Margaret Corbin - Revolutionary War Soldier
Margaret Corbin fought beside her husband during the Revolutionary War. It was not unusual for women to accompany their soldier husbands in the fields. They were called "camp followers" and would tend to cooking and laundry chores as well as nurse the injured. The legend of Molly Pitcher rises from such real life women. Margaret Corbin was a remarkable woman who was well respected by others. She took her role in the Revolutionary War to a whole new level. She was devoted to both her husband and the American Cause and did not shy away from the action.
Margaret Cochran was born near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on November 12, 1751. Her Scot-Irish parents were farmers at the time of the United States' birth. When Margaret was only five years old, her parents were attacked in a raid on their home. Her father, Robert Cochran was killed and her mother was kidnapped never to be heard from again. Luckily Margaret and her brother were visiting an uncle who subsequently adopted and raised them. Margaret was known as being tough and rough around the edges. History makes no mention of her for the next fifteen years.
The War -
At the age of 21, Margaret married a Virginia farmer by the name of John Corbin. They lived happily in Franklin County where they worked together on the farm. About three years later, John Corbin joined the army. He enlisted in the Pennsylvania Artillery - Continental Line and was off to fight in the Revolutionary War, Margaret refused to be left behind and became a camp follower. But unlike many of the wives who stayed at the camp when there was a battle, Margaret accompanied John on the battlefield to help him. She was what was called then a half-soldier.
John Corbin's job was that of a matross. A matross was an artillery soldier who assisted the gunners with loading, firing and sponging the big guns. The matross also served as a guard for the store wagon and marched along beside it. Margaret worked by her husband's side and knew his job as well as he did.
John's division was stationed at Fort Washington in New York on November 16, 1776. This fort on Manhattan Island was very important in the war effort. While John was stationed at a pair of cannons on a hill, the British army attacked. The Americans were outnumbered and were asked to surrender. The commander of the fort, Colonel Magaw, chose not to. The Hessian soldiers made several attempts to charge the hill but were driven back by cannon fire. In the mayhem, the gunner at John's cannon was killed. John took over with Margaret at his side now serving as the matross. Then John took fire and was killed.
Margaret didn't hesitate. She took over the cannon and kept firing. She didn't stop until she was hit by grapeshot and fell to the ground. The Americans eventually surrendered and the Hessians took over the fort.
Later that day, Margaret was discovered by a doctor who was wandering the hill looking for survivors. She was alive but badly injured. The grapeshot had nearly torn off her left arm and had entered her jaw and her chest. She was sent on a 100 mile trip in a wagon to Philadelphia where she was treated. She recovered but her body was never the same again.
Having lost the use of her left arm, Margaret struggled to get by for many years. She became surly and drank too much. In 1779 the Board of War looked in on her and became aware of the shabby conditions in which she lived. They were impressed by her bravery in the war and her perserverence in the aftermath despite her wounds and awarded her with half the monthly pay of a Continental soldier, She was the first woman to receive a military pension from the United States. She also received $30 a month from the state of Pennsylvania. This is what the Board of War said on her behalf -
"As she had the fortitude and virtue enough to supply the place of her husband after his fall in the service of his country, and in the execution of that task received the dangerous wound under which she now labors, the board can but consider her as entitled to the same grateful return which would be made to a soldier in circumstances equally unfortunate."
Margaret lived out the rest of her life in Highland, New York. She was known for being rude and eccentric yet was still respected in the community. Because of her disability she was never well-dressed and was mostly snubbed by the ladies of New York's polite society. She didn't care. Margaret preferred to hang out with her fellow veterans. She died in 1800 at the age of 48.
Margaret Corbin was all but forgotten about for one hundred and fifty years. Thanks to the Daughters of the American Revolution, Margaret's legacy was restored. In 1926, the DAR disinterred her remains and reburied them in a cemetery behind Old Cadet Chapel at West Point. The monument they placed there shows a bronze relief of Margaret with ramrod ready at the cannon she tended on that fateful day in 1776. She is one of only two Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Old Cadet Chapel's cemetery. Margaret finally got the recognition she deserved for her bravery.
The camp followers who accompanied their husbands in the field during the Revolutionary War were often referred to as "Mollies". Margaret Corbin was called Captain Molly by the other women because of her strong personality and towering height. She was the first "Molly Pitcher", the moniker that was mostly associated with Mary Ludwig Hays who manned her husband's cannon in 1778. Mary was not wounded but as a representative of the "Molly Pitcher" image was more marketable than the handicapped Margaret. Many historians suggest that Molly Pitcher may be a composite image influenced by the actions of many real life women. Either way, Margaret Corbin received the battle scars deserving of a prominent place in history.