If January and February 1778 was Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski’s “Winter of his Discontent,” then October through December 1778 was his “Autumn of Despair.” Following what has been called the “Massacre of the Pulaski Legion” at Egg Harbor, New Jersey, on October 15, 1778, the Legion returned to Trenton, awaiting orders. On October 26, Pulaski sent a letter to Congress requesting that his Legion be sent to Kingsbridge, New York, where they would act as a “flying corps” that, “might take possession of that post and perform some advantageous enterprise. If I was destined for that purpose and sent that way I would neglect no means and seize the first opportunity of undertaking something favorable for this purpose.”
Rather than approval, Pulaski received the following order from the Continental Congress: “Resolved: that Count Pulaski’s Legion and all the cavalry at or near Trenton, be ordered, forthwith, to repair to Sussex Court house, there to wait the orders of General Washington.” Pulaski was sent there so that his Legion could provide protection for the inhabitants of the Upper Delaware River Valley, an area known as the “Minisinks.”
The Minisink Region covers more than forty miles from the Delaware Water Gap to Port Jervis, New York, then as the Delaware turns in a northwesterly direction for another forty or so miles to Narrowsburg, New York. This region today includes parts of the following counties: Warren and Sussex in New Jersey, Pike and Monroe in Pennsylvania, and Orange and Sullivan in New York. The part of the Minisink that Pulaski was sent to was located in New Jersey, the northwestern section of the state that was referred to as its “frontier.” It lies in the physiographic province known as the Ridge and Valley, surrounded by the Kittatinny and Shawgagunk Mountains. While this area was sparsely settled, it was in a strategic location for the Continentals, in that the “Old Mine Road” tracing its development back to the original settlers, provided a thoroughfare between the Delaware and the Hudson Rivers. A problem that a researcher has with trying to locate where Pulaski’s Legion was actually stationed is that a map of this area shows numerous places called Minisink: Minisink Island, Village of Minisink (one in each of the three states), Minisink Ford, etc. Also, place names have changed since the Revolution; for example, Cole’s Fort is now Port Jervis, New York, and Sussex Court House (not to be confused with the town of Sussex to the north) is now Newton, New Jersey.
The reason for Pulaski’s posting to the Minisink was due to bloody incursions by the Tories and their Iroquois allies during 1778. In July, Col. John Butler led an attack on the Wyoming Valley (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) on the Susquehanna River about fifty miles west of the Delaware. Then in October 1778, Col. Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) with a party of Mohawk, Seneca, and Loyalist rangers, attacked and burned Cole’s Fort at Mackhachameck and the surrounding area.
As a result of these attacks, the governors and legislatures of the three states put pressure on the Continental Congress and Washington to provide protection for their citizens in these exposed settlements. Brief descriptions of the events that led to the Pulaski Legion being sent to Sussex Court House are provided by local historians, including the October attack at Cole’s Fort and aftermath:
In October 1778, Brant, with a considerable force, crossed over from the Delaware to the Neversink, and down the latter into the Mamakating Valley. That most of the settlers being notified of his approach, succeeded in escaping from their homes; some taking shelter in the blockhouses, or “forts,” as they were called. A number, however, were killed, homes and barns were burned, horses and cattle driven away. No effort was made at this time to pursue the raiders, but to guard against the repetition of this outrage. Count Pulaski was stationed there with a battalion of cavalry.
Leslie Vernon described the situation: “Brant himself made two raids far down as the general area of Port Jervis. The one which precipitated the Minisink battle was preceded by a raid on October 13, 1778, the previous autumn.”
Pulaski and the Legion set out from Trenton on October 31 to travel the sixty-five miles to Sussex Court House to await orders from General Washington. An interesting sidelight to this move is found in this New Jersey Gazette advertisement:
All those men who have deserted from Count Pulaski’s Legion, and will deliver themselves to the General’s headquarters at Sussex Court House, in New Jersey on or before the 19th of November, inst., shall have the General’s free pardon. All those who do not return by that time, shall, if caught, be punished as a general court-martial shall direct, agreeable to the articles of war. Chevalier de Kowats, Colonel commander of the American Legion. November 1, 1778.
On November 6, 1778, Pulaski sent a letter to Washington stating he was awaiting orders, that there was no forage, and if they were to be stationed there for any time the horses would suffer a great deal. Also in this letter, Pulaski hinted that he might be intending to return to Europe. On November 10, 1778, he received the following letter from General Washington in Poughkeepsie:
Upon consulting Governor Clinton of the State of New York, upon a position, in which your Corps can be employed to advantage, and at the same time be plentifully subsisted in the Article of Forage, he advises the Minisink settlement upon Delaware. You will therefore be pleased to march immediately for that place, and take your Station as near Cole’s Fort as you conveniently can. Let your Cavalry and Infantry be quartered as near together as possible, that you may, in case the Indian Enemy make any attempt upon the settlement, draw your force quickly together. I must beg you to make use of all means to keep your Corps from marauding or in any way distressing the Inhabitants, who will cheerfully contribute every thing to your support if properly demanded.
The day after Washington sent this letter to Pulaski, an event occurred that greatly increased the anxiety of the people in the Minisink area, the “Cherry Valley Massacre.”
On November 11, 1778, Col. Walter Butler (the son of John Butler) led a group of Loyalists, Seneca warriors and fifty British regulars of the 8th Regiment of Foot on a raid south of the Mohawk River to the settlement known as the Cherry Valley in New York. Accompanying these raiders was Joseph Brant. Stationed at the fort there was the 7th Massachusetts Regiment led by Col. Ichabod Alden. The attack on the fort was unsuccessful but the Seneca attack on the village of Cherry Valley was devastating. Approximately fifty soldiers and residents were killed including Colonel Alden, and another thirty or so were taken prisoner. While Cherry Valley was more then one hundred thirty miles north of the Minisink area, it caused General Washington to increase the number of troops to be sent there.
On November 15, 1778 Pulaski sent Washington a letter explaining his Legion’s situation in the Minisinks. He noted that while he was heading to Cole’s Fort the Legion was stopping at Rosecrantz (approximately twenty-five miles south) because there was forage there while none was available at Cole’s Fort. It would serve as a good location to headquarter the Legion, being close enough to react to any Indian incursions and a good place to give his men and horses time to rest and recuperate. In the final section of the letter, Pulaski again mentioned his desire to go to Philadelphia to prepare for his return to Europe and “He is happy to have been able to contribute, though in a very small degree to aid Yr Excly’s efforts for establishing a new republic.”
Before receiving a reply to his letter, a week later he sent another letter to Washington describing the Legion’s situation and once again requesting to go to Philadelphia to settle the Legion’s accounts and prepare for his return to Europe:
MinneSink Novr the 23d 1778
agreeable to your orders to me While at Sussex Court house, I marched the Legion to this Place; & find the Indian Enemy have Retierd Near one hundred miles from this—from which it appears, that there will Be Nothing for us to Do—on Examining the Country I find it will Be impossible to Support the Cavalry with Forage many Days; . . . my Reasons for Not marching to Coles Fort the Place pointed out by you; are that there is Neither Inhabitants Nor Forage for our Subsistance. & the gentlemen to whom you referd me for assistance in this County Live thirty miles Below their Post & have Not Procurd one Lock of Hay or Bushel of grain—the People from the Back Country having Fled to this Settlement among their friends our Stay Here will greatly Disstress the whole—I therefor should Be glad your Excellency would Remove my Corps to Some other Post—in the mean Time Should be glad of your Excellencys Leave of Absence to Philadelphia to Settle some Accompts of the Legion. I Should Likewise Be glad of an answer to the Letter I wrote you Some Time ago.I am Dear General your Most Obedient Sert
General Washington, with the events that took place in the Cherry Valley in mind and the protection of the “frontier” a priority, replied to Pulaski’s letters that quartering the Legion in Rosecrantz or the immediate area would serve the purpose of his assignment. Further, once Pulaski arranged the affairs of the Legion, he was given leave to go to Philadelphia to prepare for his return to Europe. Along with this permission he praised Pulaski for his service:
I assure you Sir, I have a high sense of your merit and services and the principles that influenced the part you have taken in the affairs of this country. The disinterested and unremitted zeal you have manifested in the service gives you a title to the esteem of the citizens of America, and have assured you mine
Pulaski, who felt himself an independent actor, often ignored the chain of command and corresponded directly with Henry Laurens, the President of the Continental Congress; on November 26 he noted what he felt was the miss-assignment of the Legion:
I demand to be employed near the enemy’s lines, and it is thought proper to place me in an exile which even the savages shun, and nothing remains but the bears to fight with. I should have less grief however if the earth produced a sufficiency to feed my Horses, but they will starve and it will be said it is my fault.
Then on December 3 he wrote that his time to leave for Europe was approaching and he “was sorry that due to opinions of others kept him from achieving a recognition of his wish to serve.” Further in this letter he noted that because he received reinforcements from Washington:
and thereby to enable me to do some thing for the publick. I am therefore intended to make an Invasion in the Deserts of the Savages who, as I am informed by prisoners, prepare themselves to some new Mischief upon our frontiers. I will trie to prevent them and if the circumstances will allow to make them less dangerous to the Inhabitants of the country.”
This was Brigadier General Pulaski’s last correspondence from the Minisink; he spent most of winter in Philadelphia. Washington’s last letter to Pulaski in 1778 was sent from Paramus, New Jersey, on December 7, when he informed Pulaski that he was forwarding to the Legion ammunition and clothing, that at this time due to condition of the roads it was impossible to send up any artillery, and that Brig. Gen. Edward Hand should have arrived to take command of the Continental troops in the region.
To solve his main problem of where there was sufficient forage to quarter the cavalry for the winter, Pulaski, acting on his own, sent the cavalry to Easton, Pennsylvania. Although there was forage there, it was designated for the Quartermaster Corps’ teamsters. This move angered Washington, for “he thinks their coming down is only a pretence to get into more comfortable quarters.” Eventually, when it was determined that Pulaski was not exaggerating the lack of forage in the Minisink area, Washington gave orders, on the advice of the Quartermaster Corps, to move the cavalry to Kent and Sussex Counties in Delaware, where there was an adequate supply of forage.
While the cavalry was sent to Easton, and then to Delaware, the Legion’s infantry remained in the Minisink region. Pulaski himself spent majority of December and January in Philadelphia trying to reconcile the Legion’s accounts to the satisfaction of the Congressional auditors. “The sums were small but the auditors were going to have them in the form which they desired, and the longer they insisted, the more stubborn Pulaski became and the more determined to make the exactly as he wished.”
What can we glean from these correspondences between Pulaski and Washington and with Henry Laurens? It is obvious that Pulaski was disgruntled with his assignment and was contemplating resigning his commission and returning to Europe. It had to do with both his personal situation and the future of the war in America. On the personal level, Pulaski was depressed with his situation in America. He believed he was being unjustly criticized for poor accounting of the expenses of the Legion. There were the constant reminders to keep his men under control and what he believed was unjustified criticism of his leadership. In this matter, Francis Kanjecki stated: “Pulaski was frustrated with assignment in the wilds of the Minisinks. In his mind, the Indians and the Tories were not the real enemy, but the British Army . . . . With his spirits sagging, Pulaski decided to resign from the Continental Army and return to Europe, where he believed he could do more good.”
As for George Washington, he continued to be annoyed with Pulaski’s continuous complaining about his orders and saw Pulaski’s wish to return to Europe as a way to solve his problems with this volatile Pole. In reality, Washington had distain for not only the Pulaski Legion but for the idea of “Independent Corps” led by foreign officers. In his Memoranda for the Committee for Conference, January 1779 he noted:
What can or ought to be done as matters are circumstanced with independent Corps of Pulaski and Armand? They are very expensive, troublesome to Inhabitants and dissatisfied in themselves, and yet a very great difficulty occurs in blending them together or discharging them, on account of the Officers.
The other factor was the how the war devolved in the North. With the British ensconced in New York City and the Americans controlling the hinterland, both sides came to believe that the war was at a stalemate, with little chance of either side delivering a crippling blow or even meeting in a major engagement. To Pulaski this was exemplified in what he perceived as an insult to him and his men with the assignment to the wilderness of the Minisinks where they would not come in contact with worthy opponents, i.e. British Regulars, and thereby had no chance for glory.
Neither, however, did Pulaski return to Europe, nor were the Independent Corps disbanded. As early as December 4, 1778, he had a change of heart and sent a letter to Congress in which he stated, “I have given my reasons to the General of the Army for which I had mind to depart for Europe, but not at this time, when I am in some activity. I love my profession and I can not employ this better as in the Cause of freedom.” What brought this change of heart? It came about with the possibility of seeing action in a new theater of war. The British government decided on a new strategy to move the war to the Southern colonies, where they believed they had more Loyalist support. In turn, the Americans decided to meet the British challenge and increase the American military presence in the South. At the outset, the only mobile force that they could send quickly to the South was Pulaski’s Legion.
While in Philadelphia that winter, Pulaski met with members of the Board of War to hammer out details of his new assignment. On February 2, 1779 the Continental Congress passed the following resolution: “Resolved, That Count Pulaski be ordered to march with his Legion to South Carolina, and put himself under the command of Major General Lincoln or the commanding officer of the Southern department.”
To implement the congressional resolve, Washington sent orders on February 7, 1779 to release the infantry of the Legion from its duties in the Minisink and to head to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and rendezvous with the cavalry. The cavalry moved from Delaware, and on February 11 the combined force set up headquarters in York, Pennsylvania. This was to serve as the staging point of the Legion for its march South. The infantry set off first on March 18, followed by the cavalry on the 28th. It took the Legion sixty days to travel the seven hundred miles reach Charleston, South Carolina, an average of fifteen miles a day.
Pulaski, at the head of the cavalry, arrived at Charleston on May 8, with the infantry arriving on the 11th, and immediately saw action against the British. Pulaski and the Legion distinguished themselves in this battle but suffered devastating losses. “At the time of May-June 1779, Pulaski was engaged in observing British troops movement and carried out a number of guerilla raids and reconnaissance missions. In this kind of partisan warfare he was in his element.”
Pulaski’s end came when the American forces, along with the French, tried to force the British out of Savannah, Georgia. Here on October 9, 1779, while leading a charge against British positions, Pulaski was mortally wounded, and died of his wounds on October 11, bringing to a conclusion what was the brief, somewhat controversial, but undoubtedly heroic service of this enigmatic figure in American history. The Polish King Stanislaw Augustus II (Piontowski) upon hearing of Pulaski’s death, gave an apropos summary of his life: “Pulaski has died as he lived—a hero but an enemy of kings.”
“Letter from Pulaski, Casimir to Laurens, Henry,” The Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 -1789, complied by John P. Butler, National Records and Archives, 1978, M247, r18, i64, 48 (PCC). See also Lezek Szymanski, Casimir Pulaski: A Hero of the American Revolution(New York: Hippocene Books, 1994), 216.
There was later action, the Battle of Minisink, that took place in July 1779 when Joseph Brant’s raiders attacked the area. The battle site is located in Barryville, New York, about thirty miles up the Delaware River from Port Jervis. For a detailed account see: Leslie Vernon, The Battle of Minisink: A Revolutionary War Engagement in the Upper Delaware Valley (Middletown, NY: T.E. Henderson, 1975), and Centennial Celebration: Battle of Minisink on the Actual Battlefield, July22, 1879 (Barryville, NY: J.W. Johnston and Albert Stage, 1879).
It was noted in the New Jersey Gazette: “Saturday last General Count Pulaski with his legion marched from this place for Sussex Court House in this State.” Documents relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, Extracts from American Newspapers, vol. II, 1778, Francis B. Lee, ed. (Trenton, NJ: John Murphy Pub. Co., 1903), 516. (Hereafter: Newspaper Extracts).
Casimir Pulaski to George Washington, November 6, 1778,”Founders Online; original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 18,1 November 1778 – 14 January 1779, Edward G. Lengel, ed. (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 60.
For a good overview of the Cherry Valley Massacre, see: The Battle of Cherry Valley (Massacre), www.myrevolutionarywar.com/battles/781111-cherry-valley/. One of the consequences of this raid was Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s expedition against the Iroquois allies of the British in New York (June–October 1779).
After the “Cherry Valley Massacre” Washington ordered Spencer’s Regiment, Armand’s Corps, and Schott’s Company to the area. Together, with Pulaski’s Legion, this increased the number of Continental soldiers in the region to about six hundred.
Pulaski to Washington, November 15, 1778,” Founders Online. Pulaski is referring to Fort Johns, fifteen miles downstream from Cole’s Fort on the Delaware River in Sussex County, New Jersey. Built between 1755 and 1757, Fort Johns, also known as Fort Shapanack, was built on land owned by John Rosenkrans (also spelled Rosencrantz). Pulaski wrote his letters either in broken English or French. This one in French was believed to have been translated by Alexander Hamilton.
The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Sources 1745 – 1799,vol. 13, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1936), 397 and 402. It was addressed to the “Officer Commander of Pulaski’s Corps.” Most likely this was Colonel Kovatch de Fabriczy.
As an example, when Washington found out Pulaski moved the cavalry (both his and Armand’s Legion) to Easton, he was angered because he felt Pulaski made the move because he was seeking “more comfortable quarters.” However when General Hand took command in the Minisinks, he confirmed Pulaski’s assessment of the dire situation with regards to the lack of forage. See Edward Hand to Washington,” December 17, 1778, and Washington to Hand,” January 1, 1779, Founders Online.
Washington to Hand, February 7, 1779, Founders Online. In the body of the letter, Washington stated that Captain Schott’s Company was to be sent “Southward” with Pulaski’s infantry but at the end he added a P.S.: “Since writing the above I have determined that Capt. Schott’s Corps shall remain where they are, as I find they occupy a small detached post.”
Col. Michael de Kovatch was killed in the battle and Capt. Jan Zelinski died in September from wounds he received at Charleston. A British observer reported that Pulaski’s losses (killed, wounded and captured) were between forty and fifty men. Kanjecki, The Pulaski Legion, 137.
Pulaski was hit by a musket ball in the groin. After Pulaski’s death, the Legion continued meeting with ill luck. Maj. Banastre Tarleton, at Monck’s Corners on April 14, 1780, decimated the remnants of Legion. Finally, in September 1780, the Pulaski Legion was disbanded and the surviving legionnaires were taken into Armand’s Legion. For greater detail, see in Kajencki, The Pulaski Legion, 171-186.
Even in his death and burial Pulaski remained controversial: where was he buried? Originally, it was thought he was buried at sea. Then in the 1990s, while repairing the Pulaski Memorial in Savannah, human remains were found in it. They were identified to be those of Casimir Pulaski and a formal internment took place at the Monterey Square Monument in Savannah on October 10, 2005. For a detailed account of the ceremony see, Edward Pinkowski, Pulaski’s Grand Burial in Savannah, October 7-10 2005, www.poles.org.
Szymanski, Casimir Pulaski, 290n. Fourteen years after Pulaski’s death, 1793, through the efforts of his brother Antoni, the Sejm (Polish Parliament) revoked the sentence from the trial held in 1773 (in absentia) which found Pulaski guilty of attempted regicide and condemned him to death. Chronology of Casimir Pulaski’s Life (1745-1779), www.poles.org.