Thursday, March 19, 2009
Women in Service: Margaret "Capt. Molly" Corbin
Over the next two weeks, American Veteran Online will highlight some of our nation's most distinguished military women in honor of national Women's History Month.
For the first installment of this feature, we only see it fitting to start with our nation's first female combat veteran, Margaret Corbin, who fought in the American Revolution.
Known to her contemporaries as "Capt. Molly," Corbin accompanied her husband, John, into battle with the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery. Corbin, along with many other soldiers' wives, served in the background as a camp follower, taking care of day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for the wounded.
However, on Nov. 16, 1776, the Pennsylvania Artillery came under attack at Fort Washington, N.Y. John was killed in the assault, leaving his battle station unmanned. Quickly, Corbin manned the cannon, firing on the advancing British and Hessian forces, until she had taken slugs to the chest, arm, and jaw.
The British would win the day at Fort Washington, taking Corbin as a prisoner of war. Upon her release from British custody as a wounded soldier, Corbin made her way to Philadelphia, where Congress decided to grant her rights and privileges as a disabled veteran. Congress also kept her on the rolls as a member of the Continental Army for the remainder of the war, citing her courage under fire as the discerning factor in their decision.
Corbin never fully recovered from her wounds and continued to receive a military pension until her death in 1800.
Today, Corbin is the only veteran of the Revolutionary War interned at West Point Cemetery--an honor bestowed upon her in 1926 by the Daughters of the American Revolution in recognition of her groundbreaking service.
(Image: A portrait of Margaret Corbin by Herbert Knotel. The original is maintained by the West Point Museum.)