The Story of Molly Pitcher
An Artillery wife, Mary Hays McCauly (better known as Molly Pitcher) shared the rigors of Valley Forge with her husband, William Hays. Her actions during the battle of Monmouth (28 June 1778) became legendary. That day at Monmouth was as hot as Valley Forge was cold. Someone had to cool the hot guns and bathe parched throats with water.
Across that bullet-swept ground, a striped skirt fluttered. Mary Hays McCauly was earning her nickname "Molly Pitcher" by bringing pitcher after pitcher of cool spring water to the exhausted and thirsty men. She also tended to the wounded and once, heaving a crippled continental soldier up on her strong young back, carried him out of reach of hardcharging Britishers. On her next trip with water she found her artilleryman husband back with the guns again, replacing a casualty. While she watched, Hays fell wounded. The piece, its crew too depleted to serve it, was about to be withdrawn. Without hesitation, Molly stepped forward and took the rammer staff from her fallen husband's hands. For the second time on an American battlefield, a woman manned a gun. (The first was Margaret Corbin during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776.) Resolutely, she stayed at her post in the face of heavy enemy fire, ably acting as a matross (gunner).
For her heroic role, General Washington himself issued her a warrant as a noncommissioned officer. Thereafter, she was widely hailed as "Sergeant Molly." A flagstaff and cannon stand at her gravesite at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A sculpture on the battle monument commemorates her courageous deed.
Another version of the story of Molly Pitcher
As long as there have been Soldiers willing to fight for the American ideal – there have been spouses standing by them, believing in the same cause, knowing it would be hard work and willing to support the mission.
As in the cold winter of Valley Forge and the summer heat of Monmouth – the Continental Army was accompanied by a few spouses. In 1777, Martha Washington nursed the many sick Soldiers at Valley Forge. In 1778, Mary Hays (later Mary Hays McCauley) manned a cannon at Monmouth.
As frigid and torrid Valley Forge was in December of 1777, Monmouth was sweltering and miserable in late June of 1778. The 4th Continental Artillery Regiment had the mission to hold a critical causeway. As Gunner William Hays manned his cannon, his wife carried water to quench the thirst of not only the gunners but to cool the guns, as well. The cannons roared and Soldiers fell from both heat injuries and wounds. The causeway was in a state of chaos.
In the midst of loud noises, searing heat and acrid smoke, William fell to the heat. His gun was ordered removed from the causeway. Mary would have none of it. She stepped up. As if born to it, she worked hard and kept that cannon firing. William’s fellow artillerymen noticed her swift, accurate action. The tale of her efforts passed through the Colonial camp that evening. Later, General Washington would recognize her efforts with an honorary Non-Commissioned Officer rank.
Known to history as Molly Pitcher, a gunner’s spouse, Mary Hays McCauley’s story, belongs to us all. It is a story of fortitude, determination and true patriotism.
This evening we continue the tradition of the Colonial Artillerymen at the Battle of Monmouth. Among us, tonight, are spouses who work hard, believe in the American ideal and support the mission. Just as Molly Pitcher, their tales have passed through this (unit, post, camp, depot). Their deeds have been brought to the attention of this command by the gunners.