Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Molly Maguire at Monmouth

T HE British army, which had wintered in Philadelphia, evacuated that city on June 18, 1778, and started to march to New York. General Howe, who had been in command, was succeeded by Sir Henry Clinton. As soon as Washington learned of the British movement he started in pursuit, and on Sunday, June 28th, ordered General Charles Lee, who commanded the advance guard, to attack the British left wing near Monmouth Court-House in New Jersey. Lee chose to disregard Washington's orders, and instead of attacking ordered his men to withdraw. Surprised at these tactics the Americans were thrown into disorder, when Washington himself, who had been hurriedly sent for by General Lafayette, dashed up to the advance guard, and, white with anger at Lee's lack of courage or judgment, ordered him to the rear. Washington then took command, re-formed the scattered troops, and, although the British had secured a much more favorable position, succeeded in driving them back. The battle was ended by night, and Clinton managed to get his army away under cover of the darkness.

Washington's rebuke to Lee was one of the incidents that made the battle memorable. But equally historic was the story of Molly Maguire or Molly Pitcher. This woman was a sturdy, red-haired, freckle-faced Irish woman, who had accompanied her husband, a cannonier, on the march. During the battle she carried water to him as he served his cannon. In the thick of the fighting he was killed at his post by a bullet. Molly seized the rammer as it fell from his hand, and sprang to his place by the gun. She stood to her post, and handled the cannon as skilfully as any of the regular cannoniers. The story of her bravery spread through the American ranks, and on the morning after the battle General Washington sent for her, and gave her a commision as sergeant in the Continental Army.

She is usually known as Molly Pitcher, but William Collins chose to call her Molly Maguire.

Molly Maguire at Monmouth

by William Collins

On the bloody field of Monmouth

Flashed the guns of Greene and Wayne.

Fiercely roared the tide of battle,

Thick the sward was heaped with slain.

Foremost, facing death and danger,

Hessian, horse, and grenadier,

In the vanguard, fiercely fighting,

Stood an Irish Cannonier.

Loudly roared his iron cannon,

Mingling ever in the strife,

And beside him, firm and daring,

Stood his faithful Irish wife.

Of her bold contempt of danger

Greene and Lee's Brigades could tell,

Every one knew "Captain Molly,"

And the army loved her well.

Surged the roar of battle round them,

Swiftly flew the iron hail,

Forward dashed a thousand bayonets,

That lone battery to assail.

From the foeman's foremost columns

Swept a furious fusillade,

Mowing down the massed battalions

In the ranks of Greene's Brigade.

Fast and faster worked the gunner,

Soiled with powder, blood, and dust,

English bayonets shone before him,

Shot and shell around him burst;

Still he fought with reckless daring,

Stood and manned her long and well,

Till at last the gallant fellow

Dead—beside his cannon fell.

With a bitter cry of sorrow,

And a dark and angry frown,

Looked that band of gallant patriots

At their gunner stricken down.

"Fall back, comrades, it is folly

Thus to strive against the foe."

"No! not so," cried Irish Molly;

"We can strike another blow."

* * * * *

Quickly leaped she to the cannon,

In her fallen husband's place,

Sponged and rammed it fast and steady,

Fired it in the foeman's face.

Flashed another ringing volley,

Roared another from the gun;

"Boys, hurrah!" cried gallant Molly,

"For the flag of Washington."

Greene's Brigade, though shorn and shattered,

Slain and bleeding half their men,

When they heard that Irish slogan,

Turned and charged the foe again.

Knox and Wayne and Morgan rally,

To the front they forward wheel,

And before their rushing onset

Clinton's English columns reel.

Still the cannon's voice in anger

Rolled and rattled o'er the plain,

Till there lay in swarms around it

Mangled heaps of Hessian slain.

"Forward! charge them with the bayonet!"

'Twas the voice of Washington,

And there burst a fiery greeting

From the Irish woman's gun.

Monckton falls; against his columns

Leap the troops of Wayne and Lee,

And before their reeking bayonets

Clinton's red battalions flee.

Morgan's rifles, fiercely flashing,

Thin the foe's retreating ranks,

And behind them onward dashing

Ogden hovers on their flanks.

Fast they fly, these boasting Britons,

Who in all their glory came,

With their brutal Hessian hirelings

To wipe out our country's name.

Proudly floats the starry banner,

Monmouth's glorious field is won,

And in triumph Irish Molly

Stands beside her smoking gun.

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