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Molly Pitcher: The Brave Gunner Of The Battle Of Monmouth
by [?]

In order to surprise the three British regiments which were at Princeton at that time, General Washington, Commander-in-chief of the Continental force, quietly left Trenton with his troops, and crept up behind the unsuspecting British at Princeton, killing about one hundred men and taking three hundred prisoners, while his own losses were only thirty men. Then, anxious to get away before Lord Cornwallis could arrive with reinforcements for the British, he slipped away with his men to Morristown, New Jersey, while the cannon were still booming on the battle-field, their noise being mistaken in Trenton for thunder. With the Continental troops went John Hays, gunner, and as soon as Molly heard of the engagement, and the retirement of General Washington’s troops, she hastened to the field of action to seek out any wounded men whom she could care for or comfort in their last hours. Picking her way across the littered field, she brought a drink of water here, lifted an aching head there, and covered the faces of those who had seen their last battle. As she passed slowly on, she saw a friend of her husband’s, Dilwyn by name, lying half buried under a pile of debris. She would have passed him by but for a feeble movement of his hand under the rubbish, seeing which, she stooped down, pushed aside his covering, and felt for his pulse to see whether he were still alive. As she bent down her quick eye saw a cannon near where the wounded man lay, a heavy, cumbersome gun which the Continentals had evidently left behind as being of a type too heavy to drag with them on their hasty march to Morristown. Beside the cannon Molly also saw a lighted fuse slowly burning down at one end. She had a temptation as she looked at the piece of rope soaked in some combustible, lying there ready to achieve its purpose. She stooped over Dilwyn again, then she rose and went to the cannon, fuse in hand. In a half-second the booming of the great gun shook the battle-field–Molly had touched it off, and at exactly the right moment, for even then the advance guard of Lord Cornwallis and his men was within range!

At the sound of the cannon they halted abruptly, in alarm. The foe must be lurking in ambush dangerously near them, for who else would have set off the gun? They spent an hour hunting for the concealed Continentals, while Molly picked Dilwyn up and laid him across her shoulder as she had carried the wheat-bags in childhood, and coolly walked past the British, who by that time were swarming across the battle-field, paying no attention to the red-headed young woman carrying a wounded soldier off the field, for what could she have to do with discharging a gun!

Molly meanwhile bore her heavy burden across the fields for two miles until she reached the farm, where she laid the wounded man gently down on a bed which was blissfully soft to his aching bones, and where he was cared for and nursed as if he had been Molly’s own kin. When at last he was well again and able to ride away from the farm, he expressed his admiration for his nurse in no measured terms, and there came to her a few days later a box of fine dress goods with the warmest regards of “one whose life you saved.” As she looked at the rich material, Molly smoothed it appreciatively with roughened hand, then she laid the bundle away among her most cherished possessions, but making use of it never entered her mind–it was much too handsome for that!

Every hour the British troops were delayed at Princeton was of great advantage to the Continental forces, and by midnight they had come to the end of their eighteen-mile march, to their great rejoicing, as it had been a terrible walk over snow and ice and in such bitter cold that many a finger and ear were frozen, and all had suffered severely. The men had not had a meal for twenty-four hours, had made the long march on top of heavy fighting, and when they reached their destination they were so exhausted that the moment they halted they dropped and fell into a heavy sleep.