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Molly Pitcher


Chapter 18
Page 186

At the battle of Monmouth, where Lord Stirling so distinguished himself for the management of the artillery, another person of an entirely different station in life, of different nationality, and even different sex, played a very notable part in the working of the American cannon on that eventful day.

This was a young Irishwoman, wife of an artilleryman. She was of a different disposition from ordinary women, who are glad enough to hide themselves in places of safety, if there is any fighting going on in their neighborhood. Molly was born with the soul of a soldier, and, although she did not belong to the army, she much preferred going to war to staying at home and attending to domestic affairs. She was in the habit of following her husband on his various marches,

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Page 187

and on the day of the Monmouth battle she was with him on the field.

The day was very hot. The rays of the sun came down with such force that many of the soldiers were taken sick and some died; and the constant discharges of musketry and artillery did not make the air any cooler. Molly devoted herself to keeping her husband as comfortable as possible, and she made frequent trips to a spring not far away to bring him water; and on this account he was one of the freshest and coolest artillerymen on the ground. In fact, there was no man belonging to the battery who was able to manage one of these great guns better than Pitcher.

Returning from one of her trips to the spring, Molly had almost reached the place where her husband was stationed, when a bullet from the enemy struck the poor man and stretched him dead, so that Molly had no sooner caught sight of her husband than she saw him fall. She ran to the gun, but scarcely had reached it before she heard one of the officers order the cannon to be wheeled back out of the way, saying that there was no one there who could serve it as it had been served.

Now Molly's eyes flashed fire. One might have thought that she would have been prostrated with grief at the loss of her husband, but, as we have said, she had within her the soul of a soldier. She had seen her husband, who was the same to her as a comrade, fall, and she was filled with an intense desire to avenge his death. She cried out to the officer not to send the gun away, but to let her serve it; and,

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Page 188

scarcely waiting to hear what he would say, she sprang to the cannon, and began to load it and fire it. She had so often attended her husband, and even helped him in his work, that she knew all about this sort of thing, and her gun was managed well and rapidly.

It might be supposed that it would be a very strange thing to see a woman on the battlefield firing a cannon; but even if the enemy had watched Molly with a spyglass, they would not have noticed anything to excite their surprise. She wore an ordinary skirt, like other women of the time; but over this was an artilleryman's coat, and on her head was a cocked hat with some jaunty feathers stuck in it, so that she looked almost as much like a man as the rest of the soldiers of the battery.

During the rest of the battle, Molly bravely served her gun; and if she did as much execution in the ranks of the Redcoats as she wanted to do, the loss in the regiments in front of her must have been very great. Of course, all the men in the battery knew Molly Pitcher, and they watched her with the greatest interest and admiration. She would not allow any one to take her place, but kept on loading and firing until the work of the day was done. Then the officers and men crowded about her with congratulations and praise.

The next day General Greene went to Molly,-whom he found in very much the condition in which she had left the battlefield, stained with dirt and powder, with her fine feathers gone and her cocked hat dilapidated,-and conducted her, just as she was, to

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Page 189

General Washington. When the commander in chief heard what she had done, he gave her warm words of praise. He determined to bestow upon her a substantial reward; for any one who was brave enough and able enough to step in and fill an important place, as Molly had filled her husband's place, certainly deserved a reward. It was not according to the rules of war to give a commission to a woman; but, as Molly had acted the part of a man, Washington considered it right to pay her for her services as if she had been a man. He therefore gave her the commission of a sergeant, and recommended that her name be placed on the list of half-pay officers for life.

Every one in the army soon came to hear of the exploit of Molly Pitcher, and it was not long before she was called Captain Molly. The officers of the French regiment on the American side were particularly pleased with this act of heroism in a woman, and invited Molly to review their troops; and as she walked down the long line of soldiers, nearly every man put a piece of money in the cocked hat which she held in her hand.

This was the last battlefield on which Molly Pitcher appeared, but it had not been her first. Not long before, she had been with her husband in Fort Clinton when it was attacked by a very large force of the British. After a vigorous defense, the Americans found that it was impossible to defend the fort, and a retreat was ordered. As the soldiers were rushing out of the rear of the fort, Molly's husband turned away from his gun, threw down his match,-a piece of

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Page 190

rope soaked in combustible substances, and slowly burning at one end, which was used in those days for discharging cannon,-and ran for his life. Molly prepared to follow him; but as she saw the glowing match on the ground, and knew that her husband's gun was loaded, she could not resist the desire to take one more crack at the enemy. So she stopped for an instant, picked up the match, touched off the gun, and dashed away after her husband. The cannon which then blazed out in the face of the advancing British was the last gun which the Americans fired in Fort Clinton.

Molly did not meet with the reward which was accorded so many other Jersey women who were of benefit to their State and country. She died not long

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Page 191

after the close of the war; and if she had known that she was to be famous as one of the heroes of the Revolution, there is no doubt that she would have hoped that people would be careful to remember that it was a man's service that she did to the country, and not a woman's.

But Captain Molly was not the only Jersey woman who was willing to act a man's part in the War for Independence. Among those of whom there is historical mention was Mrs. Jinnie Waglum, who lived near Trenton. At the time when Washington was arranging to march upon Princeton, she was visiting her friend, whose husband was the landlord of The True American Inn, just out of Trenton; and this tavern was Washington's headquarters at the time. In this way Mrs. Jinnie heard of the intended advance; and she also heard that there was no one in the American forces who knew the country well enough to conduct the army from Trenton to Princeton by any route except the highways, on which the advance would be observed by the enemy.

She therefore sent word to Washington that she would guide the army if he wished, and that there was no one who knew the country better than she did. Washington was a man who had sense enough to avail himself of good service whenever it was offered; and when he had made inquiries about Mrs. Waglum, he was perfectly willing to put his army under her guidance, and very glad indeed that she had offered her services.

When a woman acts the part of a man, it is not

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Page 192

surprising that she likes to look like a man; so Mrs. Jinnie put on a soldier's coat and a soldier's hat, and, mounting a horse, she headed the Continental army, commanded by Washington. This was a proud position, but she was equal to it; and on she rode, with all the cavalry and the infantry and the artillery and the general and staff following behind her. She took them along by Sand Town and Quaker Bridge, by roads over which she had often traveled; and the American army reached Princeton in good time for the battle which took place next day.

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