Casimir Pulaski Day is a holiday observed in Illinois on the first Monday of every March in memory of Casimir Pulaski (March 6, 1745 – October 11, 1779), a Revolutionary War cavalry officer born in Poland as Kazimierz Pułaski. He is known for his contributions to the U.S. military in the American Revolution by training its soldiers and cavalry.
In Illinois, we've officially celebrated the first Monday in March as Pulaski Day since 1980. It is also a holiday in Wisconsin. And it is widely celebrated with parties and parades in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Buffalo and Grand Rapids - where there are large Polish populations
Casimir Pulaski Day is a legal holiday for city and county offices, as well as schools in Illinois. It is common for schools to include in their class teachings historical activities related to well-known patriots in American history, such as Casimir Pulaski, prior to the holiday. The day is also celebrated among Americans in other states, including Polish-American communities. Various celebratory events may include group gatherings, street parades, and special ceremonies. Some community leaders may hold special activities to honor Pulaski and give public speeches. Some media usually write or broadcast information about Pulaski on or around Casimir Pulaski Day.
So why is Pulaski a hero? He is believed to be one of the first Polish immigrants to the new colonies. If he wasn't the first, he was certainly the most distinguished. He was also apparently a really smart tactician. Soon after he arrived in 1777, he was made a brigadier general and put in charge of the cavalry. He is known as the Father of the American Cavalry.
His contribution to America’s freedom and to the American Revolution is recognized by no less than 12 states which have named their cities, counties, and roadways after Casimir Pulaski. For example, in Georgia (west of Savannah and south of the city of Macon), there is a Pulaski County. One of the islands near Savannah has a fort named after Pulaski which has existed since 1861. In southern Illinois, there is a Pulaski city which is located in Pulaski county. The city received its charter in 1857.
Various paintings, monuments, bridges and parks were created to honor Casimir Pulaski’s life and work. For example, there is a US Navy submarine, known as the USS Casimir Pulaski. There is also the Pulaski Memorial in Patterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland. Schools, museums, and even cities and counties in some parts of the United States are also named after Pulaski. A commemorative stamp was issued on January 16, 1931, to honor Pulaski. The US Postal Service also issued a postal card on September 11, 1979. The card featured Pulaski on horseback at the siege of Savannah in 1779.
Tragedy struck this freedom fighter, on October 9, 1779. Pulaski was mortally wounded at the battle of Savannah, Georgia. Later he was put aboard the ship The Wasp, where he died on October 11. Tradition says
that he was buried at sea, but now it is speculated that perhaps his ashes are buried under his monument in Savannah, Georgia. On October 21, 1779, a symbolic funeral in Pulaski’s honor was held in Charleston, where he had achieved such a great victory. Many citizens of Charleston came to honor their hero.
Later in 1778, Pulaski became frustrated that his cavalry had not been involved in any important battles. Considering resignation, he asked Washington to allow him to start his own legion. He offered to recruit men, outfit them, and train them his own way. He would prepare this cavalry for active duty. After many letters from Pulaski, Congress finally agreed. With 68 horses and 200 foot soldiers, the Pulaski Legion would become the colonists' first true fully-trained cavalry. He recruited many men, European and some Americans. At first, some of the American soldiers did not like him because he did not speak English, but they soon began to respect him in battle for his courage and intelligence.
In 1777, Pulaski arrived in Philadelphia where he met General Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Later, at Brandywine, he came to the aid of Washington's forces and distinguished himself as a brilliant military tactician. For his efforts, Congress appointed him Brigadier-General in charge of Four Horse Brigades. Then again, at the Battle of Germantown, Pulaski's knowledge of warfare assisted General Washington and his men in securing victory for American forces.
Outlawed by Russia for his actions on behalf of Polish liberty, he traveled to Paris where he met Benjamin Franklin, who induced him to support the colonies against England in the American Revolution. Pulaski, impressed with the ideals of a new nation struggling to be free, volunteered his services. Franklin wrote to George Washington describing the young Pole as "an officer renowned throughout Europe for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of his country's freedom."
Sometimes called the "Father of American Cavalry," Casimir Pulaski was born March 4th, 1747, in Warka, Poland. (It may have been 1746 or 1748.) He became a national Polish hero in 1771, when he and his army overwhelmingly defeated Russian forces in Czestochwa, Poland. Pulaski was wrongly accused in a plot to capture and kill the King of Poland and was banished from Poland.
A statewide holiday since 1977, Casimir Pulaski Day honors the man himself, but also commemorates the heritage of Polish-Americans citywide. Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw.