Friday, February 02, 2007

A history book for Black History and Women's History months

For Black History and Women's History Months, Book Highlights Black's and Women's Importance on American Revolutionary War Battlefields

As we celebrate Black History Month in February and Women's History Month in March, remember that early American historians rarely mentioned the achievements of Blacks and women. For example, while reading about the American Revolutionary War as reported by 18th century New England historians, you won't find many references to Black soldiers or noteworthy women on its battlefields, according to Walter J. Haan, book publisher at Southfarm Press in Middletown, Connecticut.

Haan points out that the pages of the new trade paperback book, Blacks, Indians & Women in America's War for Independence (ISBN: 978-0-913337-57-8) by Dudley C. Gould tell a different story. "This inexpensive, 64 page book at $9.95 does a lot to redress the record of Blacks and women on our Revolutionary War battlefields. And the book makes a great supplementary text for high school, junior college and college American history courses," Haan adds. The book is available from most bookstores and on the Internet at

Regarding Blacks, the book points out that from the moment on April 20, 1775, when the call for civilians to volunteer to become soldiers went out, Black men showed up. Some were slaves with written permission from their owners. Massachusetts allowed free Negroes to serve in the American camp at Cambridge and they were very involved in the battle on Breed's (Bunker) Hill in June 1775.

One man, Salem Poor, "behaved like an experienced officer as well as an excellent soldier," according to Colonel William Prescott, as quoted in Gould's book. Prescott added that Blacks "... were obedient soldiers, of a less mutinous spirit than some of their white brothers."

Blacks continued to serve in the Continental Army despite legislative efforts of Southern representatives to exclude them. Black soldiers met with approval in most states. Their gallant record at Breed's Hill was spread widely by word of mouth. Rhode Island, the first state to offer religious freedom to all, bought up slaves who volunteered to fight for everyone's liberty and enrolled them as soldiers, many going to the all Black regiment of Colonel Christopher Greene. Records of Washington's immediate command, the Main Army, showed that several brigades each had an average of 54 blacks. One German officer noted in 1777 --

"One sees no regiment in which there are not Negroes in abundance, and among them are able-bodied, sturdy fellows."

An estimated 8,000 Blacks, free and enslaved, fought in the rebel infantry during the eight years of war against the British, which, considering their background of misery, is remarkable, according to author Gould. On just one day, August 24, 1778, 755 blacks were recorded on active duty, not counting many hundred hangers-on and laborers not enlisted. This is a fact seldom mentioned by white historians before the mid-1960s and the advent of national civil rights, Gould adds in his book.

Those Blacks were, however, recognized by most foreign observers at the time. A French officer wrote in July 1781 from the rebel camp at White Plains, New York --

"I had a chance to see the American Army, man for man.…A quarter of them are Negroes, merry, confident and sturdy. It is incredible that soldiers composed of men of every age, even children of fifteen, of whites and blacks, unpaid and rather poorly fed, can march so fast and withstand fire so steadfastedly."

Returning for a visit to America in 1824, Marquis de Lafayette was struck by the increase in racial prejudice in the United States. He recalled the days when Black and White soldiers ate together, fraternized, marched, died side-by-side and were then rolled naked together into mass graves. He was upset by the fact that in 1824, Whites were rarely seen with Blacks unless the Blacks were slaves.

Regarding women's participation on our Revolutionary War battlefields, women, just as they are doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan, died beside or in support of male soldiers in the Revolutionary War. But until recent times, they were seldom given their due, according to Haan.

Women performed a number of dangerous duties during our War of Independence. At the furious, no-quarter battle of Saratoga, the wife of a British soldier made repeated trips for water for the wounded. Several soldiers had been killed at the zeroed-in spring, and though American riflemen withheld fire on her first trip, there was no guarantee all would continue to do so. After it was over, grateful soldiers "threw whole handfuls of coins into this brave woman's lap."

Molly Pitcher Hays was Sergeant Molly to the admiring soldiers whom she inspired in the heat of combat. Her sergeant's warrant was signed by none other than General George Washington.

Popular though she was with the men beside whom she fought, the battlefield deed she performed, carrying water in a pitcher repeatedly to cool over-heated cannon barrels at Monmouth, New Jersey, went unrecognized by Congress. Not until 1822, at age 68, did Mrs. Pitcher Hays receive the first payment of a $40-a-year pension voted by Pennsylvania many years earlier.

Another Molly was just as famous, according to author Gould. Those who survived the furious battle at Fort Washington along the Hudson River praised the accomplishments of war volunteer Margaret "Molly" Corbin. Molly was no stranger to combat, having survived an Indian raid on the Pennsylvania frontier in which she lost her mother, father and brothers.

She followed her husband, a cannon gunner's assistant in the 1st Company of Pennsylvania artillery, to New York. When he was killed in heavy fire, she took up his rammer staff and went on sponging and ramming until she was badly wounded.

Hessians found her nearly dead, abandoned on the battlefield beside her cannon. A fixture at the Invalid Corps at West Point for many years, Captain Molly, as young cadets called her respectfully (and behind her back, Dirty Kate because she wore her husband's tattered old artillery coat), would good-naturedly return the salutes of untested boys. In 1799, Congress granted her a pension equal to half her husband's pay and a new suit of clothes every year.

That was a promise Congress never kept. Molly lies with other heroes in the soldier's cemetery at the West Point Military Academy.

Prior to 1788, no medical examination was given to military recruits, which made it much easier for disguised women to join the ranks of soldiers

Blacks, Indians & Women in America's War for Independence by Dudley C. Gould is available from most bookstores and can be ordered on the Internet at

Gould's other Revolutionary War books are Times of Brother Jonathan, ISBN: 978-0-913337-40-0 (2001), Benedict Arnold, ISBN: 978-0-913337-61-5 (2006) and soon to be published, Forgotten Army: The Abandonment of American Revolutionary War Soldiers, ISBN: 978-0-913337-64-6 (2007). Information about the books is available at Haan