Or, Things Are Never Quite The Way You Remember Them.
As everybody knows (right?), in the state of Illinois the first Monday in March is Casimir Pulaski Day, in honor of the Polish cavalry officer who came to the aid of the Colonies during the Revolutionary War.
From Eastern Illinois University’s Office of Civil Rights and Diversity:
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.
While in Paris, Casimir heard of the American Revolutionary War and the colonies’ struggle to break free from England. He wrote Benjamin Franklin, who was in Paris, to ask if he would consider hiring him to fight against the British. After hearing of his reputation as a great leader, Franklin recommended him to General George Washington.
Washington knew that the colonists had no trained cavalry, so he met with Pulaski and introduced him to LaFayette and John Hancock. In September 1777, Washington convinced Congress to give Pulaski temporary command of the small, new cavalry detachment. On the same day Pulaski saved military supplies and pushed back the British at the Battle of Brandywine. The next day he prevented a surprise attack at an area called Warren’s Tavern. Congress acknowledged Pulaski’s leadership and bravery and commissioned him as Brigadier General. He was placed in command of four light cavalry regiments.
… [I]n 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.
During a battle in Savannah, Georgia, Casimir was wounded by a cannon. He died from complications of this wound. The first Monday in March has been designated Pulaski Day in Illinois.
Pulaski Day is sufficiently important in Illinois that our kids actually have the day off of school, and the Circuit Court of Cook County is closed (as are other Cook County and City of Chicago offices).
But here’s the thing. All my life I’ve been told that the reason why we celebrate Pulaski Day in Illinois, and, particularly, in Cook County, is because Chicago has the largest Polish population in the world outside Warsaw. And apparently that was true – a hundred years ago. According to Wikipedia, “Poles in Chicago constituted the largest ethnically Polish population outside of Warsaw before 1918 when Poland reemerged as an independent state.” But despite everything I’ve been told, it would seem that’s no longer the case:
Chicago bills itself as the largest Polish city outside of Poland with approximately 1,100,000 people of Polish ethnicity in the Chicago metropolitan area, although some maintain that after Poland’s entry into the EU, London, England is now likely to have more than double this.
Damn you, England. We beat you at the Battle of Yorktown, but you still managed to out-Pole us, thanks to the EU’s liberal immigration policies.
But tomorrow’s another day. Paczki Day, to be precise. So, take that, London.
© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.