Pulaski, Casmir - History

Pulaski, Casmir - History

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Pulaski, Casimir (1747-1779) Polish General: The oldest son of a Polish Count, Pulaski fought to free Poland from foreign domination. By the age of 25, however, he had to flee the country, and eventually moved to France. In Paris, he met Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin, whom he impressed with his military skills. The two Americans sent him to America with money and a recommendation in 1777. General Washington, in need of foreign flair to revitalize the Continental cavalry, convinced Congress to appoint Pulaski "Commander of Horse" at the rank of brigadier general. Pulaski trained troops and began a riding school. He had difficulties in this post, reluctant to follow orders and unwilling to take a subordinate role. He resigned in March of 1778 and took command of an independent legion. Stationed at the Delaware River, he complained of inactivity, after which Congress sent him to the Southern Department. In 1779, Pulaski was wounded in an attempt to charge enemy lines in a battle for Savannah. He died as a result of his wounds several days later.

Casimir Pulaski

Growing up as a privileged aristocrat, and with a reputation of more bravado than sense, Casimir Pulaski nonetheless made a significant impact on the course of the Revolutionary War with a reckless courage and a set of skills rarely found in his American counterparts.

Casimir Pulaski was born on March 4th, 1745, in the city of Warsaw, then the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the most politically odd states in Europe at the time. Today we would describe its government as a constitutional monarchy, similar to Great Britain, but the similarities only went so far. In Poland-Lithuania, the king was elected to the throne rather than inheriting it from his predecessor, and his powers were heavily curtailed by the men who did the electing: the Sejm, or Parliament. Members of the Sejm were made up entirely from the nobility, but they numbered enough to make the system almost quasi-democratic. Furthermore, within Polish borders lived significant populations of Protestant and Orthodox Christians, as well as one of the largest Jewish minorities in Europe, in contrast to the Catholic majority, which lead to the Commonwealth adopting a policy of religious toleration almost unheard of in its day. Ironically, it was these traditions of political liberty as well as his own Enlightenment education that forced the young Pulaski from his home.

Poland in the 18th century was not the formidable power it had once been, and now faced heavy pressure from neighboring Russia to act as its protectorate. In 1768, however, a group of nobles and patriots, including Pulaski, formed the Confederation of the Bar and declared a rebellion against the government to remove the overbearing Russian influence. Pulaski first made a name for himself during this war, for a string of small but unlikely victories against Russian forces. Like most Polish military men of his class, he was a cavalryman, and by all accounts a skilled rider and swordsman. Unfortunately, Pulaski also participated in a failed attempt to kidnap the pro-Russian King Stanislaw II Augustus, which ended the Confederation’s foreign support from France and Austria, leading to its defeat in 1772 and the First Partition of Polish territories between Austria, Prussia and Russia. Facing defeat and charges of attempted regicide, Pulaski fled Poland to Prussia, then the Ottoman Empire, and then finally France. The French army refused to allow an accused regicide to join their ranks and the count might have died in a debtor’s prison or been surrendered to Russia had the American Revolution not provided him with an opportunity.

When Pulaski first met Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the American commissioner to France, in the spring of 1777, the printer-turned-diplomat was already aware of the count’s previous exploits. This was good news for Pulaski, as Franklin and other Americans had been bombarded with hundreds of requests from European military careerists for a commission in the Continental Army, and Pulaski’s apparent talent and zeal for liberty placed him well ahead of the other candidates. Many French officials also encouraged Franklin to send Pulaski to America, if only to remove a potential agitator. They even offered to pay for the voyage, as Pulaski had no money to do so on his own. Pulaski embarked from France on the 13th of June and landed in Boston forty days later, learning as much English as he could along the way. Eager to get right into the thick of the fighting, he traveled to the encampment of General George Washington, who gently informed the aristocrat he needed the approval of Continental Congress before joining. Undeterred, Pulaski refused to wait for official approval before jumping into one of the most important battles of the war at a critical moment: The Battle of Brandywine. As the British forced the Americans off the field on the 11th of September, Washington realized, to his horror, that the right flank of his army was about to collapse, potentially causing a general rout and destroying his army. In a flash, Pulaski volunteered to countercharge the British and give the Continentals time to withdraw in good order. With no time to argue, Washington entrusted Pulaski with his own mounted guard, about thirty in number, and watched as the Polish volunteer led his band directly into the fray, delaying the British long enough for the Continentals to retreat and possibly saving Washington’s life. For this gallant deed, Congress immediately commissioned him as a Brigadier General, with the honorific “Commander of the Horse.” He also took part in the Battle of Germantown the following month.

Pulaski spent most of his generalship leading small bands of horsemen on scouting patrols are raiding parties, as the Continental Army did not generally have a cavalry arm to speak of when he arrived. To him though, such a situation was unacceptable, and began working to rectify the issue. In the early spring of 1778, he offered to raise an independent cavalry unit for the army and was allowed to do so with little supervision or collaboration with his American counterparts, mostly because they hated working with him and dealing with his vain, arrogant demeanor. Taking mostly recruits from the area around Baltimore, Maryland, Pulaski presented his Cavalry Legion, equipped and armed as lancers and dragoons in the style of his home country and trained to those standards, on the 28th of March. Many Continental Army officers spoke highly of the unit’s fighting ability, but Pulaski finally ran afoul of Washington’s good will when he began requisitioning supplies and steeds from locals he suspected of Loyalist sympathies, customary in Europe but anathema to the Revolution’s ideological aims. In 1779, Washington sent Pulaski south to Charleston, where he was ordered to support General Benjamin Lincoln in his march to recover Savannah, Georgia from British occupation. Unfortunately, Pulaski’s characteristic recklessness tended to get the better of him in South Carolina more often than not. On the 11th of May 1779, he charged a British raiding party led by Brigadier General Augustine Prevost outside of Charleston that cost his men dearly. Months later, on the last day of the Siege of Savannah, Pulaski attempted to rally a group of fleeing Frenchmen by charging a British position, similar to his actions at Brandywine, but was sadly struck by grapeshot and died some days later. He was buried with full honors at an unknown location, and his Legion was incorporated into the rest of the Continental Army.

Casimir Pulaski was not the noted thinker fellow Polish volunteer Thaddeus Kosciuszko was, and he was greatly disliked by his contemporaries. After the war, however, he became an important symbol of both American and Polish independence for his battlefield valor in both Europe and North America, as well as his later sacrifice. In 2009, the United States Senate granted him the posthumous reward of honorary United States citizenship, one of only eight individuals to ever be granted such an honor. In military history, he is known to this day as “The Father of the American Cavalry.”

Casimir Pulaski

Casimir Pulaski was a Polish nobleman who became a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. One of the United States&rsquo first cavalry commanders, Pulaski brought organization and proper training to the Continentals, securing the titles of &ldquoThe Father of American Cavalry&rdquo and &ldquoSoldier of Liberty.&rdquo

Pulaski was born in Poland in 1745. His father, Jozef Pulaski, was one of the founders of the Confederation of Bar, a Catholic organization dedicated to ridding Poland of an encroaching Russian influence. Jozef raised his son as a staunch nationalist and Casimir&rsquos skill with cavalry and command were honed early as he fought against the Russians with his father, establishing a reputation as a defender of liberty.

In 1771, Pulaski attempted an ill-advised plot to kidnap the Polish king and was falsely accused of trying to assassinate him. By the next year, the anti-Russian Polish forces had fallen apart and Pulaski had to flee from Poland. He spent the next four years in Europe and Turkey, unsuccessfully attempting to rally forces to help him free Poland and accruing large personal debts. His debt became so severe he was eventually thrown in debtors&rsquo prison.

After his friends were able to free him, Pulaski was fortunate enough to meet the American envoys to France, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, in 1776. Recognizing the value of Pulaski&rsquos military experience, they offered him an opportunity to fight for liberty across the Atlantic with the Americans. Both wrote on Pulaski&rsquos behalf, with Franklin even describing Pulaski to George Washington as &ldquoan Officer famous throughout all of Europe for his Bravery and Conduct in Defense of the Liberties of his Country." 1

Pulaski promptly left for the new United States, hoping to be made an officer. Based on Pulaski&rsquos reputation and recommendations Washington wanted Pulaski to take command of the cavalry, but was delayed by Congress&rsquos refusal to grant Pulaski a commission. Pulaski chose to follow Washington and the Continental Army anyway to seek an opportunity to prove himself.

That opportunity came at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. The British caught Washington in a precarious position with a clever flanking maneuver. It appeared that the Americans might be routed and Washington captured, but Pulaski--possessing no rank--asked Washington to give him temporary command of some cavalry. Washington assented and Pulaski skillfully led a counterattack, helping delay the British enough for the Continental Army to retreat and regroup.

Shortly after Brandywine, Pulaski&rsquos wishes were granted when he was promoted to brigadier general and given &ldquochief command of the American light dragoons." 2 Pulaski was a talented general--and more than able to effectively train horseman--but struggled with his first American command. His inability to speak English and conflicting views regarding the cavalry&rsquos importance in the military eventually led to his resignation from the post.

Far from discouraged, Pulaski, with Washington and Congress&rsquos approval, raised a new regiment of cavalry, along with a few regiments of infantry, which came to be known as Pulaski&rsquos Legion. Pulaski chose many of his officers and was able to train his legion as he saw fit. They rapidly became a dangerous force as Pulaski capitalized on his experience, creating some of America&rsquos first effective cavalry. After months of training and fighting in the northern theater, Washington sent Pulaski&rsquos Legion to the Carolinas to help the war&rsquos struggling southern front.

Stationed in Charleston, SC, Pulaski became one of the leading commanders in the South. Upon his arrival in May 1779, Pulaski and Colonel John Laurens talked the terrified city leader back from the brink of surrender. Though Pulaski&rsquos legion suffered heavy losses over the course of the war, they remained essential to the military in the South.

Pulaski&rsquos last engagement was during the Second Battle of Savannah on October 9, 1779. Notified of the American plans by an informant, the British were prepared for the attack. As the tide quickly turned against the Americans, Pulaski led an assault against the British position hoping to drive a wedge between the British troops to regain the advantage. He was wounded during the attack and, though his troops secured his body during the retreat, he died some days later. The exact location, date, and time of his death remain unclear.

Charleston held a public funeral in honor of Pulaski&rsquos achievements and Savannah has since built a monument for him. October 11--one of the possible days of his death--has been designated General Pulaski Memorial Day in the United States. Pulaski is widely recognized for bringing order to American cavalry, using modern training methods, and establishing the necessity of an independent cavalry, which remained essential to the U.S. Army well into the twentieth century.

Quinton Weinstein
The George Washington University

1&ldquoFrom Benjamin Franklin to George Washington, 29 May 1777,&rdquo Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 24, May 1 through September 30, 1777, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 98.]

2&ldquoGeneral Orders, 21 September 1777,&rdquo Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777?&ndash?25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 279&ndash280.]


Kajencki, Francis. Casimir Pulaski: Cavalry Commander of the American Revolution. Texas: Polonia Press, 2001.

Kajencki, Francis. The Pulaski Legion in the American Revolution. Texas: Polonia Press, 2004.

Pienkos, Angela. &ldquoA Bicentennial Look at Casimir Pulaski: Polish, American and Ethnic Folk Hero.&rdquo Polish American Studies 33, no. 1 (1976): 5-17.

Rafuse, Ethan. &ldquoThe Two Horseman of the Revolution.&rdquo Quarterly Journal of Military History 30, no. 1 (2017): 40-47.


Pulaski's experiences had been instructive. He developed a passion for the cause of liberty. He also developed some unpopular notions of what was due to an army fighting for liberty. He had seen his soldiers suffer because civilians were not patriotic enough to make sacrifices for them. He had allowed his men to go out into the countryside to take what they needed wherever they could find it. Despite howls of protest, he continued to believe that this behavior was proper during wartime. Pulaski spent two years wandering through Europe, laying low to avoid the Russians. While he was away, in September 1773, a Warsaw court condemned him to death for supposedly trying to kill the king. He finally made his way to Paris, France, where he lived under a false name (though many knew who he was) and grew depressed from inactivity.

Then Pulaski heard that the country of Turkey had taken up arms against Russia. He grew excited and decided to go to Turkey to ask for help in liberating Poland. He convinced Polish patriots (including his own family members) to put up money for this venture. But the Turks were defeated by the Russians in June 1774, and Pulaski was forced to return to France.

Pulaski, Casmir - History

By Joshua Shepherd

A major fight was in the offing when the first streaks of dawn appeared over Savannah, Georgia, on the morning of October 9, 1779. Columns of American and French assault troops, who had quietly formed up under cover of darkness, made their final preparations for storming the British-held city. A troop of some of the finest cavalrymen in the Continental Army was deployed behind the foot soldiers. Armed with lances and anxious to prove their worth in battle, the horsemen were fanatically devoted to their commander, Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski. “[Pulaski was] the most active and the greatest partisan of his time,” said Captain Paul Bentalou, adding that the general was “a soldier in the full sense of the word, incapable of a compromise with honor.”

Warsaw-born Casimir Pulaski.

Few foreign volunteers brought such experience and potential to the nascent Continental Army. Born March 4, 1747, in Masovia, Poland, Pulaski was scion of one of the most influential families in the Polish aristocracy. His father, Jozef Pulaski, was the ruling noble in the town of Warka. Access to the highest circles of the Polish nobility would serve the young Pulaski well. At age 17, Pulaski was appointed page to Carl Christian Joseph, Duke of Courland. His one year stay at Mitau in the Baltic duchy would prove a watershed experience.

As the Russian Empire continued to expand its control over the principalities of Eastern Europe, minor nobles such as the Duke of Courland functioned as little more than puppets to Moscow. Pulaski’s stay in Mitau left the embittered young Pole with an abiding antipathy for Russian domination.

In 1764 the Pulaskis supported the election of Stanislaw Poniatowski to the Polish throne. It would be a short-lived arrangement. Frustrated by what he viewed as feckless leadership from the king and mounting Russian hegemony within Poland, Pulaski cast his lot with a disaffected group of nationalist nobles. Meeting early in 1768 in the city of Bar, the nobles made the radical decision to confront not only Russia but King Stanislaw II.

The formation of the Bar Confederation virtually ensured civil war and thrust Pulaski to the forefront of the greatest power struggle in Eastern Europe. Entrusted with a cavalry command with the Confederation rebels, Pulaski enjoyed early success in arms, winning a string of minor victories in April 1768. Two months later his luck ran out. A Russian expeditionary force surrounded Pulaski’s troops at Berdyczow and took the young noble prisoner. After two weeks of confinement, the Russians paroled Pulaski.

Just as quickly Pulaski renounced the terms of his parole and rejoined the rebel forces. He led troops in the field over the succeeding two years, including a brief campaign in Lithuania in the hope of widening the Confederation’s support. With a reputation for hard-driving gallantry and regarded as one of the rebels’ best field commanders, Pulaski was appointed to the Confederation’s War Council in the spring of 1771.

But the Bar Confederation’s effort to assert Polish independence quickly unraveled. A desperate scheme surfaced to kidnap King Stanislaw, and Pulaski, who found the plan distasteful, finally lent his support when it was agreed that the king would not be harmed. Although the mission initially went well, the king escaped after a brief imprisonment. Early the following year, the Bar Confederation, defeated on the field and rent with internal dissension, was in its last death throes. Likely aware of the inevitable, Pulaski sought refuge in Silesia and escaped the final defeat of the movement.

On a personal level, Pulaski’s involvement in the Bar Confederation was nothing short of disastrous. Tried in absentia by Polish authorities, he was sentenced to death, deprived of his property, and excluded from the nobility. Short on funds and desperate for employment, Pulaski initially angled unsuccessfully for a commission in the French army. Despite being a devout Roman Catholic, he then attempted to participate in the Russo-Turkish War on behalf of the Ottomans. His luck would only get worse. The penniless 33-year-old nobleman went into exile in France in 1775.

But just as quickly as his fortunes fell, an unexpected opportunity presented itself. Although his attempts to secure a military position in Europe had gone nowhere, the colonial rebellion in British North America seemed a viable option. America’s ministers to France, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, were busy wooing French officials to the Patriot cause. Their presence in Paris was something of an open secret, and the duo was deluged with European gentlemen seeking military commissions.

With a few notable exceptions, far too many of the applicants would prove more trouble than they were worth. The Americans were hectored by swarms of inexperienced officers, debt-ridden gentlemen, and idle noblemen who possessed far more ego than military aptitude. Pulaski, who was a soldier of fortune seeking employment, pursued an American commission.

Enthusiastic patrons in the French nobility lobbied hard on his behalf but initially met with a cool reception. When the Chevalier de Rulhiere recommended Pulaski’s services, Franklin expressed disinterest for he had never heard of the Pole. Yet on further inquiry, Franklin discovered that Pulaski enjoyed support at the highest levels of the French government. Although Franklin could make no direct assurances of a commission in the Continental Army, he threw his full weight behind Pulaski.

Franklin penned a glowing letter of introduction dated May 29, 1777, on behalf of the Polish count, informing General George Washington that Pulaski was “famous throughout Europe for his bravery and conduct in defense of the liberties of his country.” Franklin left the matter to Washington’s discretion but clearly hinted that diplomatic considerations should bear some weight, adding his hopes that Pulaski would find a suitable position in the Continental Army.

The Polish knight-errant, who was fluent in French but not conversant in English, arrived in Boston in July 1777. He quickly penned a note to Washington in which he commended the American fight for liberty and expressed his desire to fight for the cause. Although Washington could make recommendations, he lacked the authority to grant commissions. Hoping to avoid the growing resentment in the commissioned ranks, Washington simply passed along Franklin’s estimation of Pulaski and left the matter to the lawmakers.

Congress dragged its feet, and a commission for the ambitious Pole was not immediately forthcoming. By the late summer of 1777, the British army of Maj. Gen. William Howe had launched an unexpected amphibious campaign up the Chesapeake Bay, aimed at the American capital of Philadelphia. The two armies clashed on September 11 along Brandywine Creek, but the affair went poorly for the Americans. Howe succeeded in gaining vital fords off the American right flank and threatened to cut off the Patriot line of retreat.

Pulaski, attached at headquarters in a volunteer capacity, thrust himself into the thick of the fighting. Desperate to get into action, Pulaski requested that Washington give him command of 30 horsemen. The American commander granted his approval, and Pulaski led them in a spirited attack on the British left. As the American position collapsed under mounting pressure, Pulaski then rallied troops from scattered units and helped organize a hasty covering action for the retreating army.

His efforts, as well as his cool head under fire, did not go unnoticed. Following his first action on behalf of the American cause, Pulaski received a commission as well as a seemingly ideal assignment for a European beau-sabre. Washington announced on September 21 that Pulaski had been commissioned a brigadier general and appointed “Commander of the Horse” for the Continental Army. As chief of the army’s cavalry, Pulaski was immediately given orders to track enemy movements. From the outset, it was apparent that Washington favored using his cavalry to gather intelligence and screen the main force during advance and retreat.

Pulaski, who had fought on horseback in Polish campaigns, entertained different ideas. The fiery noble hoped to reorganize the entire cavalry arm of the Continental Army along European lines. When the army went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Pulaski was anxious to institute rigid training of mounted field maneuvers, which he believed had previously been woefully neglected. He also hoped to keep part of his command on active duty through the winter in the hope that his men could gain valuable experience in the field.

Some of his ideas, which were nothing short of revolutionary to the American army, were frowned on. He wanted the cavalry arm to play a major role in Washington’s army, and he hoped that the commander in chief would employ massed cavalry against enemy infantry. To Pulaski, mounted militia should be used for the mundane duties of scouting and intelligence, freeing the Continental cavalry for more crucial operations. Harkening back to the open-field maneuvers prevalent in mounted actions in Europe, Pulaski favored forming an independent corps of lancers along Prussian lines. Perhaps realizing that the tactical value of lancers in North America might be called into question, Pulaski informed Washington that he would personally be responsible for them.

Not surprisingly, the commander in chief nixed the idea. Washington was skeptical that large cavalry formations could be employed with effect in the sprawling forests and broken terrain of North America. Much to Pulaski’s frustration, the lancer idea was shelved. Worse still, Washington was clearly annoyed by the liberties taken by foraging horsemen under Pulaski’s command, which were confiscating prime horseflesh from Patriot farmers. In a sharp letter of rebuke penned on October 25, Washington wrote that the permission he had granted “to the light dragoons of impressing horses near the enemy’s lines has been most horribly abused and perverted into a mere plundering scheme.”

Afterward Pulaski had to content himself with modest operations, such as skirmishing with British patrols on the outskirts of Philadelphia. In such actions he earned a reputation as a daring officer who led from the front. During the course of a particularly vicious melee in November, Pulaski led his men in a wild charge into a British column. Pulaski was briefly captured then liberated by his men. Pulaski favored cold steel, and “sets no store by carbines or pistols, but rushes on with the sword,” wrote Major Samuel Hay of the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment, who fought alongside Pulaski.

Pulaski shined at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 where he helped form a rear guard to cover the withdrawal of General George Washington’s troops.

By February 1778 Pulaski was stationed in Trenton, New Jersey, when he received an urgent request for help from Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne. Wayne had led a 500-man foraging party into southern New Jersey but was under threat of being cut off by 4,000 British troops. At the head of just 50 dragoons, Pulaski unhesitatingly rode toward the beleaguered Americans, attacking a British outpost on February 28. After the two commanders linked up, they struck another British outpost at Cooper’s Ferry and succeeded in escaping the British net. Wayne had nothing but praise for the Polish cavalryman afterward.

But Pulaski, who dreamed of martial glory on the grand scale, quickly wearied of such minor actions and what he considered a woeful neglect of the army’s cavalry. Pulaski resigned his position as Washington’s cavalry chief in March 1778. Not surprisingly, he had other plans for acquiring an independent command. Washington informed Congress that despite the resignation, Pulaski was “led by his thirst for glory and zeal for the cause of liberty.”

Pulaski convinced Congress to authorize the formation of a mixed outfit of cavalry and infantry that he could command on a semi-autonomous footing. By July 1778 he had raised a 330-man legion that he was able to train and command largely on his own. Despite a continuing lack of resources to supply and pay his men, Pulaski had an effective force in the field by autumn. In keeping with his fondness for lances, some of them were equipped with the weapons.

Unfortunately for the ill-starred Pole, his legion’s first action ended in a fiasco. His troops were stationed near Little Egg Harbor in southern New Jersey, within easy striking distance of British amphibious probes. In the early morning hours of October 15, a British raiding party, which was guided by an American deserter, surprised one of Pulaski’s forward outposts. In a furious and chaotic fight, the outpost was overrun.

During the succeeding months, Pulaski grew increasingly frustrated. Following a spate of bloody Indian raids on the northern frontier, Pulaski’s Legion was posted to Minisink, New York, to furnish security for the region’s settlers. Pulaski followed orders but was disappointed with the uneventful backwater assignment in which there was little fighting. Pulaski lamented that he could find “nothing but bears to fight.”

Early in 1779, Pulaski’s Legion was redeployed in the southern colonies. Repeatedly frustrated by continued failure to subdue the northern colonies, the British high command opted to refocus its energies southward. The British captured Savannah, Georgia, in December 1778. The deepwater port of Charleston, South Carolina, was the British army’s next likely target. With America’s southern army in desperate need of reinforcement, Pulaski was ordered to take his legion south.

Pulaski’s command constituted one of the few Continental cavalry outfits in the South and saw steady action almost from its arrival at Charleston. His men sparred regularly with British patrols, but Pulaski grew increasingly disillusioned. Always regarded as an outsider by American officers, Pulaski was most disgusted by the cash-strapped army’s neglect of his men. Pulaski was periodically forced to pay and supply his men out of his own pocket. In August he complained to Congress over his disappointments in a service “which ill treatment makes me begin to abhor.” Despite his frustrations, Pulaski expressed hope that he could prove his devotion to the cause.

In September 1779, Pulaski would finally have his chance. American forces under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln linked up with a French expeditionary force under the command of Vice Admiral Count Charles-Hector d’Estaing. The Allies targeted Savannah for recapture, and with a combined force of 5,000 men enjoyed numerical superiority over the British garrison of 3,000. A three-week siege of the city, which was protected by formidable British fieldworks, encouraged the allied commanders to take the town by storm.

The plans were straightforward. The target of the assault was the Spring Hill redoubt, a key fortification near the center of the British works. While French troops attacked the redoubt from the front, the Americans were to swing into action on their left and open a gap in the British line through which Pulaski, leading 200 charging horsemen, could exploit the breach and wreak havoc in the enemy rear.

Hoping to take advantage of British confusion during a critical juncture in the Siege of Savannah in 1779, Pulaski led his mounted troops in a perilous charge that cost him his life. He is known today as “The Father of the American Cavalry.”

As the troops marched for the front early on the morning of October 9, the operation got off to a bad start. French troops were initially an hour behind schedule and then attacked prematurely without coordinating the attack with the Americans. Charging across open ground, the French were riddled by enemy fire and thrown back in confusion. American infantry, fighting their way forward through the blistering enemy fire, drove off the British defenders and seized the parapets of the Spring Hill redoubt.

After the French repulse, Pulaski sensed the need to press the attack while the British were in confusion. Taking dragoon Captain Paul Bentalou with him, Pulaski rode ahead to probe for a gap through which his cavalry could charge. Running a gauntlet of intense British fire, Pulaski suddenly reeled from the saddle. When aides reached him, it was obvious that he was badly wounded. Bleeding profusely from a grapeshot wound in his upper thigh, Pulaski ordered that the attack continue. “Follow my lancers to whom I have given my order of attack,” he gasped to his officers.

But the momentum of the fight had clearly turned in favor of the British. Launching a fierce counterattack, Redcoats seized control of the Spring Hill redoubt and drove off the last opposition. It was a bloody repulse in which the allies suffered 800 casualties.

Suffering from intense pain, Pulaski was taken aboard the American ship Waspso that French surgeons could attend him. Their efforts were unavailing and infection set in quickly. On October 11, he succumbed to his wounds. Possibly buried at sea, his last resting place remains unknown.

Such an obscure end is fittingly symbolic for the tragically forgotten Polish noble who sacrificed his all for the cause of liberty in the Old World as well as the new one. As the Continental Army’s first Commander of the Horse, Pulaski is widely regarded as the “father of American cavalry.” It is an appropriate title for a professional soldier who spent much of his life in the saddle. It is a distinction of no small merit.

Although the American cavalry would never mount epic massed charges on the scale of European battlefields, the Continental dragoons, in some measure due to Pulaski’s early training and organizational efforts, became highly skilled mounted soldiers whose prowess on the battlefield would prove crucial to victory by the close of the war.

In the spring of 1780 Hessian Captain Johann Ewald questioned a former member of Pulaski’s Legion regarding the general’s reputation among his troops. Pulaski was “a very daring horseman, and feared nothing in the world,” the legionnaire said.

Ewald considered the legionnaire’s observations to be among the highest compliments that could be paid to a professional soldier. “What a splendid eulogy for an officer after his death,” the Hessian captain said.

Designed by Frederick Zurmuhlen, the Pulaski Bridge is a bascule bridge, a type of drawbridge. It carries six lanes of traffic and a pedestrian sidewalk over the water, Long Island Rail Road tracks, and the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The pedestrian sidewalk is on the west or downstream side of the bridge, which has views of the industrial areas surrounding Newtown Creek, the skyline of Manhattan, and of a number of other bridges, including the Williamsburg Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, and the Kosciuszko Bridge. The bridge was reconstructed between 1991 and 1994. [3]

Located just over 13 miles (21 km) from the start of the New York City Marathon at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Pulaski Bridge serves as the approximate halfway point in the race. [4]

The Pulaski Bridge opened to traffic on September 10, 1954. [5] It served as a replacement for the nearby Vernon Avenue Bridge, which had linked Vernon Avenue in Long Island City with Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. [2]

From 1979 until 1990, a message reading "Wheels Over Indian Trails" was painted on the Pulaski Bridge over the approach to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The artwork was created by John Fekner as a tribute to the thirteen Native American tribes who inhabited Long Island. [6]

In 2012, in response to the lack of adequate bicycle facilities currently on the Pulaski Bridge, the NYC Department of Transportation began studying the possibility of installing dedicated bicycle lanes on the bridge. [7] Since the Pulaski is a drawbridge with an open section in the middle, it presents several challenges not faced by other bridges. First, physical dividers must be lightweight yet securely installed so they don't come loose when the drawbridge is opened. Secondly, the joints where the two leaves come together must be somehow protected to make them more bicycle wheel-friendly. In April 2013, in a letter to Assembly Member Joe Lentol, the NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner stated that the proposal for a two-way dedicated bike lane, which would convert the existing walkway to a pedestrian-only path, had met the requirements of a traffic analysis and that an engineering study and recommendations would be made by the end of the year. [8] On October 25, 2013, Lentol announced that the DOT was in the process of designing a dedicated bike lane and that the final design would be presented to community board 1 in Brooklyn and Community Board 2 in Queens before the end of the year. Bike lane construction was originally projected to occur late spring or early summer of 2014. [9] Construction occurred during the winter of 2015 and the bike lane opened at the end of April 2016. [10]


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Marker Text: Near this spot two notable heroes of the American Revolution were mortally wounded in the ill-fated assault by the American and French forces upon the British lines here on October 9, 1779.

Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski, the famous Polish patriot, was fatally wounded by a grapeshot as he rode forward into the heavy fire from the British defenses located in this area.

Sergeant William Jasper fell a short distance west of this marker while attempting to plant the colors of the 2nd Regiment of South Carolina Continentals upon British entrenchments.

To their memory and to the memory of the hundreds of gallant soldiers of America and France — including the French commander-in-chief, Count d’Estaing — who shed their blood here in the cause of Liberty, this marker is erected.

Casimir Pulaski

Casimir Pulaski is remembered in many ways. In Poland, he is remembered as a man who fought for freedom on two continents, and is given the title "Soldier of Liberty." In the United States, numerous streets, bridges, counties, and towns are named for him in honor of his aid to American forces. In Savannah, Georgia, a large monument commemorates his sacrifice fighting for the city during the American Revolution. Above all, he is the man who provided the American colonists with their first true legion on horseback, cementing his place as "The Father of the American Cavalry."

Born on March 6, 1745, at Warka on the Pilica, Poland, he was the middle of the three sons of Josef Pulaski. He came from a family of knightly traditions. The Pulaskis took part in the victorious wars by King John III Sobieski against the Turks in the 17th century.

By age 21, Casimir Pulaski proved to be a true military talent, fighting in battles across the European continent. By 1776, Pulaski learned of America's struggle for independence and offered his services to the cause. Pulaski arrived in Boston in July 1777. Pulaski would serve next to George Washington who appreciated Pulaski's vast military experience. On September 15, 1777, the American congress promoted Pulaski to the rank of Brigadier General in command of cavalry.

Pulaski quickly distinguished himself at Brandywine, where he covered the retreat of Washington's troops, preventing a total rout. Pulaski gained more success at Germantown.

In May, 1778, Pulaski began to form an independent cavalry unit that would be known as the Pulaski Legion. Comprised of Americans, German, Frenchmen, Irishmen, and Poles, the legion would see immediate action in October along the New Jersey coast. The Pulaski legion would later guard the northern border of Pennsylvania before heading south.

In May 1779, the Pulaski Legion helped defend Charleston, South Carolina against the British. The following months the legion engaged in reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare in South Carolina.

By the fall of 1779, the Pulaski Legion headed toward Savannah, Georgia in an effort to join other French and American troops in an attempt to retake Savannah from the British. In the attack on October 9, 1779, American and French forces fell short of retaking the city. Pulaski was also mortally wounded by grapeshot and would die two days later aboard the American ship Wasp on route to Charleston. Pulaski was then reported to have been buried at sea near the place where the Savannah River flows into the Atlantic.

In 1833, the new fort being constructed on Cockspur Island outside of Savannah was christened Fort Pulaski in honor of Casimir Pulaski.

Pulaski, a man with a history

Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, for whom our county was named (Click here to see how we pronounce it, and why.), was born in the province of Podolia, Poland, of aristocratic parents on 6 March 1745. Often referred to as ‘Count Pulaski’, he never actually carried this title or referred to himself in such a manner however, in a letter (mentioned below), Benjamin Franklin stylized Pulaski as such.

While he was a young man, his native land was overrun by Russian troops during the reign of Catherine the Great. During extended fighting against the invaders, his father and a brother were killed, another brother was banished to Siberia, the family home was burned, and his mother and sister were forced to flee for their safety.

At 27, Pulaski was a hero as a leader of forces seeking to wrest Poland from Russia, but his honor was short-lived. Falsely accused of an attempt on the life of the king, he secretly disbanded his troops and fled his country to France, where he briefly spent time in a debtors’ prison.

Through Benjamin Franklin, then a minister to France, Pulaski was granted permission to go to America. Franklin advised General Washington that Pulaski was famed for his “bravery in defense of the liberty of his country” and that he “may be highly useful to our service.” He arrived in Boston in July 1777.

“I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.”

Because Washington was unable to grant him an officer rank, Pulaski spent the next few months traveling between Washington and the US Congress in Philadelphia, awaiting his appointment. His first military engagement against the British occurred before he received it, by way of volunteerism, on 11 September 1777, at the Battle of Brandywine. As a result, on 15 September 1777, on the orders of Congress, Washington made Pulaski a brigadier general in the Continental Army cavalry. Later that winter, Pulaski compiled the first set of regulations for the cavalry, earning him the title “Father of the American Cavalry”. The general faced not only a shortage of men and horses, but also dissension in the ranks: some subordinate officers chafed at taking orders from a foreigner. Not wishing to be a source of discord, Pulaski resigned his commission as commander of the cavalry.

Despite that setback, Pulaski soon presented a new plan to Washington: an independent legion consisting of 68 cavalrymen and 200 infantry that would allow Pulaski to be of greater service to the fledgling American nation. Washington accepted the idea and recommended it to Congress, which sanctioned it in March 1778. This would later become known as ‘Pulaski’s Legion’ and was sometimes supported with personal funds, which he obtained from his sister.

Following action in New Jersey and New York, the unit was ordered south. In May 1779, Pulaski’s forces saved Charleston, South Carolina, from the British, and he was acclaimed a hero.

During the siege of Savannah, Pulaski rushed to the aid of French troops in so doing he was wounded in the upper right thigh by grape shot. The wounded general was carried from the field of battle and taken aboard the privateer merchant brigantine Wasp, where he died two days later.

The historical accounts for Pulaski’s time and place of burial vary considerably. According to several contemporary accounts, witnesses, including Pulaski’s aide-de-camp, reported that Pulaski was buried at sea near Tybee Island, Georgia. Other witnesses, including Captain Samuel Bulfinch of the Wasp, however, claimed that the wounded Pulaski was actually later removed from the ship and taken to the Greenwich Plantation in the town of Thunderbolt, near Savannah, where he was buried in a torchlit ceremony to elude grave robbers.

When the City of Savannah erected a 55-foot obelisk in Monterey Square to honor Pulaski during the 1850s, examiners exhumed the Greenwich Plantation grave believed to contain his remains. They pronounced the bones similar to a male the same age and height as the general. City officials reburied the remains underneath the monument in 1854.

When plans were made to disassemble and renovate the Monterey Square monument in the fall of 1996, the Pulaski DNA Investigation Committee exhumed the grave and had DNA taken from the remains compared with that from members of the Pulaski family buried in Eastern Europe. Supporters of the theory that Pulaski’s body lay in Monterey Square stressed that the skeletal remains revealed injuries similar to wounds suffered by the general. Results of the DNA testing, however, did not prove to be conclusive because of water damage to the remains. On 9 October 2005, the 226th anniversary of the Siege of Savannah, the City organized special funeral services and a final re-interment ceremony at Monterey Square to honor the fallen soldier.

Upon his arrival in Boston, Casimir Pulaski wrote to General George Washington:

“I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.”

Watch the video: Casimir Pulaski Day (May 2022).


  1. Benwick

    Agree, a very useful message

  2. Malakinos

    Interesting option

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