by Dr. Nyri Bakkalian
In Grey Dawn, we meet two transgender men from central Pennsylvania, Caldwell Simmons and Nate Yoder, who are Chloë Stanton’s bunkmates in the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Just as Chloë learns, modern language on gender identity and sexual orientation is not the same as the language that existed in the 1860s, but that doesn’t mean that people with those identities didn’t exist.
So this week, readers, I’d like you to learn about a man named Albert D.J. Cashier (pictured, 1843-1915). He was from Ireland, and immigrated to Illinois with his parents at a young age. In 1862, he enlisted in Company G of the 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and served through the end of the war, discharged as a private and a veteran of many battles, including the fighting at Vicksburg, Mississippi. And it wasn’t until a car accident, and then committal to a state institution because of dementia, that Cashier’s assigned sex was discovered, when he was 71. Modern language on gender identity and sexual orientation did not exist yet in Cashier’s time, certainly. But when we consider that there were more than a few women who—like Chloë does in Grey Dawn—briefly assumed male guise in order to fight as Union soldiers, it becomes all the more noteworthy that Cashier simply went on with his life as a man. This was not a game or an expedient means to him—it was an identity.
Some may think this surprising. But to me as a queer person, it is not so surprising. Language has changed, it has evolved. But as long as there have been people, we have been here.
We always will be.
Dr. Nyri A. Bakkalian is an Armenian American queer woman by birth and a military historian by training. She is proud to have called both the American and Japanese northeasts her home. She has produced nonfiction, fiction, and photography content for more than a dozen publications, as well as for Eisner Award-nominated author Magdalene Visaggio’s Kim & Kim. What’s her secret, you ask? Garlic and Turkish coffee (but really, mostly Turkish coffee). Come say hi to her on Twitter, Facebook, and Patreon at riversidewings.
Grey Dawn is a tale of war, abolition, union, and women who forge ties that carry them from one life into the next. When the grey dawn breaks on a new era and a new cause, who can you trust to fight beside you?