Casimir Pulaski, who was born in Poland in 1745 to a noble family, was from a young age a staunch fighter for independence in his native Poland. As a young man, he fought against the Russian domination of Poland as part of the Bar Confederation. When this movement proved unsuccessful, he sought asylum in France, but this transition proved tenuous at best.  Upon recruitment from Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, he emigrated to America in 1776 to take on the revolutionary cause. Pulaski, a skilled military leader and horseman, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in command of cavalry on September 15, 1777.

Casimir Pulaski, painting by Jan Styka

In the spring of 1778, Pulaski visited Bethlehem with his cavalry unit.  Legend has it that he so enchanted the Moravian Sisters (single women of the Moravian Church) with his chivalry that they embroidered him a banner. While some speculation exists if the banner truly was made in honor for Pulaski or if he merely ordered it made himself, the fact remains he carried it with him on the battlefield until his untimely death in Savannah in 1779. The silk banner, attributed to the design of Rebecca Langly was later immortalized in a Longfellow poem.

Sources: Levering, Joseph M. A History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 1741-1892. Times Publishing: Bethlehem, 1903; “Casimir Pulaski.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. April 14, 2015: www.nps.gov/fopu/learn/historyculture/casimir-pulaski.htm.

“Hymn Of The Moravian Nuns Of Bethlehem

At The Consecration Of Pulaski’s Banner“

When the dying flame of day
Through the chancel shot its ray,
Far the glimmering tapers shed
Faint light on the cowled head;
And the censer burning swung,
Where ne’re before the altar, hung
The crimson banner, that with prayer
Had been consecrated there.
And the nun’s sweet hymn was heard while,
Sung low, in the dim, mysterious aisle.

“Take thy banner, May it wave
Proudly o’er the good and brave;
When the battle’s distant wail
Breaks the Sabbath of our vale,
When the clarion’s music thrills
To the hearts of these lone hills,
When the spear in conflict shakes,
And the strong lance, shivering, breaks.”

“Take thy banner! and, beneath
The battle-cloud’s encircling wreath,
Guard it, till our homes are free!
Guard it! God will prosper thee!
In the dark and trying hour,
In the breaking forth of power,
In the rush of steeds and men,
His right hand will shield thee then.”

“Take thy banner! But when night
Closes round the ghastly flight,
If the vanquished warrior bow,
Spare him! as thou wouldst be spared!
By our prayers and many tears,
By the mercy that endears,
Spare him! he our love hath shared!
Spare him! as thou wouldst be spared.”

“Take thy banner! and if e’er
Thou shouldst press the soldier’s bier,
And the muffled drum should beat
To the tread of mournful feet,
Then this crimson flag shall be
Martial cloak and shroud for thee.”

The warrior took that banner proud,
And it was his martial cloak and shroud!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – 1840

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