Casimir Pulaski

EVERY MARCH, Polish Americans honor Casimir Pulaski, the Polish freedom fighter who lost his life in the Revolutionary War. Pulaski’s letters of recommendation, presented to the Continental Congress and General George Washington, were written by Benjamin Franklin, who met the Pole while in Paris. Pulaski arrived in America on June 23, 1777. The allegorical painting of Pulaski in the Battle of Savannah by Stanislaw Batowski-Kaczor hangs in the Pulaski Museum in Warka, Poland.

Casimir (Kazimierz) Pulaski was born on March 6, 1745 in Mazowia, Poland and baptized at St. Nicholas Church in Warka. Many still celebrate his birthdate as March 4, 1747. Pulaski’s date of his birth was discovered by Polish American historian Edward Pinkowski in 1996, who, while researching Pulaski’s genealogy, found the correct date in church records. The correct date was verified by the Pulaski Museum in Warka, Poland.

His formative years coincided with the stormy and tragic period of Poland’s history when Russia began meddling in the internal affairs of the Polish state and threatened its internal sovereignty and security.

Pulaski’s first encounter with the Russians took place in June 1767, in Courland.

Encircled by 4,000 Russian soldiers, Pulaski and 200 of his fellow Poles broke through and after a long and tortuous journey south through eastern Poland and west through the Carpathian Mountains, reached Krakow.

With his father and a group of patriotic gentry, Pulaski organized the Confederacy of Bar (a city in, Podolia, one of Poland’s eastern provinces), to save Poland from Russian aggression and interference,

Pulaski soon became an outstanding commander in the guerrilla warfare conducted by the confederates.

In 1769, he was elected Marshal of Poland’s freedom forces at the age of 24 and became a national hero in 1771, when he defeated overwhelming Russian forces at Czestochowa, the site of the monastery of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

He proved to be a superior strategist. He knew how to make use of terrain in partisan fighting and how to hold the initiative. When faced with superior strength he would harass the enemy ranks and refuse to give open battle.

Due to the steadily-increasing Russian pressures and the vacillations of the last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the confederacy disintegrated and Pulaski, unjustly charged with the crime of regicide, was forced into exile in 1773. He spent the next three years in the Balkans and Turkey endeavoring to organize concerted military action against Russia, but in vain.

Disheartened, he arrived in Paris in November, 1776, and his dejection and despair turned into renewed enthusiasm and vigor at the prospect of serving the cause of American colonies then fighting for their freedom and independence.

The French Royal Court, knowing his military genius, warmly recommended Pulaski to Benjamin Franklin who at that time was seeking volunteers for the American Revolution.

Franklin gave Pulaski letters of recommendation to the Continental Congress and to General George Washington. Pulaski arrived in America on June 23, 1777, aboard the ship Massachusetts; debarking at Marblehead.

On August 29, Pulaski arrived at Washington’s headquarters in Willington and immediately set out “to prove himself as a good officer.” On September 11, at the battle of Brandywine, he exposed himself to great danger by riding close to the British lines and reconnoitering their position.

At a critical moment, with Washington’s permission, he took command of the Commanderinchief’s cavalry detachment and charged the British lines, staying their advance. By this attack on the British vanguard under Lord Cornwallis, Pulaski not only denied the British a victory, but saved military supplies of Washington’s army.

Similarly, he distinguished himself at the battles of Warrents Tavern, and Germantown. Congress appointed him a brigadier general and commander of a horse mounted attachment. He continued with the army in Pennsylvania during the remainder of the campaign in 1777.

On March 28, 1778, Congress authorized the formation of an Independent Corps of Light Cavalry, which became to be known as the Pulaski Legion.

From October 8, 1778, to February 8, 1779, the Pulaski Legion was engaged in minor skirmishes with the British while guarding the frontiers at Egg Harbor and Minisink on the Delaware river.

On February 8, 1779, his Legion was ordered to the Southern Theatre of Operations, to join Gen. Lincoln’s army, where he displayed his accustomed activity and valor. Doing so, however, would prove fatal, terminating both his military and. Earthly careers.

On October 9, at the siege of Savannah, Pulaski made a bold effort at the head of two hundred horsemen, to force his way through the enemy’s ranks and gain the rear of Mainland. But while advancing, the intrepid Pulaski received a mortal wound, and fell from his horse. The fall of their heroic leader stopped the progress of the squadron, and they immediately retreated.

Pulaski died aboard the privately-owned square rigger Wasp. While thought to be laid to rest at sea, recent research indicates that he was buried in the ground at nearby Greenwich plantation. It is believed that Pulaski’s body was exhumed in 1853 and placed in a metal container next to the cornerstone under the Pulaski Monument in Savannah, Georgia. For lack of DNA evidence, the remains have yet to be positively identified as Pulaski’s.

On November 11, 1779, Gen. Washington ordered that the password and response in all Army units for the day be “Pulaski” and “Poland” in honor of the fallen hero of two continents.

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