Friday, March 4, 2011

Women in Combat: the January Pentagon Report and Women Revolutionary Soldiers - Real Molly Pitchers, for Women's History Month, March 4th

A January 2011 Pentagon report recommended allowing women in combat.  Allowing women to serve in combat positions in our military is one alternative to privatizing the army through the use of private contractors for a variety of military services, or alternatively if we discontinue private contractors, to a return to the draft to meet the needed numbers of personnel doing these jobs.  Knowing this history has a very real impact on our modern military and policy decisions, including our international policy.

Molly Pitcher is the legendary wife who replaced her fallen husband at the battle of Monmouth, sometimes thought to be the real woman, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley.

According to historians like Dr. Linda Grant DePaw, President of the Minerva Center:
"The MINERVA Center, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational foundation. Since 1983 it has provided information and inspiration to military women and women veterans and supported scholars, journalists, filmmakers, public policy activists and others engaged in the study of women and war."
quoted here:

"Molly Pitcher is the name of a legendary figure of the American Revolution. She is associated with the Battle of Monmouth and since 1876 has been identified with a woman veteran of the war, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, who lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As part of the centenary events of that year, an unmarked grave believed to be hers was opened and the remains were reburied with honors under a plaque declaring her to have been the real embodiment of the famous Molly Pitcher.

The central theme of the Molly Pitcher story is of a woman whose husband was wounded or killed while serving at an artillery piece at the Battle of Monmouth. She took his place to the admiration of the other soldiers who admired her courage and devotion to her husband. The story has seemingly endless variations, often including a cameo appearance by George Washington who gives her either a gold coin -- in one version a whole hatful of gold coins -- or a promotion to sergeant or captain. Some books even provide elaborate dialogue said to have passed between the camp woman and the commander in chief. In many of these, she speaks with an Irish brogue, but sometimes she is represented as German.

Often students doing school projects on "Molly Pitcher" ask for details about her place of birth or childhood experiences and education. There are no historical sources that can provide such information about a legendary character.

The real woman, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was awarded a pension by the State of Pennsylvania in1822 "for services rendered" during the war -- this was more than the usual widow's pension which was awarded to soldiers' wives who marched with the army. So one assumes she did something special. But when she died there was no mention of a cannon or the Battle of Monmouth in her obituary. Historical sources do confirm that at least two women fought in the Battle of Monmouth -- one was at an artillery position and the other was in the infantry line. There is no evidence linking either of them to McCauley."
But there were multiple real Molly Pitchers - two of them noted above at the Battle of Monmouth.  It is difficult to fully document these women, but what we have is this from the excellent Internet site, Amazing Women in War and Peace:

In October of 1778 Deborah Samson of Plympton, Massachusetts disguised herself as a young man and presented herself to the American army as a willing volunteer to oppose the common enemy. She enlisted for the whole term of the war as Robert Shirtliffe and served in the company of Captain Nathan Thayer of Medway, Massachusetts.

For three years she served in various duties and was wounded twice - the first time by a sword cut on the side of the head and four months later she was shot through the shoulder. Her sexual identity went undetected until she came down with a brain fever, then prevalent among the soldiers. The attending physician, Dr. Binney, of Philadelphia, discovered her charade, but said nothing. Instead he had her taken to his own home where she would receive better care. When her health was restored the doctor met with Robert's commanding officer and subsequently an order was issued for Robert Shirtliffe to carry a letter to General Washington.
After the war Deborah Samson married Benjamin Gannett of Sharon and they had three children. During George Washington's presidency she received a letter inviting Robert Shirtliffe, or rather Mrs. Gannett, to visit Washington. During her stay at the capital a bill was passed granting her a pension, in addition to certain lands, which she was to receive as an acknowledgment for her services to the country in a military capacity as a Revolutionary Soldier, in part thanks to the efforts of Paul Revere.

The correct spelling is Samson - inaccurate historians added the letter "P" in later years. There are also several different versions of the story of Deborah Samson, alias Robert Shirtliffe. This one comes from The Women of the American Revolution by Elizabeth F. Ellet, NY, Baker and Scribner, 1848, that's right, eighteen forty eight. In this book Elizabeth Ellet prefaces the story of Deborah Samson with the following:

I have been told that the Female Review about this heroine was not in any measure reliable and that Deborah Samson repeatedly expressed her displeasure at the representation of herself which she did not at all recognize. The following facts respecting her I received from a lady * who knew her personally and has often listened with thrilling interest to the animated description given by herself of her exploits and adventures. * A niece of Captain Tisdale, upon whom Robert attended in the army for some months.

This same accounting appears in Daughters of America, by Phebe A. Hanaford, Boston, B.B. Russell, 1882, in which Miss Hanaford refers to Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution and to a book called Mrs. Hales Biography of Distinguished Women.
and this, from the same site:

There is the little known story of Rachel and Grace Martin who disguised themselves as men and assailed a British courier and his guards. They took his important dispatches, which they speedily forwarded to General Greene. Then they released the two officers who didn't even know that they were women.

Then there is Anna Warner, wife of Captain Elijah Bailey, who earned the title of "The Heroine of Groton" because of her fearless efforts to aid the wounded on the occasion of the terrible massacre at Fort Griswald in Connecticut. Anna Bailey went from house to house collecting material for bandages for the soldiers. Incidentally she denied ever having used the coarse and profane expressions ever attributed to her.

Margaret Corbin stepped up to the artillery during the attack on Fort Washington when her husband fell by her side and unhesitatingly took his place and performed his duties. In July of 1779 the Congress awarded her a pension for her heroism - and a suit of clothes.

Angelica Vrooman, during the heat of battle, sat calmly in a tent with a bullet mould, some lead and an iron spoon, moulding bullets for the rangers.

Mary Hagidorn, upon hearing the order by a Captain Hager, for the women and children to retire to the long cellar, said: "Captain, I shall not go to that cellar should the enemy come. I will take a spear which I can use as well as any man and help defend the fort." The captain seeing her determination answered "then take a spear,Mary, and be ready at the pickets to repel an attack." She cheerfully obeyed and held the spear at the pickets till hurrahs for the American flag burst on her ear and told that all was safe.

Women have joined with men in all of our military conflicts, often with less recognition despite equal bravery, and equal sacrifice and suffering. Women serve in the modern militaries of other countries, including in combat; it is time for the women of the United States to shoulder this patriotic duty along with their male counterparts as full and equal citizens, and with full and equal benefits and recognition.

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