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Famous Polish Officers

PulaskiPolish-born Count Casimir Pulaski was one of many foreign officers to serve under the command of General George Washington during the American Revolution. Other Polish officers also came to America and sought to join General Pulaski's command. Pulaski's reputation was well known to them, and being a fellow countryman, they naturally were drawn to him, for their language, customs and habits were the same. And Pulaski was rather free to recruit his own staff of officers as well as enlisted men, especially after he formed the Pulaski Legion in 1778.
The Pulaski Legion was comprised of mostly foreigners, especially Germans. Among the officers were several Frenchmen, Germans and Poles. A famous American officer in the Legion was General Lighthorse Harry Lee, the father of Robert E. Lee. Of the Poles, the following notable officers served with the great Pulaski:

Captain Joseph Baldeski - Served as paymaster of the Legion. Auditors of the Continental Congress questioned and investigated his accounting practices, but cleared him of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, he resigned his commission in late 1779. He apparently lived out his last years in Germantown, Pa. and was a starchmaker.

Lt. Colonel Charles DeBotzen (or DeBoze) - May have been an assumed name, but he was a Pole. Commander of the infantry of the Legion. Died in battle during a surpise British attack on Pulaski's camp at Egg Harbor, N.J. in 1778. His location had been betrayed by a deserter to the British side.

Jerzmanowski - First name unknown, rank uncertain and probably served as a volunteer without rank. A dedicated soldier well liked by General Pulaski, reportedly sent to him by General Washington. Apparently helped carry Pulaski off the field after he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Savannah in 1779.

Captain John Zielinski - Cousin of General Pulaski who served Captain of the Polish lancers of the Legion, and an excellent horseman. He had served with Pulaski in the Confederacy of Bar against the Russians in Poland. He died in September 1779 after being wounded in battle, either in Charleston, S.C. or Savannah, Ga.

Captain Charles Litomski - Aide-de-camp to General Pulaski at the Battle of Savannah in 1779. Capt. Litomski was riding beside Pulaski during the battle when the General was fatally wounded. Attended Pulaski at the time of his death and supposedly was present at his burial in Georgia. Returned to Poland and served under Kosciuszko, and then with the forces of Napoleon all over Europe. He returned to America in 1831, then went to Brazil where he apparently died.
Colonel Michael Kowacz (or Kovats) - May have been Hungarian. Second in command of Pulaski's Legion to Pulaski himself. Died in battle in Spring 1779 in an attack on the British near Charleston.

Captain Stanislaus Kolkowski (or Kotkowski, Kotkouski) - An officer under Pulaski in the Bar Confederacy. The only Pole beside Pulaski to be recommended to General Washington by Benjamin Franklin, the American representative in Paris. Washington personally interviewed him. Beginning his service in the Pulaski Legion in late 1778, he was courtmartialed in February 1779 for abusing a civilian in Minisink, N.J. He quickly resigned and returned to Europe.

Major Caesar Elholm - Cavalry Officer under Pulaski, he was probably a Norwegian who came to Poland and fought for the Bar Confederacy, then came to America and sought out Pulaski for a position with him, for whom he performed heroically. After the Revolutionary War he was involved with the secessionist state of Franklin and died in 1799 in Georgia.

BeniowskiMaurice Beniowski - Born in Hungary but of Polish descent, he went to Poland and fought with the Bar Confederates and may have been acquainted with Pulaski. Beniowski was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia from where he escaped. He made his way to France and then the U.S. 1779. He never received a commission from Congress, but reported to the Pulaski Legion around the time of Pulaski's death. Beniowski, by one account, "was recognized by the dying hero, officiated as his relative, chief mourner and heir, and departed." He late became involved in foreign intrigue in Madagascar where he was killed in 1786.

Of course, several other Polish officers served with the American forces, not the least of whom was Thaddeus Kosciuszko. In addition, scores of Poles and Polish Americans fought with the Americans as enlisted men, or common foot soldiers. The French army that was allied with the U.S. also had some soldiers of Polish descent among its ranks.


Written by Martin S. Nowak. The article was published originally in Polish-American Journal


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