CASIMIR PULASKI: REVOLUTIONARY WAR HERO

pulaski picCASIMIR PULASKI (1747-1779) -Obviously from my last name I’m Polish-American and therefore grew up immersed in the role played by Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko in America’s War of Independence. I’m often surprised by how comparatively unknown they are to the public at large, so in keeping with Balladeer’s Blog’s theme here’s a look at Pulaski. I’ll cover Kosciuszko separately.

Casimir Pulaski began fighting against tyranny when he was 21 years old. In 1768 he served in the Bar Uprising against Russian domination of Poland. The uprising was facing overwhelming odds and was deemed hopeless, but it became a minor cause celebre around the western world as the fierce insurgents kept the war going through four long years.

statue of pulaskiThe war never became as romanticized as the later Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Turks, but the conflict drew attention to Russian totalitarianism and to the abilities of Polish officers like Casimir Pulaski. In fact, it took an invasion by Russian-allied Austria and Prussia to help Russia put down the rebellion in 1772.

Pulaski and other Polish soldiers from the Bar Uprising flirted with an alliance with Turkey against the Russians but when the Ottomans made peace with Russia in 1774 that possibility was eliminated. By December of 1776 Casimir was living in Paris where, the following spring, he was introduced to Benjamin Franklin, one of the American Commissioners in France.

pulaski statueFranklin was impressed with what he could learn about Pulaski and sent him on to America with a letter of introduction to George Washington. Franklin described the Pole as “an officer famous throughout Europe for his bravery and conduct in defence of the liberties of his country against the three great invading powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia … may be highly useful to our service.”

Casimir told Washington “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” During the summer of 1777 the 30-year-old Pole was made Chief of Cavalry by Congress.

Pulaski, remembered to this day as the Father of American Cavalry did the best he could with the limited funds and equipment the Continental Army could provide him. America’s Revolutionary War cavalry more often numbered hundreds instead of thousands and could never fight on the same scale as their British counterparts.

Casimir’s training and leadership was credited with preventing the American loss at Brandywine in September of 1777 from becoming a massacre. George Washington himself stated that the Pole’s actions saved his life. Brigadier General Pulaski and his cavalry next served in the Battle of Germantown in October and eventually withdrew with the rest of the Continental Army to Valley Forge for the winter.

In late February, 1778, General Pulaski and a detachment of cavalry were sent to southern New Jersey to support General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s operations there. Casimir and his men battled the British at Burlington on February 28th and at Cooper’s Ferry on February 29th, 1778 (yes, February 29th).

Mad Anthony issued a letter of commendation to Pulaski for his service to him, but frictions had developed between Casimir and other American generals as well as some of his own troops. Language difficulties, culture clashes and complaints that General Pulaski expected too much of his troops led to a change.

In March the Pole was replaced by Stephen Moylan as George Washington’s cavalry general. General Pulaski was placed under General Horatio Gates, who authorized Casimir to organize his own new cavalry corps in Baltimore. Just as “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s cavalry unit was called Lee’s Legion, Casimir’s was known as Pulaski’s Legion (sometimes spelled Pulawski’s Legion in contemporary documents).

Pulaski’s Legion consisted of roughly 350 men and a few of Casimir’s fellow Polish officers. Gates permitted Pulaski to include a separate unit of 68 Lancers, which pleased the Polish-American general because Washington had refused his request to organize a Lancer unit while at Valley Forge.

This personnel shuffling made everyone happy, and even the notoriously snobbish General Charles H. Lee praised the fortitude and precision of Pulaski’s Legion in the field during the months ahead. Come October 6th, 1778, General Pulaski and his men drove off a mixed force of British Regulars and American Loyalists to Great Britain at the Battle of Chestnut Neck.

Having thus saved the Batsto Village Iron Works from falling into the hands of the British, by October 8th Pulaski’s Legion had crossed the Mullica River and positioned themselves at Tuckerton, NJ. From there the Rebels and the British eyed each other warily until the bloody Affair at Egg Harbor on October 15th.

That “affair” had seen an American deserter and traitor, Lieutenant Gustav Juliet, lead at least 250 of the enemy in a surprise massacre of dozens of Casimir’s sleeping men. (The traitorous Juliet’s inside information enabled this sneak attack.) The rest of Pulaski’s Legion quickly struck back and drove off the attackers. Those British forces were swiftly evacuated from the Egg Harbor area.

Casimir and his men spent the winter of 1778 into 1779 in Minisink, NJ. In February of 1779 Pulaski’s Legion was ordered to go to South Carolina, where in May they fought to defend Charleston from the attacking British General Augustine Prevost. The Legion proved crucial in causing Prevost to withdraw from the area on May 12th.

In September Casimir and his troops seized a British outpost near the Ogeechee River in Georgia. Pulaski’s Legion also served with distinction in the combined American and French Siege of Savannah (September 19th-October 16th). On October 9th, General Pulaski commanded the American AND French cavalry during the assault on Savannah.

Casimir was shot from his horse by cannon fire and died of his wounds 2 days later on October 11th, 1779. The loss of Pulaski’s leadership was a devastating blow. The assault was repulsed by the British and, soon after the Americans and French were forced to end the siege and retreat for the time being on October 16th.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would later write a poem commemorating Pulaski’s Legion and its banner.ย 

49 Comments

Filed under Neglected History, Revolutionary War

49 responses to “CASIMIR PULASKI: REVOLUTIONARY WAR HERO

  1. What an interesting man. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Beautiful article on Pulaski ! What a great soldier ! He was thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿ™

  3. Debbie W.

    Awesome, Broseph. Go Pulaski!

  4. I was initially skeptical. I couldn’t believe I actually had the chance to take the time to read this long article. Your writing style captivated me. Your content is always outstanding. Great Article Neil. This article is excellent. Though I read it only a couple of times ago and I did not make any comments. But, I felt that the article merited a mention.

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