Breaking News
More () »

Who was Casimir Pulaski? Why does Illinois celebrate him?

Nicknamed “The Father of American Cavalry” and “Soldier of Liberty,” Casimir Pulaski is celebrated each year on the first Monday in March.

ILLINOIS, USA — Casimir Pulaski Day is celebrated in Illinois each year on the first Monday in March, which falls this year on March 6. While some may see it as just another day off for Illinois students, the holiday has much more significance when you learn about the man it celebrates.

Nicknamed “The Father of American Cavalry” and “Soldier of Liberty,” Casimir Pulaski is widely recognized for bringing order to the American cavalry, using modern training methods and establishing the necessity of an independent cavalry during the Revolutionary War, all of which remained essential to the U.S. Army into the 20th century, according to the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon.

Pulaski, born in Poland in 1745, was a strong force in the fight for Polish liberty against the Russians. After anti-Russian Polish forces began to fall apart, Pulaski had to flee from Poland and spent four years attempting to rally forces in Europe and Turkey to free the country, according to the library.

In 1776, Pulaski met American envoys to France Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. Recognizing the value of Pulaski’s military experience, the pair offered him the opportunity to fight for liberty in the American Revolutionary War, according to the library. Franklin even described Pulaski to George Washington as “an officer famous throughout all of Europe for his bravery and conduct in defense of the liberties of his country.”

In the Americas, Washington wanted Pulaski to take command of the cavalry but was delayed due to Congress’ refusal to grant him a commission. Despite this, Pulaski chose to follow Washington and the Continental Army and proved himself in 1777 after leading a skillful counterattack in the Battle of Brandywine that delayed the British long enough for the army to retreat and regroup.

Pulaski was promoted to brigadier general and given “chief command of the American light dragoons,” but struggled due to his inability to speak English and conflicting views. He resigned, but Washington and Congress raised a new regiment of cavalry and infantry which became known as Pulaski’s Legion. Using his previous experience, Pulaski created some of America’s first effective cavalry, according to the library.

After months of training and fighting in the North, Washington sent Pulaski’s Legion to the Carolinas to help the war’s struggling southern front. There, Pulaski became one of the leading commanders in the South.

Pulaski’s last battle was the Second Battle of Savannah on Oct. 9, 1779, where he led an assault against the British to regain the advantage. He was wounded during the attack, and he died days later.

Illinois enacted a law on September 13, 1977, to celebrate the birthday of Casimir Pulaski and held the first official Pulaski Day celebrations in 1978. Today, Casimir Pulaski Day is celebrated mainly in areas with large Polish populations, including in Chicago, Bloomington and Du Bois, according to Northwestern University Polish Studies.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a joint resolution granting Pulaski honorary American citizenship, over 200 years after his death. He’s one of only eight people to ever receive the honor.

To watch 5 On Your Side broadcasts or reports 24/7, 5 On Your Side is always streaming on 5+. Download for free on Roku or Amazon Fire TV.

Before You Leave, Check This Out