Today in history, at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Mary Hays supported the Revolutionary soldiers by giving them water. Just before the battle started, she found a spring to serve as her water supply. Two places on the battlefield are currently marked as the “Molly Pitcher Spring.” Mary Hays spent much of the early day carrying water to soldiers and artillerymen, often under heavy fire from British troops.
The weather was hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometime during the battle, William Hays collapsed, either wounded or suffering from heat exhaustion. He did survive.
As her husband was carried off the battlefield, Mary Hays took his place at the cannon. For the rest of the day, in the heat of battle, Mary continued to “swab and load” the cannon using her husband’s ramrod. At one point, a British musket ball or cannonball flew between her legs and tore off the bottom of her skirt. Mary supposedly said something to the effect of, “Well, that could have been worse,” and went back to loading the cannon.
Joseph Plumb Martin recalls this incident in his memoirs, writing that at the Battle of Monmouth, “A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece the whole time. 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. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was “lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.”
Later in the evening, the fighting was stopped due to gathering darkness. Although George Washington and his commanders expected the battle to continue the following day, the British forces retreated during the night and continued on to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
After the battle, General Washington asked about the woman whom he had seen loading a cannon on the battlefield. In commemoration of her courage, he issued Mary Hays a warrant as a noncommissioned officer. Afterwards, she was known as “Sergeant Molly,” a nickname that she used for the rest of her life.
Things have certainly changed over the years. When I said the oath, and put on the uniform most women were working in administrative or medical duties. Over the years that changed, for the good. Some of the finest soldiers I have ever served with and under command of were women. Major General Aragon, MSgt Caren Jones, MSgt Jerry Schaffer (who was in the failed desert rescue of the American-Iranian Hostage event) are just a few. Ladies of the Auxiliary truly are heroes and patriots as well. Ladies, we salute you!
Don’t forget our regular meetings continue the first and third Thursdays of the month at 7:00 PM. Monday morning Koffee Klatch meetings in July are still scheduled for biscuits and gravy and always a cup of Joe (coffee to the civilians). Keep your eye on the weather in case things have to be postponed. That will be most likely if the storms bring strong winds and lightning. If you are a veteran come on by. If you have a good story it may end up in print. Also keep up with us at website “americanlegion142.org”.