24 February 2010

Casimir Pulaski, American Patriot

On 20 June 1977 Illinois passed an act creating the state holiday of Pulaski Day to celebrate American Revolution veteran Casimir Pulaski, to be the first Monday in March.

Casimir Pulaski was born between in March sometime between 1745 and 1747 in Poland. He was the son of one of Poland’s highest-ranking jurists. In 1768, Russia invaded Poland and Pulaski, his father, both of his brothers, and at least one cousin joined the effort to repel the invaders. It was in defense of his native homeland that he first showed signs military genius. He was the only member of his family to escape death and a Russian prison. He did not escape with his reputation in tact. When he was accused of treason and sentenced to death, Pulaski fled Poland for Turkey. When Turkey negotiated an end to their hostilities with Russia he was forced to leave there. By the time of American independence he was living in France, but exactly when he arrived in France is unknown.

With a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, Pulaski came to Philadelphia in the summer of 1777 and enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer. After the Battle of Brandywine and with Washington’s blessing Congress appointed him to command the cavalry as a brigadier-general on 15 Sep 1777.

When the army retired to winter quarters at Valley Forge, the cavalry retired to Trenton, NJ. There was no rest for the cavalry; Pulaski embarked on a training and exercise program for his troops to get them into fighting shape. Frustrated by the limitations of his command, he was resigned his post cavalry commander and returned to the main army at Valley Forge in March 1778 after just five months of service.

Pulaski proposed the formation of an independent corps consisting of light horse (cavalry armed with lances) and light infantry. Washington and Congress accepted his proposal and Pulaski’s Legion was formed. The Legion would not spend another full winter in New Jersey. About 3 months into winter quarters, they were tasked with moving south to support the efforts around Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. This was the first long distance march by an American fighting force. During the Siege of Savannah, Pulaski was fatally wounded. He died aboard the Wasp on 15 October 1779. He was in his early-mid 30’s. There is some dispute over where he was interred. Some historians say that he was buried at sea; others, on a plantation outside Savannah.

Over 200 years after his death, Pulaski finally became a US citizen when, on 6 November 2009, President Obama signed a joint resolution of Congress granting him citizenship.

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