Pulaski's Remains Found?
By Jim Sieradzki, Pulaski's Independent Legion
For years, legend held that after being mortally wounded at the Battle of Savannah in October 1779, the remains of Brigadier General Count Casimir Pulaski were buried at sea off the Georgia coast. A recent discovery was made while refurbishing the Pulaski Monument in Savannah that raises the possibility that he was not buried at sea, but rather, was interred in Georgia, and his remains were entombed in the base of the monument in 1852.
Pulaski was mortally wounded during the Allied assault on Savannah on October 9, 1779. Opinions differ as to whether he was leading the massed cavalry forward in a charge to support the broken French infantry or was passing from one flank to another when he was shot from the saddle by British grapeshot. He was removed from the field and transported to the Continental brig Wasp in the hopes that he could be tended to in Charleston, South Carolina. (The piece of grapeshot that was removed from his right thigh by Doctor James Lynah is still on display in the Georgia Historical Society Museum in Savannah mounted on a silver candlestick.)
Unfortunately, there are conflicting accounts of the death and burial of Pulaski. For years, it had been held that on October 11, 1779, while on board ship, Pulaski succumbed to his wound and was buried at sea due to the warm weather conditions and the rapid deterioration of his remains. This account is contained in a pamphlet written in 1824 by Pulaski's aide-de-camp, Captain Paul Bentalou entitled, "Pulaski Vindicated from an Unsupported Charge, Inconsiderately or Malignantly Introduced in Judge Johnson's Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Major Gen. Nathaniel Green", rebutting some derisive comments concerning his former commander by a South Carolina historian named William Johnson. In Bentalou's account of the death of Pulaski, he states that Pulaski died of gangrene on board the Wasp, but because "the corpse became so offensive ... his officer was compelled, though reluctantly, to consign to a watery grave all that was now left upon earth of his beloved and honored commander". Bentalou. 1824.
According to historical writer Edward Pinkowski, the captain of the brig Wasp, Samuel Bulfinch, supposedly wrote to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln on October 15, 1779, reporting that after the assault on Savannah, he had taken some American wounded, including Pulaski and Captain Bentalou, on board at a local plantation and that later on "one of them died". According to Bulfinch's account, Pulaski was buried on the grounds of the plantation on property owned by the Bowen family.
According to local legend, in 1852, when the construction of the monument was underway a member of the Bowen family exhumed the remains and had them interred in the base of the monument. By 1854, the City of Savannah dedicated the monument in Monterey Square to Pulaski's memory.
In 1996, due to the combined effects of pollution and the elements, the monument was to be dismantled, cleaned and refurbished. While dismantling the monument, workers found a rusted metal box in the base of the monument, which contained human remains including bones, a skull, and two molars. Attached to the top of the box was a silver plate engraved, "Brigadier General Cassimer [sic] Pulaski". City authorities took possession of the remains and began an investigation into their origin, obviously focusing upon the possibility that they were the mortal remains of Pulaski. Dr. James Metts, Jr., Chatham County coroner, was appointed to head the investigation and research, assisted by Dr. Karen Burns, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Georgia at Athens.
In 1998, permission was obtained to exhume the remains of a grandniece of Pulaski who had been buried in Poland in 1834, in the hopes of comparing DNA samples. Adequate material was found and comparative studies were conducted by Dr. Burns, resulting in a 90% probability that the remains were those of General Pulaski. However, with even a 10% margin of error, state authorities were wary of announcing that the remains uncovered were those of the Polish hero.
As of January, 2000, authorities were awaiting the spring thaw to exhume what are believed to be the remains of Pulaski's younger brother, Antoni, which are buried in the current Ukraine. It is hoped that if the remains are adequate, then DNA testing can be performed to compare those remains to the remains uncovered in Savannah.
Forensic examination of the remains provided further evidence that they were most likely those of Pulaski. The fingers of the right hand showed evidence of multiple healed fractures, as did the tailbone of the spine. Both of these types injuries are considered typical of one who was a horseman for a significant period of time. The shape of the remains of the skull are felt to conform to the facial features portrayed in a contemporary portrait of Pulaski which is displayed at his family home (now a museum) in Warka, Poland.
The restoration of the monument and the reinterment of the remains are being coordinated by the Savannah Parks & Tree Commission. According to the Commission's director, Doctor Donald Garner, the monument should be rededicated sometime in the early summer of 2000. Plans are being made for the reinterment of the remains to take place in October, 2001, preceded by a proper 18th Century officer's funeral including participation by the recreated Pulaski's Independent Legion, as well as the modern American and Polish Armies and various Polish-American heritage and cultural organizations.
Bentalou, Paul. Pulaski Vindicated from an Unsupported Charge, Inconsiderately or Malignantly Introduced in Judge Johnson's Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Major Gen. Nathaniel Green. Baltimore, 1824.
Gardner, Donald. Telephone interview. January 19, 2000.
Jamro, Richard D. Pulaski, A Portrait of Freedom Savannah, Printcraft Press, 1979.
Pinkowski, Edward. "Pulaski Laid Here." Polish American Journal, November, 1996.
Pinkowski, Edward. "To Test Pulaski's Remains." The Post Eagle, July 1, 1998.
Copyright © 2000 Jim Sieradzki. All rights reserved.