When George Washington called for volunteers for the Continental Army in 1782, 23-year-old Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, giving the name Robert Shurtleff.
She served for 17 months, eating and sleeping with the troops and fighting in several battles in New York — she received a sword wound to the head and a bullet in the thigh, which she removed herself with a penknife.
A doctor discovered her identity when she was hospitalized with fever in summer 1783, but he kept her secret and she was discharged honorably shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in September. The government awarded her a pension for her service and extended one to her husband as well, declaring that the Revolutionary War “furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage.”
It was quickly forgotten. In 1861 Confederate general Richard Ewell remarked, “Women would make a grand brigade — if it was not for snakes and spiders! They don’t mind bullets — women are not afraid of bullets; but one big black-snake would put a whole army to flight.”