“I came here where freedom is being defended,to serve it and to live or die for it…”
General Pulaski to George Washington
Americans have always recognized General Casimir Pulaski’s heroism and the price he paid for their freedom. Shortly after his death a solemn memorial service was held in Charleston, and, before the end of 1779, the Continental Congress resolved that a monument should be erected in his honor, though a statue was not put into place in Washington, D.C. until 1910.
Over the years, Americans have kept alive his memory naming many countries, towns, streets, parks and squares after him. Among those of Polish descent, his fame rivals that of Kosciuszko, who, after his service in the American Revolutionary War, returned to his homeland, where, in 1794, he led an insurrection against the same Russian domination that Pulaski had fought before coming to America.
Pulaski was born on March 6,1745, in Warka-Winiary. His family belonged to the minor Polish nobility. (Originally, March 4, 1747 was believed to be Pulaski’s date of birth, but according to new studies Pulaski was born on March 6, 1745.)
Pulaski gained fame as a cavalry commander in the patriotic anti-Russian Confederation of Bar, becoming its commander in chief. When the Russians defeated the confederation, he was forced to flee Poland, never to see it again.
Pulaski arrived in Paris and offered his services to Benjamin Franklin, the American commissioner in Paris. After receiving a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin to George Washington, he sailed to America. On July 23rd, Pulaski landed at Marblehead, near Boston, and in August reported at the headquarters of the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, in Pennsylvania. On September 11, he took part in his first battle on American soil on the Brandywine Creek between Chester and Philadelphia. On Washington’s recommendation, the Continental Congress appointed Pulaski general of the cavalry on September 15, 1777.
Pulaski received the consent of Congress on March 28, 1778, to form a special infantry and cavalry unit capable of more independent military action. It took him about five months to form an independent corps of cavalry, later known as Pulaski Legion, at his headquarters in Baltimore, where he recruited Americans, Frenchmen, Poles, Irishmen, and Germans.
In February of 1779, he received orders to proceed to South Carolina to reinforce the southern American forces under British attack. On May 8th, the Legion arrived in Charleston where it greatly contributed to the successful defense of the town against a much larger British force. On October 9th, Pulaski was mortally wounded in the attack on Savannah.
According to an old hypothesis, he died two days later on board the brig Wasp on the way to Charleston and his body was buried at sea. However, archeological studies of Savannah Pulaski Monument together with the discovery of his bones on September 27th, 1996 in a vault under the Monument threw new light on the circumstances surrounding his death. Thus, October 15, 1779, is believed to be the correct date of Gen. Pulaski’s death.
John J. Kulczycki: Casimir Pulaski 1747-1779: A Short Biography. Reprinted with permission of Polish Museum of America
Image: Jan Styka [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons