The Unsettling Contents Of A War Hero's Grave Left Historians Scrambling For Answers
Did you know that there's only one female veteran honored with a monument at West Point? That would be Revolutionary War heroine Margaret Corbin, and she was a heroine like no other. Scores of visitors have traveled to her final resting place to pay their respects, and they've marveled at tales of Corbin firing a cannon at British soldiers while protected by nothing more than her flowing dress. But it turned out that one commonly believed part of her story was all wrong. The truth came spilling out in grisly fashion when the remains beneath the monument were suddenly unearthed.
Her road to glory
Nobody expected Margaret to become a legend. Women weren’t soldiers during the Revolutionary War, but some of them followed behind their husbands' companies. Called “camp followers,” these dedicated women foraged, cooked, and did laundry for their soldier husbands and the others in the troop. Before becoming the first lady, Martha Washington was a camp follower, for instance. She might've even befriended Corbin.
An unexpected promotion
Margaret’s husband, John, served as a cannon operator in the same company as George Washington, so she would have worked with Martha — though Martha was living a higher-class life as the wife of a general. Against all odds, Margaret got a chance to go from camp follower to soldier on November 16, 1776, during the Battle of Fort Washington.
The British and Hessian troops forced the Americans to order a retreat, but John was shot amid all of the confusion. Margaret immediately ran to the cannon, but not just to aid her fatally wounded husband. Instead, she took his place and started firing. British troops didn't know how to react at first. They had never seen a woman take such an action on the battlefield.
Wounded and imprisoned
But once opposing forces came to their senses, Margaret soon found herself in the English crosshairs. Enemy fire injured her jaw and shoulder, and grapeshot ripped off a part of her breast. Then, once they were overwhelmed, she and 2,837 soldiers were taken hostage as prisoners of war. Corbin knew that many captives never made it out alive.