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‘Female Soldiers’ or Transgender Men?

A Study of the Gender Identity of Albert D.J Cashier and Lyons Wakeman

Part One of Three

(The article is adapted from my Bachelors degree dissertation. It has been split into three parts. Sources have been removed for ease of reading but are available on request.)


For many years, the historiography of the American Civil War’s ‘female soldiers’ - women who dressed as men in order to enlist and fight - has remained unchanged. Prevalent attitudes argue that women joined the Union and Confederate armies in disguise in order to follow lovers, display patriotism, earn money or avenge the death of a relative. This argument can be traced through the earliest writings on the subject and found most recently in Harriel’s 2019 examination of the ‘female soldiers’ of Mississippi.

A civil war battle scene with two armies shooting each other

It is my argument that historians have failed to address clear evidence in favour of another explanation- that some of these ‘female soldiers’ were in fact, transgender men, who enlisted in the military to affirm their own gender identity and perception of themselves.

Due to normative influences, the almost sacrosanct nature of the Civil War (particularly in the United States), inherent (but unintended) cisnormative bias arising from one’s own lived experience of gender, and in some cases, outright denial of compelling evidence verging on transphobia, this issue has failed to be sufficiently addressed outside of opinion pieces, tabloid speculation and blog posts. This study aims to bring together both historical evidence and current understanding of gender identity to conclude that two ‘female soldiers’ in particular, Albert D J Cashier and Lyons Wakeman, were, and should be remembered as, transgender men.

As Fleming notes, making stigmatised social groups more visible promotes diversity with a far-reaching impact ,and in researching the lives of the Civil War’s 'passing women’, it is clear that this field of study is lacking any diversity of opinion. The prevalent attitude remains that ‘gender identification and sexual orientation should not detract from the military service of... women soldiers’ ,as if the very act of highlighting significant gender incongruence outside of cisgender, binary norms somehow devalues their service and renders them lesser.

This stigma will only be reduced by mainstream visibility and acceptance of queer studies as a valid historical approach. The history of transgender men, women and all other genders and identities is tangible; it does exist, if one only recognises what to look for. Starting with transgender men indicates my own bias, but by no means devalues the merit in working to restore the history of other marginalised identities. Additionally, my own FTM status has given me a unique perspective in that I have been able to recognise legitimate patterns that other researchers may have missed or misinterpreted. I hope through this work to provide a framework of sorts through which future progress can be made in this field of study.

This dissertation is structured in three parts. Firstly, I will set out a diagnostic criterion for the retroactive diagnosis of gender dysphoria (a pre-requisite for official diagnoses of transgender identity) using current medical literature. Following this, I will examine historical evidence of gender incongruence in the armies of the Civil War, with a specific focus on the self-identity, dress, mental health and relationships of Albert Cashier and Lyons Wakeman. I will then scrutinise current understanding of the motivations of ‘female soldiers’ to prove with certainty that Cashier and Wakeman were likely transgender men.

(To avoid confusion regarding the use of pronouns, and in keeping with my central argument, I will refer to both Cashier and Wakeman using their male names and male pronouns throughout.)

Diagnostic criterion

The aim of creating a diagnostic criterion for transgender figures in history is not to gate- keep transgender identities, but rather to provide cisgender historians with a basis on which to challenge their own heteronormative judgements. Behaviours telling of gender incongruence are not always clear and self-evident to those outside of this group. The following framework will enable cisgender historians to look more critically at the evidence they are examining and consider behaviours and motivations outside that of their own bias.

For ease, this work uses the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria (gender dysphoria being the medical diagnosis given to transgender persons). This framework was chosen based on its continued use in the medical community to diagnose transgender individuals, and its relatively inclusive criteria. Using this criterion will allow for comparison between modern conceptions of transgender diagnostic criteria, and the behaviours and characteristics of figures in history. If the figures are perceived to align with diagnostic criteria, they can therefore be given the retroactive diagnosis of being transgender.

There is some contention in the transgender community regarding the medicalisation of gender identity. Dissenters argue that medicalisation promotes the idea of transgender identities as disorder to be cured and reinforces the idea of binary genders. Supporters claim that medical diagnosis provides them with validation and a greater understanding of themselves.

It would be a disservice to the trans community to fail to acknowledge these issues, but it is beyond the scope of this thesis to consider alternative definitions of who can/cannot be defined as transgender. It can be hard to determine a community-wide consensus as to what an alternative method of diagnosis should look like, and indeed, whether one is needed at all. Where nuanced examination outside of that of the DSM-V is required, it may be necessary to draw on the experience of transgender people themselves in order to make a judgement.

The DSM-V states the following as symptoms of gender dysphoria:

A) ‘A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender of at least 6 months’

  1. Contrast between ‘expressed/experienced gender and primary/secondary sex characteristics’

  2. Desire for removal of one’s own sex characteristics due to ‘a marked incongruence with one’s experienced/expressed gender’

  3. Desire for sex characteristics of ‘the other gender’

  4. Desire to be another gender

  5. Desire to be known and treated as another gender

  6. Conviction that one experiences the ‘typical feelings and reactions’ of another gender

B) ‘The condition is associated with... distress or impairment in social, occupation or other important areas of functioning.’

The DSM-V requires both A and B, plus two symptoms from a-f for a positive diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Historical Evidence of Gender Incongruence in the Armies of the American Civil War

Perception of self and identity

Many transgender people experience a disconnect between the body they were born with, and their own perceptions of themselves. For AFAB transgender men, measures are taken to bring into alignment the disconnect between body and mind. This is commonly done by adopting stereotypically ‘masculine’ identities: changing names, using male pronouns, speaking with a deeper voice and taking part in traditionally ‘male’ activities. This section will examine Cashier and Wakeman’s perceptions of their own identities, and how this aligns with the DSM-V criteria.

Traditionally Male professions

Joining traditionally male professions was an easy way for passing women to appear more masculine. The 19th century ’cult of domesticity’ limited career options for young middle- class women significantly. Middle class women, if they worked at all, took part in domestic servitude only, as this fell within the remit of subservience to men and was therefore acceptable. Working class women enjoyed greater employment opportunities, in agriculture, factory work and cottage industries, albeit in roles exclusively designated to women. The limits placed on women in terms of work are best explored through writing and advice books of the period. Writing in 1840, De Tocqueville states that ‘In the United States the inexorable opinion of the public carefully circumscribes woman within the narrow circle of domestic interests and duties and forbids her to go beyond it’. Attitudes towards equality from their predestined role of dependence. After all, women ‘were formed for men, and ... of work; ‘to make one sex equal to the other’ would ‘degrade both’, and remove women must continue in contented subordination to his authority’. This culminated in the view that the ‘chief happiness of women (was) found at home’. While it may be true that American girls faced fewer constraints on their behaviour than those in England, European etiquette manuals and advice books were still widely read in the United States, causing the opinions of the proper roles of women within them to be widespread in America also.

These attitudes culminated in the severe judgement of those who failed to heed them. Subservience and domesticity were the ‘most certain signs of the purity of (a woman’s) morals’, and those who rebelled against this view were the subject of scorn and distaste. Working women supposedly corrupted their children, shirked their domestic duty and dissolved the social contract of a functioning society. Passing women were particularly contentious, as they strove to be seen as equal to men, in a time where the prevailing attitudes stressed the inferiority of women in both ‘moral as well as physical strength’. As one newspaper put it, passing women ‘hastened down the broad road to moral destruction’.

Clearly then, to sport male clothing and enrol in masculine professions was at severe odds with what society thought women should, both physically and mentally, be capable of. Passing women underwent serious risks to their reputation and that of their families should they be caught and may have been ostracised from their families for their choices regardless. Therefore, it seems simplistic to suggest that those women who chose to enter masculine careers by passing, did so for monetary gain alone, given the risks involved.

A black and white photograph of a young Albert Cashier wearing military uniform.
Albert D J Cashier in His Military Uniform

In the case of Albert D. J Cashier, indicate that Cashier worked (in male attire) as a farm hand, a sheep herder, and in a factory before his enlistment. After the war, Cashier worked as a cattle rancher and a handyman. Similarly, fellow female soldier Lyons Wakeman worked (in male clothing) as a coal handler on a boat and a farm hand prior to his enlistment.

Becoming a soldier can be seen as the ultimate act of masculinity, and so for female soldiers who perceived themselves as men trapped in female bodies, enlistment in the military would be highly validating. If we accept the generally approved estimate that over four hundred female soldiers enlisted (most on the side of the Union), and that there were almost certainly more, it seems credible that at least some enlisted in the military to express their perceptions of their own identity as men. As Gates and Herman have shown, transgender people have a higher than average propensity to enlist in active service, with transgender men specifically being three times more likely to join the military than the average US population.

Unfortunately, the lack of written accounts by these women gives us little opportunity to scrutinise their motivations. In the case of Cashier, we have only the accounts of his friends to go on. Lyons Wakeman is the only known female soldier to write home during his period of enlistment, and his insights are invaluable. He writes often that he ‘like(s) to be a soldier very well’, is ‘enjoying… (him)self first rate … better… than (he) ever did before in this world’.

Regardless of his motivations, it seems that he enjoyed the affirmation of his masculinity the Army afforded him. He writes of his experiences, ‘I am as independent as a hog on the ice’ and when addressing criticism from family he states, ‘I will dress as I am a mind to for all anyone else (cares).’ In expressing happiness in his freedom to dress however he ‘has a mind to’, this suggests that his gender affirming experiences in the military were indeed a tenet of his motivation in enlisting.

The evidence indicates that both men enjoyed male employment opportunities, perhaps to validate their masculinity. Their respective employment experiences align with the DSM-V criteria of ‘a marked incongruence between one’s experienced… gender and assigned gender of at least six months, and the ‘desire to be known and treated as another gender’.

Male Aliases

All documented female soldiers took on aliases in order to pass as male. However, the significance of a name takes more importance when the individual uses their ‘male alias’ after the war, and past the point of being necessary for military disguise. Instead, they become necessary to affirm masculinity in wider society. Albert Cashier never returned to using his birth name, but this is also the case for other suspected trans men, such as Otto Schaffer, who was only discovered to be AFAB after his death, many years after the end of the war.

In Cashier’s case, there seems to have been significant trouble identifying his birth name. Part of the issue was the lack of parish records kept at the time of his birth in Ireland. Another was Cashier’s clear unwillingness to divulge his past identity.

The very fact that Cashier never admitted the truth of his previous identity is a testament to his conviction to live in his male identity. It is possible that by the time of his pension claim Cashier was simply too senile to remember. However, the fact that he kept his female identity secret until that point indicates a strong desire to hide his past name and disown his feminine identity all together.

Wakeman’s use of aliases is less clear. Letters sent to his parents through 1862-3 are signed ‘Rosetta Wakeman’. Despite using the name ‘Lyons Wakeman’ to enlist, he signs his letters ‘Edwin R Wakeman’ beginning on the 28th December 1863, and never uses the name ‘Rosetta’ again.

It is unclear why this change occurs, or why Wakeman chose to use the name ‘Rosetta’ for so long. Burgess suggests that ‘Edwin R Wakeman’ appears when Wakeman enters active duty on the battlefield, in order to avoid detection by censors reading his letters, but there is no real evidence to support this conclusion other than speculation. It is just as likely that Wakeman simply used his birth name in his letters home to avoid angering his parents, or perhaps he felt that the name ‘Rosetta’ did not diminish his masculine identity. Even today, many transgender men keep their birth names, despite the fact that they may sound stereotypically feminine.

Lyons Wakeman dressed in his civil war uniform, holding a rifle. The image is bordered with a gold frame.
The Only Known Image of Lyons Wakeman

Wakeman’s final letter as Rosetta does have an air of finality indicative of him disregarding his former name and adopting his male identity fully. He signs off as ‘Edwin R Wakeman or Rosetta Wakeman’, suggesting to himself and his family the casting off his feminine alias for the last time. Furthermore, while dying in the Marine USA General Hospital in New Orleans, he neglects to tell nurses of his true identity or name. This suggests that Wakeman wanted to be buried and remembered as a man. What is the motivation for dying as Lyons Wakeman if this is not the case?

Using male names for longer than necessary indicates that Cashier and Wakeman experienced a ‘desire to be known and treated as another gender’, ‘to be another gender’ and ‘incongruence between… expressed… gender and assigned gender’, in line with the DSM-V criteria.

Dying as Men

On the theme of death, those choosing to die in their male identities displayed perhaps the ultimate devotion to their masculine perception of self. If these soldiers were simply pretending to be men for other reasons, such as to claim a bigger salary, why continue the charade in death? There is seemingly no motivation to continue the lie at this stage: there would be no repercussions in death, and since most of these soldiers became estranged from their families at the point of their enlistment, there would be little need to worry about future pension claims that may be jeopardised by revealing the truth.

Records indicate that Wakeman died of ‘chronic diarrhoea’ (probably dysentery) in 1864. As Burgess writes, this was a wasting disease that would have left Wakeman in severe discomfort and unable to adequately attend to his sanitary needs. We know that Wakeman’s gender was not discovered until after the war, and therefore there are two possible options explaining his hospital treatment. Either a) he went unexamined and neglected, allowed to waste away to the point of death, or b) he was examined, and the attending physician or nurse simply failed to report that Wakeman had female anatomy.

It seems unlikely that Wakeman’s ‘true sex’ was identified by physicians and simply not reported. Cases of female soldiers were highly sensationalised and would have caused major excitement in the surrounding local area. Newspaper headlines told of ‘The Female Soldier! Unsexed!', ‘An Adventurous Woman’, and ‘Truth Stranger Than Fiction’. If Wakeman’s identity was discovered, it would have been published.

Furthermore, Wakeman was not the only ‘female soldier’ to remain male in death. A soldier known only as Charlie H was examined before his impending death from measles. Found to be anatomically female, H pleaded with the attending physician not to reveal his true sex, as he wanted to be buried as a man.

Depending on the extent of his condition upon admittance to the hospital, Wakeman may have simply been offered palliative care, hence the lack of physical examination. However, for Wakeman to go unexamined and undetected for the 48 days he lay dying in hospital seems extraordinary and lends credence to the idea that he was transgender. As Burgess notes, Wakeman would have been sent home and met with improved conditions if he revealed his true identity. We know Wakeman had a somewhat decent relationship with his family in that his letters even survived. There can be no plausible motive for Wakeman, in his dire condition, without hope of recovery and unable to attend to his own needs, to continue his pursuit of male identity unless he wanted to die as a man.

Even the elusive Otto Schaffer preferred to die alone and forgotten, but still in the male identity he adopted for the majority of his life. While nothing is known of the circumstances of his death, if Schaffer chose to seek medical care, it is likely that he would have suffered a fate similar to Cashier and been forced to meet death as a woman.

In Cashier’s case, in the last years of his life spent in the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane, he was forced to wear skirts and ‘women’s attire’ which caused some level of mental debilitation unrelated to the senility associated with age. Perhaps Schaffer feared a similar fate.

These examples share the common feature of their subjects wishing to die as men. Wakeman, Charlie H, Schaffer and Cashier all either died in their male aliases or wished to do so. There is seemingly no clear motive for this wish if we view these figures as cisgender women simply dressing as men for a beneficial social status. Their actions are only satisfactorily explained when we view them through the lens of transgender identity.

Applying the diagnostic criteria to Cashier and Wakeman in terms of their perceptions of their identities, clearly both exhibited ‘a marked incongruence between (their) … expressed gender and assigned gender’ and a ‘desire to be known and treated as (men)’, as evidenced by their respective wish to die in their masculine identities.

This is the end of part one. In part two, we will examine the importance of clothing, mannerisms, and the difficultly of 'passing' as male, as well as a look at the mental health of Cashier and Wakeman.

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