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       The Jesuit Order sent missionaries from Europe to work with American Indians. In 1860 a Hungarian Jesuit priest, Father John Rátkai was sent to New Mexico where four years later he was killed by warring Indian tribes.

       Another Hungarian Jesuit missionary was Father Ferdinand Konsag or Konschak, formerly a professor who taught in Buda in the early part of the eighteenth century. He was sent to California, where he became head of the St. Ignatius Mission and later visitator to all California missions. Konsag was also a pioneer and explorer, who documented much information about this uncharted territory. He drew one of the first maps of California in 1746.

B. Colonel Kováts and the American War of Independence

       Many European nations followed with great interest the struggle between the colonies and England. The conflict gave hope to all European peoples ruled by foreign governments, as in the case of Hungary, dominated by Austria at the time. Hungarians could well understand the hopeless odds of the Continental Army, as they had been at war with their oppressors, Turkish and Austrian alike, for decades. Military experts, volunteers, supplies and countless letters of support and encouragement were sent to the colonies from Hungary as well as other countries. Professor Charles Zimner from Buda wrote to Benjamin Franklin in 1778 that he viewed Franklin "and all the chiefs in your new republic as angels sent by Heaven to guide and comfort the human race."

       Benjamin Franklin was one of the three commissioners sent to France by the Continental Congress in 1776 to secure naval and military assistance. These commissioners were frequently requested to write letters of recommendation for applicants who wished to obtain positions in the American army.

 


 

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Painting of Col. Michael Kovats by Zoltan de Beyne

 


 

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An Hungarian major, Michael Kováts de Fabricy, wrote to Benjamin Franklin with just such a request. Kovats learned of the struggle between the colonies and England, and being a professional soldier, volunteered his services as a commander and organizer of light cavalry.

       Kováts was born in 1724 in Karczag, Hungary and was already fighting in a Hussar regiment at the age of twenty. He distinguished himself in the most highly-honored branch of the military in Europe. The Hungarian Hussars were famous for their military expertise and courage, as well as their skill in training and handling a horse. The French light cavalry, as well as the Prussian were initially organized and trained by Hungarian hussar officers. Michael Kovats served meritoriously in countless battles in the Austrian armies of Empress Maria Terezia as well as the Prussian armies of Frederick the Great.

       Upon his arrival in America, Major Kováts joined Count Casimir Pulaski, who was then brigadier general and commander-in-chief of Washington's cavalry. Pulaski's cavalry was poorly trained. There were few trained cavalry officers which made the task of commanding the forces formidable. On February 4, 1778, Pulaski proposed a plan for the formation of a training division of hussars. In a letter to Washington Pulaski wrote:

 

There is an officer now in this Country whose name is Kovach. I know him to have served with reputation in the Prussian service and assure Your Excellency that he is in every way equal to his undertaking.2

 

       Later, in another letter to Washington dated March 19, Pulaski again recommended Kovats:

 

I would propose, for my subaltern, an experienced officer, by name Kowacz, formerly a Colonel and partisan in the Prussian service.3

 

       Pulaski's legion was commissioned by the Continental Congress on March 28, 1778 and Michael Kováts was named colonel commandant of the legion on April 18, 1778. He was finally given the opportunity to perform the task

 


 

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he had originally intended: to organize and train hussar regiments for the American army. The recruiting of men began almost immediately and by October 1778, the legion consisted of 330 officers and men. Kováts trained these men in the tradition of Hungarian hussars: in basic form, training and organization they were similar to their European counterparts.

       The legion was transferred to New Jersey and in October was sent into battle with the British at Osborne Island on the 10th and at Egg Harbor on the 14th. With the approach of winter, the legion was ordered to Cole's Fort, where they spent the first part of the winter in training.

       On February 2, 1779, the legion marched to South Carolina to join the forces of General Benjamin Lincoln. During the long march smallpox took its toll: only 150 soldiers arrived in Charleston—more than half of the legion had died of smallpox along the way.

       Charleston was under siege by the British. The situation was critical, the population urged for surrender. Pulaski's legion arrived on May 8, 1779 and unsuccessfully attacked the English troops led by General Prevost on May 11th. In the battle on May 11, 1779 in Charleston, South Carolina Colonel Michael Kováts lost his life in the war for American independence. He was buried where he fell. Even according to the English, the legion was "the best cavalry the rebels ever had."4

       Colonel Michael Kováts was an American military hero of foreign birth to be remembered with the Polish Pulaski, the German Von Steuben and the French Lafayette, who believed in the cause of American independence and were willing to give their lives to help attain it.

 


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