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"Margaret Corbin" - by Don Troiani

Signed & Numbered Limited Edition Print & Giclee Canvas

Image size: Print - 27" x 18" ...... Canvas--33" 22"

Edition Size: Print-- $350 ...... Canvas--Only 50

Price: Print--$225 ........Canvas --$800

By November 1776, the last Patriot toehold on Manhattan was a rocky eminence that overlooked the Hudson or North River at the northern end of the island. Dubbed "Mount Washington" in honor of General George Washington, two regiments of Pennsylvania regulars and militia from the Pennsylvania Flying Camp began construction of a fort (also bearing his name) and series of outworks upon it earlier that summer. Fort Washington was a pentagonal earthwork with a bastion in each corner. Built in conjunction with Fort Lee on the opposite (or Jersey) bank of the Hudson, the two forts were strategically placed to retard Royal Navy efforts to ascend the river and to contain the British Army in the southern portion of Manhattan Island. In late October, additional reinforcements were detached to the fort, including the remnants of Stephenson’s Regiment of Maryland and Virginia Riflemen. By November 14th, it was clear that the British intended to attack the fort and the garrison prepared for imminent battle. The riflemen were stationed on the northernmost end of the Mount Washington ridgeline and two batteries were constructed at its apex, with supporting redans and firing lines scratched out of the rocky soil, all encircled by a wide abatis further downslope. Manning the two fieldpieces of the main battery was a small detachment drawn from Captain William Pierce’s company of Knox’s Continental Regiment of Artillery, supplemented by men drawn from the Pennsylvania regulars and militia. Among the latter was John Corbin, who was accompanied by his wife of four years, Margaret Cochran Corbin. Margaret Cochran was born on November 12, 1751 on a frontier farm near present-day Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. During an Indian raid in 1756, her father was killed and her mother taken captive, never to return home. She and her brother were adopted and raised by the uncle they had been staying with at the time of the raid. In 1772, Margaret either married one John Corbin and apparently childless in 1776, the illiterate, young frontierswoman decided to follow her husband to war when he marched to New York as part of the Pennsylvania Flying Camp. Margaret likely served as a laundress to her husband’s company, for which she probably was paid and/or drew half-rations in exchange for this labor. John Corbin was apparently one of a number of Pennsylvanians who arrived unarmed. It was decided that these troops were best utilized in the defense of the post by training them as matrosses to help work the many cannon placed in the fort and its outer batteries and redoubts; each gun crew supervised by a few Continental artillerymen. Thus it was that on the morning of November 16th, a young lass of 5 feet and 8 inches height--tall for the time--could be seen among the men in the northern redoubts, for Margaret refused to leave her husband’s side even with a battle in the offing. The attack began at daybreak, when a huge cannonade commenced against the fort and its outworks from the numerous British batteries that surrounded the post. Tasked to take the northern strongpoint of redoubts was the Hessian corps under Lieutenant General von Knyphausen, which formed up to attack in two columns under cover of a small woodsBoth columns had to clamber the steep slopes of the ridge while exposed to heavy rifle and cannon fire for nearly an hour, the left column especially suffering from the grapeshot fired by the cannon in the lower American battery. One Hessian soldier in the left column described the hellish experience as they “clambered up the hills and stone falling down alive, another being shot dead”, as we “dragged ourselves upwards by grasping bushes up to the heights....we had a hard time of it”, but finally reached the heights when “Col. Rall commanded ‘All who are my grenadiers, forward march!’” As the Americans began a fighting withdrawal, Rall (seen here to the left at the head of his regiment) and his hurrahing troops clambered into the American works and found, much to their amazement, the body of a woman among the fallen that had so valiantly defended that position. Margaret Corbin, witnessing the death of her husband earlier in the action, took up his position at a cannon, fighting until she too, was hit by three grapeshot fired from one of the enemy batteries. She suffered multiple wounds which mangled her left arm, jaw and chest. As the Americans were pushed into the fort from the outer works, the position was no longer tenable and, some hours later the garrison surrendered. Corbin was treated by surgeons and miraculously survived. Along with other wounded prisoners, she was later paroled and released. “Captain Molly”, as she became known, was incapacitated by her wounds, her left arm all but useless. While she continued to draw military rations each day, she had no other means of support and in 1779, the state of Pennsylvania voted her $30 to relieve her immediate needs. They then petitioned the Continental Congress to take her heroism and disabilities under consideration and provide additional succor. Congress responded by giving her an annual suit of soldier’s clothing and later awarded her with a soldier’s half-pay for life. “Captain Molly”, who lived until 1800, was the first woman pensioner of the United States. Revered as a war hero, she still proved more than a handful for the officers charged with her care and oversight, for she was infamous for her swearing, heavy drinking and lack of hygiene—attributable both to her hard life, as well as the physical suffering that she endured for the remainder of her life. She is buried on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where a monument stands attesting to her valor and self-sacrifice. James L. Kochan


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