Born: March 6, 1745, Warsaw, Russian partition of Poland (presently Poland)
Died: October 15, 1779, at sea, (buried in Savannah, Georgia, USA)
Early days. Father – Jozef Pulaski, mother - Marianna Zielinska. His family belonged to the minor Polish nobility, and his ancestors fought with King Jan Sobieski against the Turks at the siege of Vienna in 1683. His father Jozef successfully built up the family fortune and deeply involved himself in politics. But the vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had fallen on hard times. No longer the military power of Sobieski's day, it came increasingly under the domination of its aggressive neighbors, particularly Tsarist Russia. Russia demonstrated its influence over the Commonwealth's affairs when in 1764 Empress Catherine the Great imposed her candidate Stanislaus Poniatowski, as the Commonwealth's next elected monarch.
First military experience.In 1762 Kazimierz leaves the Theatine School in Warsaw which he had attended (most likely after getting an elementary education at the parish school in Warka) and becomes a page at the court of Prince Charles of Courland (Kurlandia) and Semigallia. In 1764 he gains his first military experience during a six month long stay at Prince Charles' military camp, where he lived through the siege by the Russian army of the capital of the Kingdom of Courland - Mitava (now Jelgava in the Latvian Republic). Poniatowski sought to carry out much needed reforms, but aroused the suspicion of the nobility who feared the establishment of a royal despotism. Moreover, the Russian ambassador regularly interfered in the Commonwealth's domestic affairs, in 1767, even using Russian troops to coerce its parliament into passing legislation that ended the privileged position of the Catholic Church.
Joining the Confederation of Bar. In these circumstances, in 1768, Jozef Pulaski joined with others in initiating an insurrection known as the Confederation of Bar, a town in the Ukraine, where it was formed. Under the motto, "For Faith and Freedom," the elder Pulaski assumed the military leadership of the confederation, and Casimir on his 21st birthday took command of a detachment of partisans. For the next 3 1/2 years, in military campaigns against Russian forces that sought to put down the rebellion, the young commander proved his valor and genuine military talent in more than a dozen major actions and numerous skirmishes. In October 1771, Pulaski undertook one last major expedition as part of a plot to abduct the king. The plot misfired, but it led to the young Casimir being unjustly accused of attempted regicide and later, after he left the country, to a death sentence.
Fleeing Poland. When in 1772, Russia, Prussia, and Austria began negotiations to partition the Commonwealth, he and the other confederates saw the futility of continuing the struggle. In the face of the charges against him, he was forced to flee his homeland, never to see it again. Within months of his departure, the Commonwealth's aggressive neighbors agreed to divide over a quarter of its territory among them. The effort to defend the Commonwealth had failed, but the heroism of Pulaski and other confederates would inspire future generations of their countrymen. Meanwhile, Pulaski faced a difficult exile. After two years in Western Europe, he again joined battle against Russia, this time, on the side of the Turks.
Leaves for America.Their defeat forced him to return to France where, in the summer of 1776, he learned of America's war for independence and sought permission from the Americans to join their forces. Most American colonists were not yet enthusiastic in the support of the war, and George Washington, a commander-in-chief, needed battle-tested officers like Pulaski. Finally, in May 1777, Pulaski received a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, the American commissioner in Paris, and left for America, landing near Boston in July. In August, he reported to Washington's headquarters near Philadelphia.
Appointed general.On Washington's recommendation, the Continental Congress appointed Pulaski general of the cavalry on September 15, 1777. But even before his formal appointment, he demonstrated his value. At the battle of Brandywine Creek, where Washington's forces suffered a defeat, Pulaski led a counterattack that covered the retreat of the Americans and helped prevent a military disaster. Pulaski spent the winter of 1777 training his soldiers at Trenton, not far from Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge. He introduced new battle drills in an effort to transform them into a highly mobile force. But, realizing that the Americans did not share his conception of the cavalry as a separate combat force, Pulaski asked to be relieved of his position and allowed to form a special infantry and cavalry unit capable of more independent action.
Forming his own unit.With Washington's support, Pulaski gained the consent of Congress on March 28, 1778. It took Pulaski, regarded as "the father of the American cavalry," another five months to form his legion at his headquarters in Baltimore, where he recruited Americans, Frenchmen, Poles, Irishmen, and especially Germans; mainly deserters from the Hessian mercenaries employed by the British. But for some time the American command could not find a suitable role for Pulaski's legion, leading him again to request reassignment. Finally, on February 2,1779, he received orders to proceed to South Carolina to reinforce the southern American forces under British attack. Now Pulaski began his most active period of service in the war with the front line combat he sought. At the head of a troop of some 600, Pulaski arrived in Charleston in May 1779, just in time to contribute to its successful defense against a much larger British force, which after occupying Georgia was steadily advancing northward. This victory proved pivotal in the war in the South as it broke the British momentum and boosted American morale. What remained was to win back the territory that the British had occupied.
Battle of Savannah.Savannah became the fateful goal. Newly arrived French forces under Admiral Charles Henri d'Estaing together with the Americans planned a risky all out assault on the heavily fortified town. The siege began on October 9. The mission of the Pulaski Legion was to follow in behind the French infantry and break down the enemy's line of defense. But the French got caught in a cross fire, and d'Estaing himself was wounded. Awaiting the proper moment for his cavalry to enter the battle, Pulaski could see the infantry breaking ranks under heavy fire. To try to save the situation, he charged forward into the battle only to be grievously wounded himself. Carried from the battlefield, he was put on a ship to be taken back to Charleston, but never regained consciousness. On October 11, 1779, the 32 year old Polish commander died at sea, and was buried in Savannah.
America's recognition.Americans have always recognized 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. In his first letter to Washington, after arriving in America, Pulaski wrote, "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it." He proved true to his word. For this, we honor him as a soldier of Liberty for all. In 1855 a monument to Pulaski designed by Robert Launitz is erected in Monterey Square in Savannah. In 1929 a monument to Pulaski is unveiled in Krynica, Poland; it is the first monument to Pulaski built on Polish soil. In 1967 the Casimir Pulaski museum in Warka-Winiary, Poland opens.
Casimir Pulaski 1747-1779: A Short Biography Written by, copied and modified with permission of: John J. Kulczycki, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Illinois at Chicago; see
Pinkowski Institute I
Pinkowski Institute II
See also Pulaski documentary film script
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