There have been few notable women who have joined their nations colours to fight in its causes on the battlefield. Fewer still have actually donned the uniform of a soldier and in the guise of men fought in in the ranks. Several nations have notable examples. The English have their ‘Mother Ross’ who fought as a dragoon during Marlborough’s campaigns and there are several examples from both sides of the American Civil War. Deborah Sampson also felt her nation’s call, in her case the emergent United States of America at the time when the young country rose to shake off the shackles of colonialism. In 1778, aged just 18 years old, young Deborah disguised herself in male attire and attempted to join the ranks of Washington’s Continental Army. Fearful she had been discovered she failed to report for duty; but in 1782 under the name of her late brother, Robert Shurtliff Sampson, she finally achieved her objective. She found herself posted to the distinctively uniformed ranks of the light company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Deborah fought in several skirmishes before her first battlefield engagement at Tarrytown during which she was wounded in the thigh and cut about the head. Afraid of discovery, she treated herself with penknife and twine. Her gender was discovered in 1783 by a doctor who was treating her for a fever though he did not reveal his discovery. Deborah Sampson’s true identity was never formally acknowledged right up to the point she was honourably discharged in October 1783. This book was originally published under the title The Female Review. Life of Deborah Sampson, the Female Soldier in the War of the Revolution.
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The French surgeon soon came, who, being informed of their circumstances, gave them two bottles of choice wine, and prepared to dress their wounds. His mate, washing her head with rum, told her, he supposed it had not come to its feeling, as she did not flinch. Judge, my readers, whether this was not the case, as her other wound so much affected her heart! She requested the favour of more medicine than she needed for her head; and taking an opportunity, with a penknife and needle, she extracted the ball from her thigh; which, by that time, had doubtless come to its feeling.<br>
They never rightly knew how many they killed or wounded. They took nine prisoners and seven horses, and killed a number of others on the spot. Of their wounded was Rose, Stockbridge, Plummer and the invincible Fair. Diston was killed.<br>
After suffering almost every pain but death, with incredible fortitude, she so far healed her wound unbeknown to any, that she again joined the army on the lines. But its imperfect cure, had it been known, would have been sufficient to exempt the most hardy soldier from duty.<br>
In August, on their march to the lines from Collabarack, she requested to be left with a sick soldier named Richard Snow; mostly because she was unable to do duty with the army, and partly out of compassion for the poor object, who was sick. But the fortune of war to her proved adverse. The fears and distress that here awaited her, were far greater than those when with the army. The old Dutchman, whose name was Van Tassel, with whom she was left, was not only a Tory and entertained the banditti, who plundered the Americans, but refused them all kinds of succour. When she begged a straw bed for the expiring soldier, he virulently exulted—“The floor is good enough for rebels.” They were lodged in a dirty garret without windows; where the heat rendered it still more insupportable.<br>
One night, expecting to become a prey to the relentless cruelty of the rabble, she charged both their pieces, resolving to sacrifice the first who might offer to molest. She likewise made fast a rope near an opening in the garret, by which to make her escape, in case they should be too many. Thus she continued constant to him, till almost exhausted for want of sleep and nourishment. On the tenth night, he expired in great agonies, but in the exercise of his reason (of which he was before deprived), and much resigned to the will of God; which may be a consolation to his surviving relatives.<br>
After Snow was dead, she rolled him in his blanket and sat at the avenue. She saw a party ride up to the house, and the old churl go out to congratulate them. They informed, the horses they then had, with other plunder, were taken from the Americans. Whilst the house was again infested with their ungodly career, it is not in my power to describe her melancholy distress in a dark garret with a corpse. A multitude of cats swarmed in the room; and it was with difficulty she disabled some with her cutlass, and kept the rest from tearing the body to pieces. At length she heard footsteps on the stairs. Her heart fluttered; but her heroism had not forsaken her. Hastening to the door, she put her hanger in a position to dislocate the limbs of any who should enter. But the voice of a female, who spoke to her in English, allayed her fear. It was Van Tassel’s daughter, who seemed possessed of humanity, and who had before often alleviated her distress.<br>
At daybreak, she left the garret; but finding the outer doors bolted, she was returning, when she again met the young female, who bid her good morning, and said—“If you please, Sir, walk into my chamber.” She followed; and seating themselves by a window, they regaled themselves with a glass of wine and a beautiful, serene air. After entreating her agreeable guest not to let the ill treatment she had received from her father make her forsake the house, she bordered on subjects that might have enraptured the other sex.—Summoned at this instant by her mother, they withdrew.<br>
Our heroine, with the assistance of two others, buried the dead; then sat out to join her company. She acquainted the captain of the Toryism of Van Tassel, of his treatment of her, and thought it best to surprise him. The affair was submitted to her management. She frequented the house; and having learned that a gang was to be there at such a time, she took command of a party and found them in their usual reverie. Some thought best to rush immediately upon them; but she deemed it more prudent to wait till their intoxicated brains should render them less capable of resistance. At midnight she unbolted the stable doors, when they possessed themselves of the horses; then rallied the house. They came out with consternation, which was increased when they were told, they were dead men if they did not yield themselves prisoners of war. They conveyed them to their company as such.<br>
The captain enquired of the gallant commander, the method of capturing them; which she detailed. He gave her a bottle of good spirits and told her to treat her men. This done, she requested that the prisoners might fare in like manner. The captain said—“Will you treat men who would be glad to murder us?” But she pleading the cause of humanity, he gave her another bottle. Unlosing the hands of a sergeant, he drank but in making them fast again, he acted on the defensive, and struck her to the ground. She arose, when he made a second attempt; but she warded the blow. His compeers chided him for his folly, as they had been well used. He vented many bitter oaths; alleging, she had not only taken him prisoner, but had caused his girl (meaning Van Tassel’s daughter) to pay that attention to her she once bestowed on him. He, however, received fifty stripes on the naked back for his insolence; then was sent to headquarters, and after trial, to the provost, with the rest at West Point.