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Pulaski Day, March 4, honors the Father of the American Cavalry -- Why?
What is the story of this man who appears to be riding out of the 17 feet by 10 feet oil painting* in the Polish Museum of America's (PMA) Great Hall? “I came to hazard all for the freedom of America,” Casimir Pulaski wrote in a letter to Congress during the American Revolutionary War.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, on Mar. 6, 1745, the son of a count, Pulaski at 15 opposed, along with his father and other Polish nobility, the interference of Russians and Prussians in Polish affairs. Made into an outlaw by the Russians for his fight for Polish liberty, he traveled to Paris. As it happened, Benjamin Franklin was in Paris.
Franklin urged Pulaski to support the colonies in their fight for liberty in their revolution against the British. So impressed by the struggles of those creating a new nation, Pulaski volunteered his services.
George Washington received a letter from Franklin describing the young Pole as "an officer renowned throughout Europe for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of this country's freedom."
After arriving in Philadelphia in 1777, Pulaski met General Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Then at Brandywine, Pulaski came to the aid of Washington and his men brilliantly acting as a military tactician. In appreciation, Congress appointed him the Brigadier-General of Four Horse Brigades. He further proved his worth in the Battle of Germantown, securing an American victory.
Congress in 1778 approved the establishment of the Cavalry, at the urging of Washington, and Pulaski was put in charge. Often using his own personal finances to acquire proper equipment though Congressional monies were scarce, Pulaski trained his men in the cavalry tacts which he used in his freedom fighting for Poland, demanding hard work.
After defending Little Egg Harbor in New jersey and Minisink along the Deleware, he and his men went south to Charleston, S.C. Known as the Father of the American Cavalry, Pulaski charging into battle on horseback, was mortally wounded by a canon blast during the Battle of Savannah on Oct. 9, 1779.
Revered even by the enemy, they permitted him to be carried off the battlefield. He died 6 days later at the age of 34. The General’s mortal remains were ceremoniously reinterred at the Pulaski Monument at Monterrey Square in Savannah, GA, in October 2005. Pulaski was the 7th person granted honorary American citizenship posthumously. He joins William Penn and Penn's wife, fellow Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa and Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish man who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
*Rich Kujawa, the Polish Museum of American, shares the story of the painting: "It was painted by S. Batowski in Lvov Poland (now, Lviv Ukraine) in 1933. Its commissioning is unclear. Poland had planned to have a pavilion at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago, so it may have been commissioned for that purpose. Because of financial difficulties, Poland cancelled its pavilion plans.
The painting was first exhibited at the Federal Building at the Exposition. When the Exposition closed, the painting was given to the Art Institute with great ceremony by Eleanor Roosevelt. Later it was purchased by the Polish Women's Alliance. When they moved to smaller quarters, they donated the painting to the PMA in 1941.
While imposing, it is terribly inaccurate, First, the terrain is depicted as being somewhat arid and if you've ever been to Savannah, it's rather swampy. Several years ago a painter called me because he had been given a commission by the Milwaukee Polish Cultural Center for similarly sized painting of Pulaski at Savannah but every account available was different. To shorten the story, I sent him copies of a minute-by-minute account of the battle as reported by Pulaski's second in command which is in our rare book archive."
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