Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth - American Revolutionary War
Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth
Battle of Monmouth
It was so hot that day yet Molly Pitcher continued her not so easy task at the Battle of Monmouth in June of 1778. Some say the temperature climbed to over 100 degrees. Molly, never tiring, carried buckets of water to the soldiers on the battlefield. Under heavy fire from the British troops Molly did not shirk her duty during yet another battle in the American Revolutionary War.
Molly was a water carrier and part of a group of women who were called "camp followers". They followed their husbands to battle, carried water to thirsty soldiers, and kept a bucket full of water by each cannon. These women worked hard and often under fire from the British. They made sure that the wounded men received care and drinks of water when needed. The cannon barrels had to be swabbed out and cooled down after each firing. Molly's husband was at one of those cannons. As she brought yet another bucket of water and sat it down by the cannon barrel, her husband, the soldier who swabbed and reloaded the cannon, collapsed either from heat stroke or from being wounded.
As her husband was carried off the battlefield, Molly grabbed the ramrod and in the heat of battle and sun, continued to swab and load the cannon. Even when a musket ball from the enemy tore off a large portion of her petticoat, Molly continued to keep the cannon cooled and loaded. She was very lucky, for apparently, according to an eyewitness in the battle, the musket ball passed right between her lower legs taking the petticoat with it.
Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier in the Continental Army, wrote about his experiences in the American Revolutionary War. About Molly Pitcher he wrote:
While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat.— Joseph Plumb Martin
Mary Ludwig Hayes
It was Mary Ludwig Hayes that Martin was referring to. This is just one of the stories that surround the legendary figure of Molly Pitcher, a woman who supposedly served in the Continental Army under Baron von Steuben during the Revolutionary War.
It was common for women named Mary to be called Molly during those years. Legends vary about who Molly really was. Soldiers, when thirsty, would call out "Molly! Pitcher!", meaning "we need a bucket of water over here." So, Molly Pitcher became her nickname. Various tales embellished the legends of Molly. Some attribute these heroic deeds to a woman named Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley.
General Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth
Bas-relief Panel of Molly Pitcher
Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley
Mary Ludwig was born in New Jersey in October 1744. She was the daughter of John George and Gretchen Ludwig who originally came from Germany. The Ludwig family owned a dairy farm. She had three brothers and worked alongside them with daily chores on the farm. It was common at the time to think that girls did not need an education, so Mary probably never attended any schools.
When Mary was about fifteen years old she was hired by Anna Irvine as a house servant. Anna and her husband, Dr. William Irvine, lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This would take Mary 150 miles away from her home and family -- yet she accepted the job so she could send money back home to her parents.
During the time she was working at the Irvine home, she met a barber named William Hayes. Mary and William were married in the Irvine home on July 24, 1769. Mary worked for the Irvines for several years after her marriage.
William enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777. In 1778, Baron von Steuben, inspector general and Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, re-trained the soldiers in teaching them the essentials of military drills, tactics, and disciplines. William Hayes trained as an artilleryman. Like many other women, Mary followed her husband to the battlefields and served as a water carrier.
One legend has it that after the Battle of Monmouth, George Washington heard about "Molly Pitcher's" brave act at the cannon. In commemoration for her bravery, he issued a warrant to Mary as a 'non commissioned officer'. After that honor she was called Sergeant Molly, a nickname she proudly used the rest of her life.
William Hayes died in 1786 and Mary married John McCauley in 1793. The marriage was not a good one and McCauley disappeared sometime around 1807. He was never heard from again.
On February 21, 1822, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Mary McCauley an annual pension of $40 for her heroism. She died January 22, 1832, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the approximate age of 87. She is buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle, under the name "Molly McCauley." A statue of "Molly Pitcher," adorned by cannons, stands in the cemetery.
Would you follow your spouse to the battle fields at the risk of your own life?
Molly ! Pitcher !
It is interesting to note that there were many other women who worked the same task as Molly Pitcher did and that history has mentioned other women who may have been called Molly Pitcher and received honors for their service in action.
One of these women was Margaret Corbin. Margaret was with her husband, John, stationed at Fort Washington They served under Captain Francis Proctor of the 4th Continental Arillery Regiment. When the fort was attacked by the British, Margaret fought by the side of her husband. John was killed in the battle and Margaret continued fighting and firing the cannon. Margaret was severely wounded in the battle. The Battle of Fort Washington was a victory for the British and Margaret surrendered along with the rest of the regiment. The British released Margaret because of her severe wounds and she returned to Philadelphia, disabled for life.
Margaret Corbin received financial aid of thirty dollars from the government for immediate needs. In July of 1779 it was granted that Margaret was to receive monthly pay of half a soldier's pay because of her service and bravery in action. This made Margaret the first woman to receive a military pension from the United States government.
Margaret never fully recovered from her war wounds and died in January, 1800. She was 48 years old. It is a heart-warming act of the Daughters of the American Revolution when through research in 1929 they found Margaret's forgotten grave. They had studied the papers of General Henry Knox and learned about Margaret's service and heroism. Margaret's remains were re-interred at the US Military Academy at West Point. She was buried with full military honors and a statue of her was erected in the west Point Cemetery. Her grave is behind the Old Cadet Chapel, along with her monument.
After the Battle of Fort Washington, Margaret had received the nickname of "Captain Molly".
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Walter Blumenthal Papers
A study carried out by Walter Blumenthal of women in the American Revolutionary War who served as camp followers shows that there were an average of three thousand in the field during given periods.
This is based on the orders of General George Washington that the number of women in the camps was to be no more than one woman per thirteen men. This takes into account that the Continental Army and Colonial militias never had over forty thousand troops in the field at the same time.
General Washington had issued orders that the women camp followers were to be treated with respect and as military personnel.
Molly Pitcher, a Legend at the Battle of Monmouth
© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns