she and her husband were owed. It is unknown whether she ever received her pension.
The second set of photographs is more mysterious. They clearly depict the same Black woman in and out of Union soldier dress. The photos are included in an album presented to Major M.S. Euan, but there is no identifying information about the subject, or where and why she fought. Her photographs stand as evidence that Black women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War.