July 4, 2012

American Independence: Polish Heroes of the Revolution

Flag of the United States and flag of PolandLIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. These ideals form the basis of the American Constitution, and for which Americans fought bitterly to win their independence from British rule.  Among the many heroes of the American Revolution were Benjamin Franklin, who brokered a liaison with the French in fighting against England; Thomas Jefferson who secretly assisted in the drafting of the American Constitution despite great risks; Nathaniel Greene, who was in charge of the southern regiments, and who brilliantly lured the British Redcoats on a wild goose chase until the American soldiers turned on them.

But among all the heroes of the American Revolution were two great men whose names have faded from collective memory.  They were not Americans, but they possessed the spirit of freedom and justice. I refer to Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski, two great Polish patriots whose love for freedom and liberty compelled them to sail across the vast expanse of a treacherous ocean to fight for another nation's independence.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko- Polish hero of American Revolution
Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Tadeusz Kosciuszko is a beloved national hero of Poland, and of the United States. He led the 1794 Kosciuszko Uprising in a desperate effort to free Poland from the brutal occupation and rule of Imperial Russia and Kingdom of Prussia, but the Uprising failed.  Years earlier, Kosciuszko was a Colonel in the Continental Army, and distinguished himself as a great leader and valiant soldier during the American Revolutionary War. After years of service, in 1783 Kosciuszko was promoted to rank of brigadier general, was given a grant of land, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.  

On October 18, 1776, Kosciuzko was commissioned a Colonel of Engineers by Congress upon the recommendations of Prince Adam Kazimerz Czartoryski and General Charles Lee. He was dispatched to Pennsylvania to work with the Continental Army.  Soon after having arrived, Kosciuszko read the Declaration of Independence for the first time, and was particularly moved by its precepts because it encompassed all the principles which he valued so highly.  He was compelled to meet with the man who helped make it possible - Thomas Jefferson.  They became very close friends.

Kosciuszko's first mission dealt with the fortification of Philadelphia.  On September 24, 1776 he was given orders to fortify the banks of the Delaware River to defend against a possible attack from the British. In spring 1777, attached to the Northern Army under the command of Major General Horatio Gates, Kosciuszko directed the construction of several forts and military camps situated along the Canadian border.  He restored defenses at Fort Ticonderoga, and after having surveyed the terrain he recommended the construction of a battery on Sugar Loaf Mtn, which would have provided an ideal post from which to overlook the fort below.  However the latter recommendation was denied by the commander of the garrison, Brigadier Gen. Arthur St. Clair, due to what he deemed "logistical" problems. It was a serious error in judgement that greatly undermined their position. When the British Army arrived in July, their commander General John Burgoyne immediately established a stronghold on that hill, giving them complete strategic control.

Kosciuszko was considered one of the best engineers in the Continental Army.  His accomplishments garnered the attention of George Washington who immediately put Kosciuszko to work on improving defenses of the American stronghold in West Point.  (It was here that Benedict Arnold attempted to pass control to the British.)

There are memorials honoring Kosciuszko's name in many parts of the world. Bridges, statues, monuments, streets, and even mountains bear his name -  in Poland, France, the United States, Switzerland, Australia, Hungary, as well as Russia, Lithuania, Serbia, and Brazil.

Urn containing Tadeusz Kosciuszko's heart
Urn containing Tadeusz Kosciuszko's heart

Kazimierz Pulaski has become known as the Father of American Cavalry. He was a soldier and military commander who fought against Russian occupation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Like Kosciuszko, he also emigrated to North America, and with Benjamin Franklin's backing joined the Continental Army to fight during the American Revolutionary War. He saved George Washington's life and was given rank of General in the Army. Soon after he reorganized the American cavalry, and founded a new regiment, the Pulaski Cavalry Legion.
Polish hero of the American War of Independence - Kazimierz Pulaski
Kazimierz Pulaski

Pulaski was instrumental in saving the Army from a surprise attack at Warren Tavern (located near Philadelphia). He fought in the Battle of Germantown. In the winter of 1777, Pulaski remained at Valley Forge, with most of the Army. He strongly recommended that military operations continue throughout the winter however his idea was dismissed by the General Staff. Instead, he focused his energies on reorganizing the cavalry regiment, most of which was posted in Trenton. In February the following year, Pulaski worked with General Anthony Wayne, a collaboration which led to the successful victory over British troops at Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Despite these successes there lingered some degree of tension between the Polish and American officers, the latter of whom were not content to accept orders from "the foreigners" who could barely speak English. Irregardless the Polish officers were highly disciplined,
experienced cavalrymen and tacticians.  In March 1778, Pulaski chose to resign his command due to internal conflict and the fact that wages due to the Polish lancer unit was denied.

Pulaski created a new unit at Yorktown, where he met with General Horatio Gates.  At Gates' recommendation, Congress conferred Pulaski with rank of Brigade General, and a special title of "Commander of the Horse".   His new unit numbered about 300 men, Americans and foreigners.  Pulaski was highly commended by General Charles Lee for the high standards he used in training and became known as the "Father of American Cavalry".  He trained his men in cavalry tactics, and demanded nothing less than excellence from them.

A heated controversy arose surrounding Pulaski's financial situation.  Since Pulaski could not depend on Congress for funds, which were quite scarce, he resorted to his own personal finances to purchase the best equipment he could find to ensure the safety of his men.  Consequently, he was mercilessly hounded by auditors and local officials.  Pulaski was eventually cleared of charges, but not before his death.  He died during the Battle of Savannah.  

Just as Kosciuszko, Pulaski is revered as a hero who struggled and fought for liberty and justice -  in Poland and in the United States.  He remains among the most honored persons in American history. Many places have been named after him - cities, streets, bridges, a US submarine (USS Casimir Pulaski), a Polish frigate ORP General Kazimierz Pulaski, Fort Pulaski (during the American Civil War) and the list goes on.

Kazimierz Pulaski is commemorated for all time, and has been memorialized in the poetic verses written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  In 1929, the United States Congress passed a resolution proclaiming October 11 each year as General Pulaski Memorial Day. 

In 2009,  the US Congress passed a resolution conferring Honorary US citizenship on Pulaski, a bill which was signed by President Barack Obama on November 6, 2009.  Kazimierz Pulaski is only the seventh person to receive such an honour posthumously.  The other six were:  William Penn,  Hannah Callowhill Penn, Marquis de Lafayette, Sir Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, Mother Teresa.





  1. That was beautiful to show this .Im Polish patriot even i do not live in Poland ....i will respect whotever is polish till i live ...no metter where i live my noble family teach me respect forflag and Poland ...i wish American people new more obaut Why they can celebrate 4of July . .......

  2. I was recently on a tour of Washington's Headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. The tour guide mentioned these Polish men and their efforts during the revolution and I was inspired to learn more about them. Thank you for posting this information. I am an American with Polish ancestry.

  3. It is great to have the bite size blogs on Polish influence in the World. It sparks or renews interest in history and shows how important were Kosciuszko's and and Pulaski's efforts in shaping American History. Makes you proud by association💖