Thursday, July 14, 2011

Casimir Pulaski (1745-1779), The Father of American Cavalry

Casimir Pulaski, by Julian Rys, circa 1897

Casimir Pulaski

Casimir Pulaski in defence of Czestochowa by Juliusz Kossak

Stanisław Batowski Kaczor, Death of Pułaski at Savannah

Statue of Casimir Pulaski (Kazimierz Pułaski) in Warka, Poland

Casimir Pulaski, or Kazimierz Pułaski in Polish (Polish pronunciation: [kaʑiˈmʲɛʂ puˈwaski]; full name in Polish: Kazimierz Michał Wacław Wiktor Pułaski) of Ślepowron coat-of-arms (March 6, 1745 – October 11, 1779), was a Polish soldier, nobleman, and politician who has been called "the father of American cavalry".

A member of the Polish landed nobility, Pulaski was a military commander for the Bar Confederation and fought against Russian domination of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. When this uprising failed, he emigrated to North America as a soldier of fortune. During the American Revolutionary War, he saved the life of George Washington and became a general in the Continental Army. He died of wounds suffered in the Battle of Savannah. Pulaski is one of only seven people to be awarded honorary United States citizenship!

Pulaski was born on March 6, 1745 in the now-nonexistent Pulaski manor house, located near the present address 53 Nowy Świat St. near Warecka St. in Warsaw, Poland. His father, Józef Pułaski, was a well-known lawyer - the Advocatus at Crown Tribunal and the Starosta of Warka and one of its most notable inhabitants. Early in his youth, Casimir Pulaski studied at the local college of Theatines in Warsaw.

In 1762, he started his career as a page of Carl Christian Joseph of Saxony, Duke of Courland and a vassal of the Polish king. However, soon after his arrival at Mitau, the ducal court was expelled from the palaces by the Russian forces occupying the area. Pulaski returned to Warsaw, where he took part in the 1764 election of the new Polish monarch, Stanisław II August.

A skilled military commander and a son of one of the notable families, Pulaski became one of the co-founders of the Bar Confederation, together with his father, on February 29, 1768. The confederation, aiming to curtail Russian hegemony over the Commonwealth, was actively opposed by the Russian forces stationed in Poland. As the Marshal of Nobility of the Land of Łomża, Pulaski became one of the best commanders of the confederate forces. That year, he was besieged in a monastery in Berdyczów, which he defended for two weeks against overwhelming odds. Taken captive by the Russians, he was set free after being forced to pledge that he would not return to the confederates.

However, he did not consider such a forced pledge binding and fought against the Russian forces for four more years. In 1769, he was again besieged by numerically superior forces, this time in the old fortress of Okopy Świętej Trójcy. However, after a brave defense, he was able to break through the Russian siege and lead his men to the Ottoman Empire, whence they returned to Lithuania. There, Pulaski incited yet another revolt against Russia, with many local nobles joining the Confederation. Between September 10, 1770, and January 9, 1771, Pulaski also commanded the Polish forces in the siege of Jasna Góra monastery, which he successfully defended.

In November 1771, he was accused of being the main organizer of an attempt to take the King of Poland hostage. However, the attempt failed, and the Confederation was disbanded soon afterward. Pulaski was made a public enemy and sentenced to death in absentia for attempted regicide. He fled the country, but no European state would accept him. After a brief stay in Turkey, he moved illegally to France, where he was recruited by Lafayette and Benjamin Franklin for service in America. Modern historians have cleared him of any participation in the attempted abduction.

Franklin recommended that General George Washington accept Pulaski as a volunteer in the American cavalry and said that Pulaski "was renowned throughout Europe for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of his country's freedom." After arriving in America, Pulaski wrote to Washington, "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it."

His first military engagement against the British was on September 11, 1777, at the Battle of Brandywine. When the Continental troops began to yield, he reconnoitered with Washington's bodyguard, and reported that the enemy were endeavoring to cut off the line of retreat. He was authorized to collect as many of the scattered troops as came in his way, and employ them according to his discretion, which he did in a manner so prompt as to effect important aid in the retreat of the army. His courageous charge averted a disastrous defeat of the American cavalry and saved the life of Washington. As a result, on September 15, 1777, Washington promoted Pulaski to brigadier general of the American cavalry.

He saved the army from a surprise at Warren Tavern, near Philadelphia, took part in the Battle of Germantown, and in the winter of 1777/78 engaged in the operations of General Anthony Wayne, contributing to the defeat of a British division at Haddonfield, New Jersey. However, the cavalry officers could not be reconciled to the orders of a foreigner who could scarcely speak English and whose ideas of discipline and tactics differed widely from those to which they had been accustomed. In addition, there was his imperious personality. These circumstances prompted him to resign his general command in March 1778, and return to Valley Forge.
At his suggestion, which was adopted by Washington, Congress authorized the formation of a corps of lancers and light infantry, in which even deserters and prisoners of war might enlist. This corps, which became famous under the name of the Pulaski Cavalry Legion, was recruited mainly in Baltimore. In September, it numbered about 350 men, divided into three companies of cavalry and three of infantry. It was one of the few cavalry regiments in the American Continental Army. Pulaski was put at its head. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow commemorated in verse this episode of Pulaski's life.

The "father of the American cavalry" demanded much of his men and trained them in tested cavalry tactics. He used his own personal finances when money from Congress was scarce, in order to assure his forces of the finest equipment and personal safety. Congress named him "Commander of the Horse".

In the autumn he was ordered to Little Egg Harbor with his legion, a company of artillery, and a party of militia. A Hessian deserter, Lt. Gustav Juliet, who held a grudge against Col. de Bosen, the leader of the infantry, betrayed their whereabouts to the British, who made a night attack on De Bosen's camp. Pulaski heard the tumult and, assembling his cavalry, repelled the enemy, but the legion suffered a loss of forty men. During the following winter he was stationed at Minisink, at that time in New Jersey. He was dissatisfied with his petty command, and intended to leave the service and return to Europe, but was dissuaded by Washington. He was ordered to South Carolina.

In February 1779, the legion ejected the British occupiers from Charleston, South Carolina. Although he had frequent attacks of malarial fever, he remained in active service. Toward the beginning of September, he received orders to proceed to Augusta. There he was to join with General Lachlan McIntosh, and the united force was to move toward Savannah in advance of the army of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. Before the enemy was aware of his presence, Pulaski captured a British outpost, and, after several skirmishes, established permanent communications with the French fleet at Beaufort. He rendered great services during the siege of Savannah, and in the assault of October 9 commanded the whole cavalry, both French and American. During a cavalry charge, while probing for a weak point in the British lines, Pulaski was wounded by grapeshot. The grape shot is still on display today at The Powder Magazine military museum in Charleston, SC. After he was wounded, Pulaski was carried from the field by several comrades, including Col. John C. Cooper, and taken aboard the privateer merchant brigantine Wasp, where he died two days later having never regained consciousness.

According to several contemporary witnesses, including Pulaski's aide-de-camp, he was buried at sea. Other witnesses however, including Captain Samuel Bulfinch of the Wasp, claimed that the wounded Pulaski was actually later removed from the ship and taken to Greenwich plantation near Savannah, Georgia, where he died and was buried. The alleged remains were later reinterred in Monterey Square in Savannah, Georgia. Remains at Monterey Square alleged to be Pulaski's were exhumed in 1996 and examined in a lengthy forensic study. The eight-year examination ended inconclusively, and the remains were reinterred with military honors in 2004.

Pulaski is one of the most honored persons in American history, in terms of places and events named in his honor.

Cities and other locales
Several cities and counties in US states are named after Pulaski, including the cities of Pulaski, Tennessee and Iowa; counties in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Virginia; as well as villages in Illinois (Mt. Pulaski) and Wisconsin and New York; and many Townships.

  • In Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C., there is a statue dedicated to Pulaski located at Pennsylvania Avenue, between 13th and 14th Streets.
  • "Pulaski Park" sits on Main Street between City Hall and the historic Academy of Music Theater, in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. Northampton and the surrounding area is home to many Polish-American immigrants and their descendants.
  • "Pulaski Park" in Manchester, New Hampshire, located at the corner of Union and Bridge Streets, is home to an equestrian statue of Pulaski.
  • "Casimir Pulaski Memorial Park" is located in Chepachet, Rhode Island, within the 4,000 acres (16 km2) George Washington Management Area. The 100 acres (400,000 m2) park features the 13 acres (53,000 m2) Peck Pond, hiking, and cross-country skiing, and general recreation facilities.
  • In Hammond, Indiana, there is a park named in his honor on the north part of Hammond which is 2 blocks square between Sheffield Avenue and Grover Avenue and between 137th St. and 139th St.
  • "Pulaski Park" sits along 20th Street, between Cleveland and Oklahoma Avenues, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Roadways and bridges
  • Pulaski Memorial in Patterson Park, Baltimore, Maryland
  • The (General) Pulaski Skyway, a 3.5-mile series of bridges between Jersey City and Newark that connects to the Holland Tunnel, opened in 1932 in his honor. Interstate 93 in Boston has a Pulaski Skyway as well. The North-South Arterial (Rtes 5, 8 and 12) in Utica, New York is also named the Casimir Pulaski Highway. There is also a statue of him on Utica's Memorial Parkway.
  • The Pulaski Bridge connects the neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, one of the largest Polonias in America, to Long Island City, Queens.
  • In Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, the town where the Little Egg Harbor massacre occurred, there is a section of the Mystic Islands development named "Pulaski's Village", with a street named "Pulaski Blvd", which is home to a monument in Pulaski's honor. The monument is the starting point for the town's Memorial Day celebration and parade.
  • Other streets named for Pulaski, in various cities including Riverhead, New York, Huntington, New York, Brooklyn, NY, Hamtramck, Michigan, Bellingham, Massachusetts, South Bend, Indiana, Columbia, South Carolina, Athens, Georgia, Toledo, Ohio, and the Chicago area. Interstate 65 through Lake County, Indiana is designated as Casimir Pulaski Memorial Highway. U.S. Route 40 from Midvale, Delaware, to Baltimore, Maryland, is named Pulaski Highway, and the latter city's Patterson Park contains a monument in honor of him.
  • The United States has long commemorated Pulaski's contributions to the American War of Independence, but Polish immigration in the 20th century heightened the interest. In 1929, Congress passed a resolution recognizing October 11 of each year as "General Pulaski Memorial Day", dedicated to Pulaski's memory and to the heritage of Polish-Americans. Each October Grand Rapids, Michigan, celebrates "Pulaski Days". There is also a statue of Pulaski in Detroit, Michigan, in the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue.
  • The Commonwealth of Kentucky has by law, since before 1942, recognized General Pulaski's Day. The State of Illinois has since 1977 celebrated Casimir Pulaski Day on the first Monday of March, when all state government buildings are closed. School districts have the option of observing Pulaski Day as a holiday. Wisconsin and Indiana extend similar recognition, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also holds an annual parade and school holiday. On this day there is a Pulaski Day parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
  • Buffalo, whose population comprises a great percentage of Polish immigrants and their descendants, honors Pulaski with the Casimir Pulaski Memorial Monument at Main and South Division Streets, and an annual parade on Pulaski Day.
  • Fort Pulaski, active during the American Civil War, is named in honor of Casimir Pulaski.
  • Additionally, there is Pulaski Square in downtown Savannah and Fort Pulaski National Monument outside Savannah. In McGlachlin Park, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, stands a statue of Count Casimir Pulaski. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, there is a Pulaski Days Festival the first weekend of October, including a parade and celebration at local Polish Halls honoring his contribution to the Revolutionary War. There is a small park named in his honor in Northampton, Massachusetts and in South Bend, Indiana.
  • One of the first tributes to Pulaski was paid when George Washington on November 17, 1779, issued a challenge-and-password set for identifying friend and foe when crossing military lines: "Query: Pulaski, response: Poland".
  • A US Navy submarine, USS Casimir Pulaski, has been named for him, as was a 19th-century Revenue Marine (Coast Guard) cutter.
  • There is a technical university in Poland known as Kazimierz Pułaski Technical University of Radom.
  • Also, there are Casimir Pulaski elementary schools in Chicago, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan, New Bedford, Massachusetts, Wilmington, Delaware, Meriden, Connecticut, and Scarsdale, New York, Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, Pulaski Middle School (formerly Pulaski Senior High School) in New Britain, Connecticut, North Pulaski High School in Jacksonville, Arkansas and an industrial park is named for him in nearby Wallingford, Connecticut. Within the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, Pulaski House is the name for a student residential building.
  • Although there are several disputed birth and baptismal records, Pulaski's birth is honored in Warka, Poland, by the Kazimierz Pułaski Museum, which opened in 1967. The museum occupies the manor house which Pulaski's family lived in during the 1760s, and includes rooms dedicated to his activities in Poland and the USA. It also includes rooms dedicated to Polish-American emigration and contributions of Polish émigrés to American culture and history.
  • After a previous attempt failed, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution conferring honorary U.S. citizenship on Pulaski in 2009, sending it to the President for approval. President Obama signed the bill on November 6, 2009, making Pulaski the seventh person so honored.
  • America paid a special millennial tribute to Pulaski in the year 2000 involving a large party in Chicago's Grant Park. The party included live DJ Food and a varied dance setlist—including artists such as Two Hours Traffic alongside Snoop Dogg and Moby—followed by a multimedia presentation on Pulaski's life and accomplishments set to orchestral music performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and specially composed for the occasion by Yanni.

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