Friday, May 11, 2018

Fidelissimus ad Mortem

Kováts Mihály was a Hungarian nobleman who became a noted cavalry officer, first in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then in the Prussian cavalry under Frederick the Great. And in 1777 he heard about the American War of Independence, and immediately began preparations to leave for the United States, writing Benjamin Franklin to ask for a letter of recommendation by which he could offer his services to the Congress. He didn't wait for an answer, which is perhaps a good thing; Franklin deliberately sat on Kovats's letter, worried that acting on it would offend potential allies in Europe. He introduced himself to Washington, who was wary of foreign aristocrats and declined at first to give him a commission as a cavalry officer; undeterred, Kovats worked as a recruiting officer for a while. When Congress commissioned a legion under Casimir Pulaski, Pulaski insisted on Kovats's value, and therefore he was named colonel commandant, and put in charge of the training of the cavalry along Hungarian and Prussian lines, which he did very well. Pulaski's Legion was to be somewhat ill-fated; Americans were suspicious in general of the loyalty of foreign officers, the Legion was always short on money, they were ordered here and there without always much reason, their actions were several times ruined by arriving late and thus having to fight on the enemy's terms, and on a march to Charleston, South Carolina, half of them died from smallpox. Their march to Charleston was to help lift the Siege of Charleston, which would be one of the worst defeats suffered by Americans in the entire war. But the tatters of cavalry under Kovats did wonders until, in the final series of engagements, Michael Kovats himself fell on May 11, 1779.

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