Red Cannon Fire and a White Petticoat
By Brenda Black
Continental Army Private Joseph Martin recorded an interesting scene in his journal for June 28, 1778. Author Esther Pavao repeats his words in an article published by Revolutionary-War.net.
“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 for 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.”
Meet Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, better known in history books as "Molly Pitcher." She gained the title that late June day at the Battle of Monmouth where Mary Hays carried water from a spring to the thirsty soldiers under heavy fire from the British. All through the day, amid choking smoke, groaning troops and frightening battle, the private's young wife carried water in a pitcher back and forth to her husband and his fellow artillery gunners. When her husband collapsed from either heat stroke or injury and was carried off the battlefield, Mary Hays took his place at his cannon.
It was not uncommon for women to be near the heat of battle. Many wives of enlisted men joined a group of camp followers led by Martha Washington. They took care of the troops, washed clothes, made food, and helped care for the sick or injured soldiers. But Mary's bravery and composure with fire-hot cannons blazing, earned her a special thanks from General George Washington. And a hundred years later, a marker graces her grave, commemorating her exemplary service.
Young Mrs. Hays knew in her early 20's what it takes a lifetime for most to comprehend. Love, loyalty and a level head can keep you going when war rages all around. Mary surely loved the man she married to take such risks and to have been so frequently near him in battle that she knew how to operate his weapon. Her devotion to her husband mirrored that of her unfettered care for all of her patriot brothers. What an amazing young woman! Add to her qualities wit and wisdom so ingrained that not even a cannon ball could knock her off her game.
Though Mary was motivated by love, mobilized by loyalty and empowered with level-headed thinking, there had to be another big “L” present in that trench 235 years ago. The credit for Mary's petticoat junction with a cannon ball has to go to the Lord Himself! Together, I'd say that cool blue water, red hot determination and pure white God protection kept the military bride and a host of young patriots alive for another day.
This holiday weekend, when you hear the tummy-rumbling bang of fireworks, think back to a day when a young woman faced the enemy fearlessly and helped make it possible for you to enjoy such entertainment in freedom. Never forget how great the bravery of those who fought for liberty. Always remember that certain battles are worth the risk and to take arms for the cause of others is a noble task. And one more thing: Thank God for all your “near misses.” For most certainly, the Lord has spared you time and again from the fire of the enemy.
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)