model train set on track

Fighting Ladies and Toy Trains

e*Train Issue: May 2007   |   Posted in: ,

By Dr. Joseph Lechner

Question:  How many American women (a) received a government pension for combat service during the Revolutionary War, (b) had a real train car named after them; and (c) had a toy train car named after them?

Answer:  at least two.

Car #7143 in Pennsylvania Railroad’s Congressional, and postwar Lionel #2544, were both named after “Molly Pitcher”.  Most Congressional cars were named for historical figures from the American colonial era.  However, Molly Pitcher was not the actual name of a person; it was a nickname given to a woman who dodged British bullets while scurrying across a battlefield to bring drinks of water to thirsty soldiers of the Continental Army.

In the fall 2006 issue I discussed evidence that “Molly’s” true identity was Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, who participated in the Battle of Monmouth (NJ) on June 28, 1778 and who lived out the remainder of her life, died, and is buried in Carlisle, PA.  A monument erected over Mary’s grave identifies her as “Molly Pitcher”.

But history records that more than one woman matches the description of Molly Pitcher.  Some claim that any female camp follower in the Continental Army would have been addressed as “Molly”; others have suggested that “Molly! Pitcher!” did not refer to a specific person at all, but was merely a cry uttered by soldiers calling for water with which to clean cannon bores between rounds—much as “Mark Twain!” was a cry uttered by riverboatmen to indicate a water depth of two fathoms, even though Samuel Langhorne Clemens later adopted it as his nom de plume.

Molly was a common woman’s name in the eighteenth century.  It was frequently used as a nickname for Mary.  The word moll (derived from Latin mulier, “woman”) meant female in service of a gun, and in more modern times has come to denote a gangster’s girlfriend.

Mary Hays McCauley was both a moll and a Molly, and yet she is not the only Colonial woman who fits that description.  Another viable candidate is Margaret Cochran Corbin (1751-1800), who was variously known to her comrades-in-arms as “Captain Molly”, “Molly Pitcher”, and even as “Dirty Kate”.  She was born Margaret Cochran on November 12, 1751 in Franklin County PA, the daughter of Robert Cochran.  Her father was killed, and her mother captured, in an Indian raid circa 1756.  Margaret and her brother were raised by a relative.  In 1772, Margaret married John Corbin, who was a member of Francis Proctor’s artillery company.  She became a camp follower and was with her husband at the Battle of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776.

Margaret Corbin’s story starts out much like Mary Hays’.  Both were married to artillerymen; each stood by her husband’s side in battle; both women were themselves fired upon; and each took charge of a cannon after her husband was struck down.  But Mary Hays fared better than Margaret Corbin.  Mary was grazed by a British cannonball that passed harmlessly through her petticoat; Margaret was seriously injured in the arm and shoulder, permanently crippling her.  William Hays was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth but he recovered; John Corbin was fatally wounded at the Battle of Fort Washington.  The Hayses continued serving in the army after Monmouth, and eventually went home to Carlisle PA; but Margaret Corbin was captured by the British.  After her release, she was treated at a hospital in Philadelphia, but she never regained the use of her arm.

In July 1779, Congress voted a lifetime pension for “Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and disabled in the attack on Fort Washington, whilst she heroically filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side serving a piece of artillery.”  She was the first woman ever to receive a Congressional pension.  Mary Hays was the only other woman to receive a pension for combat service in the Revolutionary War; but she did not get hers until 1822.  Margaret died on January 16, 1800.  In 1926, the Daughters of the American Revolution had her remains disinterred and moved to West Point, where her new grave is marked by a monument that reads “In Memory of Margaret Corbin, a heroine of the Revolution, known as Captain Molly”.  A bronze relief on the side of the monument depicts Margaret standing behind her cannon with a rammer in her hand.

Monument to Margaret Corbin behind the Old Cadet Chapel; United States Military Academy; West Point NY.  Photo by Erik Lander.

While Pennsylvania Railroad’s Congressional commemorated the deeds of “Molly Pitcher” without specifying her true identity, the Baltimore & Ohio honored Margaret Corbin with a car bearing her real name.  It was a heavyweight steel diner, road number #1064; and it was used regularly on the Capitol Limited between Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

Appropriately in the Bicentennial year of 1976, Lionel-Fundimensions issued a toy Margaret Corbin.  It was intended as a separate-sale add-on to outfit #1587, the Capitol Limited, which was cataloged in 1975.

Lionel-MPC car #9524 Margaret Corbin, manufactured in 1976.  Lionel’s graphic artists misspelled the car’s name Margret and also misspelled the train’s name Capital Limited in the circular logo.  Both names were spelled correctly in Fundimensions catalogs.  Model from the author’s collection.

MPC #1587 was the third 027 passenger set to feature the so-called “baby Madisons” that debuted in 1973.  It was the first such set to include a railway post office/combine, a new body style that was introduced in 1975.  Its consist included the #9519 RPO, a #9517 Pullman, and the #9518 observation.  All cars in the Capitol Limited series were painted Royal blue with a light gray roof and window stripe and yellow lettering.

Lionel’s Capitol Limited series would eventually expand to include nine cars.  The first add-on was baggage #9523 which appeared late in 1975.  Three extra Pullmans, including Margaret Corbin, were listed in the 1976 catalog.  Since 1976 was a presidential election year, Lionel also created “campaign cars” by decorating its existing observation cars with red, white and blue bunting.  Campaign cars were issued in all of the road names that had been used on 9500-series cars up to that time.  Only one of them, B&O #9529, carried a Republican candidate (Dwight D. Eisenhower); the others carried Democrats (Milwaukee Road #9527 FDR and Pennsylvania Railroad #9528 Harry Truman).

Lionel’s Margaret Corbin was a Pullman; but the B&O prototype Margaret Corbin was a dining car.  When #9524 was manufactured, Lionel had never produced models that explicitly represented dining cars.  A decade later, Lionel Trains, Inc. created a new mold for a diner that matched its baby Madison cars.  Margaret Corbin would have been an appropriate inscription for the B&O dining car offered in 1989; but since that name had already been used on #9524, ironically LTI #19010 was lettered simply Diner.

One of the other separate-sale Pullmans issued in 1976, #9516, was named Mountain Top.  The real Baltimore and Ohio operated a car by that name in the Capitol Limited, but it was an observation-sleeper with 10 sections and a lounge; and it was owned by and lettered for Pullman, not the B&O.

Lionel-MPC car #9516 Mountain Top, also manufactured in 1976.  Model from the author’s collection.

TABLE:  Lionel-Fundimensions and Lionel Trains, Inc. cars in the B&O Capitol Limited series

 Body stylemanufacturedname 
9516Pullman1976Mountain Topseparate sale
9517Pullman1975Capital Cityincluded in set 1587
9518observation1975National Viewincluded in set 1587
9519RPO / combine1975United States Mailincluded in set 1587
9523baggagelate 1975American Railway Expressseparate sale
9524Pullman1976Margaret Corbinseparate sale
9525Pullman1976Emerald Brookseparate sale
9529campaign carlate 1976Eisenhowerseparate sale
19010diner1989Dinerseparate sale