Margaret Cochran Corbin in the Battle of Fort Washington
Margaret Cochran Corbin was one of the few women who openly took part in an active battle. Her heroism earned her the first military pension given to a woman by the United States government.
When Margaret Cochran Corbin’s husband joined the Continental Army, she joined him in his fight for the Patriot Cause.
Upon arrival, Margaret became a camp follower. This was not unusual. Many wives became camp followers during the war. Their reasons varied, but generally the followers either did not want to struggle to make ends meet or they were fearful of a British attack on their home.
Camp followers did most of the upkeep needed for the army. They would cook, clean and make/mend uniforms.
Margaret was one of many women who earned the nickname ‘Molly Pitcher.’ These were women who brought pitchers of water into the field during battle. The water they brought served the dual purpose of quenching the men’s thirst and cooling off the cannons.
Corbin’s husband was one of the men firing the artillery. Because of her roll as ‘Molly Pitcher,’ Margaret would have received at least a base knowledge of how the cannons worked.
Additionally, camp followers would often entertain themselves by watching the soldiers during training and drills. The understanding of artillery she learned at this time would come in handy during the Battle of Fort Washington.
On November 16, 1777, just days after her 25th birthday, Corbin was present when the British sent Hessian troops to take Fort Washington in Manhattan.
While bringing water to the field, she noticed that her husband, John, was firing a cannon alone because the person he had been working with died. Corbin rushed to her husband’s side to assist him with the big gun.
Soon after, John was also killed.
Margaret had no time to be devastated. She stepped into her husband’s position and began firing the cannon alone.
As the battle raged on, Margaret was also shot. She received serious wounds to her arm, chest and face.
Fellow soldiers dragged her back and she received treatment from a medic. Corbin survived the bullets but would never fully heal. She could never again use her left arm.
The British took Fort Washington that day. As with all wounded soldiers, Margaret was paroled and taken to Philadelphia.
For her bravery, she was awarded a pension from the Continental Army. This is something that simply wasn’t done at the time. But because of her courage, an exception was made.
This makes Margaret Cochran Corbin the first women in American history to receive a military pension from the United States government.
Unfortunately, Margaret Cochran would live out her life in relative poverty. Because of her disability, she relied on the help of neighbors, and her government pension, to survive.
The battle she fought in was lost and her husband had died. But Margaret Corbin was an American Heroine who stood bravely in the face of danger for the liberty of her country.
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