When women are discussed in the context of the Founding Fathers and veterans of the Revolutionary War, famous wives and mothers are given tribute. But women also fought in combat to secure independence.

Women in combat is a controversial contemporary topic, but history has seen numerous examples of female soldiers.

David E. Jones chronicles in his book "Women Warriors: A History" examples of women in combat roles all over the world and throughout time.

The American Revolution was no exception.

University of Utah history professor Edward Davies said women often took care of military logistics during the colonial era but were known to step into combat roles when required.

"Until recently, we have chosen to portray the military as a male world and have ignored the vital role of women in wars," Davies said.

The most notable example found while researching the topic on the Internet is Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man and joined a Massachusetts regiment in 1782 at the age of 21. She enlisted under the name of Robert Shurtleff, and at 5-foot-7, she passed for a boy and fought as a light infantry soldier.

When she was wounded, she doctored herself to conceal her gender. Even though she was eventually found out, Sampson was still honorably discharged and granted a veteran's pension.

Nancy Morgan Hart of Georgia, rumored to have been 6 feet tall with red hair, pock marks on her face and cross-eyed, was an incredible shot with a musket. Local Indians called her "War Woman." Hart is credited with capturing half a dozen British soldiers with their own muskets while they sat at her table for a meal. She may have shot one of them. She or a child then blew a conch shell to alert local patriots, who came and hanged the soldiers.

Later in the war, it is believed she disguised herself as a crazy man and gathered valuable information at a British camp.

Margaret Cochran Corbin of Pennsylvania followed her husband, whose job was to sponge and reload cannons. During battles, she often assisted at his side.

While defending Fort Washington in New York on Nov. 16, 1776, a gunner was killed. As the British forces swarmed the patriots, her husband took over, and she reloaded the cannon until her husband was killed as well. She continued loading and firing the cannon herself until she was hit with grapeshot. She survived the war but died in poverty in 1789.

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, sometimes called "Molly Pitcher," also followed her husband's camp and took over a cannon when he fell.

Her husband was in the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. He loaded the cannon until he collapsed from heat stroke. Mary, who was believed to have carried water during the battle, either for drinking or for swabbing the cannons, took over her husband's cannon and continued to fire it.

Legend holds that Gen. George Washington made her a noncommissioned officer, and she became known as "Sergeant Molly."

Prudence Wright led an all-woman "minuteman" unit in capturing British orders. In the spring of 1775, it was learned that a British agent would pass a bridge near her home. Wright convinced several of the local women to dress in their absent husbands' clothing and with their muskets or other weapons, hid near the bridge to ambush, capture and confiscate the British orders that were en route from Canada to Boston.

Grace and Rachel Martin, wives of brothers fighting in the Revolution, similarly found that three British soldiers would soon pass their home carrying mail. The two women put on their husbands' clothes, and with muskets armed with bayonets, ambushed the men and demanded the letters.

"Women have played a critical role in all wars and certainly in the Revolutionary War," Davies said.


E-mail: akirk@desnews.com