02 Aug The Father of the U.S. Cavalry
Poles are never ones to lay down their arms, and the hotheaded hero of this story is no exception. Meet Kazimierz Pułaski, a.k.a. Casimir Pulaski: equestrian, warrior, and hero in the fight for the independence of Poland and the United States.
As we said, Poles are never keen to lay down their arms—even when they’re on the losing side of their own struggle for freedom. And that’s happened before. Naturally, Poles are also drawn to any foreign banner embroidered with the words “freedom” and “good cause.” “While we have yet to win our own independence,” the thinking went, “let us try our luck elsewhere!” That’s just the Polish mindset. It’s no accident that the words “For Your Freedom and Ours” have a special place in our hearts.
“Count Pulaski of Poland, an officer known throughout Europe for his courage and fight for the freedom of his country against the superior forces of Russia, Austria and Prussia, can be of great use in our service.”
These words were written in 1777 to George Washington by Benjamin Franklin, in Paris, about the Polish nobleman Kazimierz Pułaski, then a cavalryman and founding member of the Bar Confederation, a plot to overthrow Poland’s Russian rulers. Pułaski proved himself to be an excellent commander, but the conspirators were defeated and were forced into exile, fleeing Russian persecution. But no European country was willing to admit Pułaski. He escaped to Silesia, then Dresden, and from there to France. After he was sentenced to death in absentia, he traveled to Turkey, but was deported following a diplomatic intervention, and returned illegally to France. There he mean General Lafayette, who recruited him to fight in the American Revolutionary War.
And thus Kazimierz Pułaski bound his destiny and the remainder of his brief but intensely lived life to the cause of American independence.
The intrinsically impulsive and impetuous nobleman left Poland and Europe behind with the bitter taste of defeat in his mouth, only to make a brilliant military career across the world in a fledgling nation that would grow up to be a superpower.
He fought bravely as a cavalryman in series of battles, displaying courage and valor in each of them.
At the Battle of Brandywine, on September 11, 1777, Pułaski executed a bold cavalry maneuver that saved the life of George Washington himself, and eventually earned the Pole the rank of general in the Continental Army. It also convinced Congress to form a regular cavalry, for which Pułaski had previously lobbied, in vain. In 1778, he took command of his own cavalry legion, which proved its mettle by routing the British at Charleston, but not without casualties.
Sadly, his warpath reached its end when he succumbed to his wounds at the Siege of Savannah in 1779.
Upon receiving news of his death on November 17, General George Washington issued an order for the army to use the words “Pulaski” and “Poland” as a challenge and response to identify friend and foe.