The first female combat veteran Margaret Corbin helping to load a cannon being shot by her husband John Corbin during the Battle of Fort Washington on Manhattan Island, 1772. Though Corbin is depicted in the painting above wearing a dress she disguised herself as a man in order to contribute to the efforts on the battlefield.
During the Revolutionary War it was commonplace for the wife of a soldier to accompany her husband to war only to mostly perform activities such as doing laundry, preparing meals and attending to he injured. Though this is exactly what Margaret Corbin did initially when she joined her husband John as a member of the Pennsylvania military at the age of 21, four years later Corbin would disguise herself as a man to help her husband load his cannon during the Battle of Fort Washington on Manhattan Island. During the fighting John was killed leaving Margaret alone to “man” the cannon. Which she did until she nearly lost her left arm due to British army fire. Corbin would survive and for her participation in the Battle of Fort Washington she was officially recognized as the first woman “combat veteran” and subsequently became the first woman to receive a military pension.
Many other women would follow in Corbin’s pioneering footsteps including Deborah Sampson who dressed as a man in order to fight in George Washington’s army in 1782. Sampson’s heroic charade lasted for a year until she became injured and was no longer able to hide the fact that she was a woman and was honorably discharged. During the Civil War and the Spanish American War in 1898 there are several accounts of women masquerading as men in order to fight on the front lines along with their male counterparts, as well as serving their country assisting with war related activities such as espionage. Though women would participate in WWI and WWII and lose their lives as a result, it was not until 1976 that women were allowed to enlist in the military. Instances of women fighting in other wars and acting as snipers, and members of resistance efforts in places like France during WWII were common.
Speaking of snipers, the story of Red Army sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko is a compelling one. Pavlichenko was an expert female sniper from Ukraine who fought the Nazis during WWII and was credited with killing 187 Germans during her first 75 days as a member of the Soviet resistance. That number would grow to 309 with 36 of her total kills being German snipers, though it’s widely believed that her actual kill count is likely much higher as there was not always a third-party to witness them all. The German army was rightfully so terrified of Pavlichenko they took to broadcasting appeals over loudspeakers to have the 25-year-old killing machine join their troops instead of wiping them out. Pavlichenko would of course turn down the offer (which according to historians included the promise of “candy”). There were 2000 female snipers who fought with the Red Army during WWII—and Pavlichenko would be one of the 500 who walked away with their lives.
Below, I’ve included some pretty stunning images of women taking up arms. I’ve also posted the trailer for the 2015 film based on Lyudmila Pavlichenko’s brave exploits Battle for Sevastopol. Stay strong, sisters.
Red Army sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko.
Armenian guerilla fighters during the Hamidian massacres, 1895.
More after the jump…