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Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats de Fabricy of the Pulaski Legion


Read more about Col. Commandant Michael Kovats, founding father of the US Calvary (Painting by Sandor Bodo of Nashville, TN)THE SOLUTION OF AN AGE-OLD MYSTERY:
The Family Background As The Key To The Character And The European Heritage Values of Colonel Michael Kováts de Fabricy (1724-1779), Commandant Of The Pulaski Legion In The American War Of Independence
- by Dr. Elemer Bako, American Hungarian Federation

Hungarians in North America have an impressive history of their presence on this continent. It begins with Stephen Parmenius of Buda (in Hungarian: Budai Parmenius Istvan), a fine, young scholar and poet who lived at Oxford, England. He joined the second America expedition of Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 as its official chronicler, and made, together with others, some short, exploratory visits to the coastal area of Nova Scotia but has lost his life there in a sea storm. However, a very fine, scholarly biography prepared by two Canadian authors preserved his memory by offering proofs of the outstanding qualities of his personality, his poetry and scholarship, and secured for him a position among the writers of the age of discoveries also.

Leaving here unmentioned several other important individuals of Hungarian origin who enriched American civilization in the course of the following hundred years, we move to the period of Hungarian history in the early l8th century which is marked by the Hungarian war of independence led by the legendary Francis Rakoczi II (1676-1735), elected ruling prince of Hungary and Transylvania, against the House of Habsburg in the years of 1704 to 1711. Its events, leading personalities, political, constitutional and ethical principles have been reported about, often in much detail, in the excellently edited weekly issues of the first American newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, which began publication in April, 1704. Thus, it was no wonder that the Founding Fathers of the American democracy including General Washington were fully aware of the nature and values of the specifically Hungarian type of light cavalry service named Hussars but also of the demands facing the commander of an army when trying to establish a Hussar unit for his country.

The news about Hussar units reached this continent in the l8th century via the numerous press reports from Europe, particularly from London, and the military works published in France and Prussia where numbers of officers (many of them high ranking) and men of Hungarian origin served in the Hussar regiments of those countries. Catholic Hungarians usually preferred the French service, the Calvinist and Lutheran Hungarians the Prussia of Frederic the Great. As a consequence, these "foreign Hussars" who were also political refugees and dissidents (especially their Hungarian officers) often found themselves fighting their former comrades-in-arms.

It was both a tragedy and glory of the Hungarian nation: brought nearly to complete destruction as an independent nation during 160 years of Turkish occupation of Hungary’s central regions and the ensuing warfare between the German-Roman and the Ottoman empires on Hungarian ground, the nation did not cease to resist these annihilating forces, neither did she stop sending her best sons to foreign universities in her search for vital personal and cultural contacts, knowledge and support of all kind in her efforts to achieve freedom and independence. Many of these scholars ended up as professors at foreign universities, officials in the administrations of foreign countries, or (and this group is the most numerous) as officers or soldiers in the armies of foreign rulers, from Madrid to St. Petersburg.

A prominent military man who offered his services for the cause of American independence was the Hussar officer Michael Kovats de Fabricy (1724-1779), Colonel Commandant of the Pulaski Legion in George Washington’s army. His achievements in training American light cavalry and initiating "Free Corps" tactics (known also as the precursor of modern guerilla warfare) in the American service, earned him the name of "Father of Modern American Cavalry", so recognized by the United States Congress and the American Army. Prior to his sailing to America in early 1777, he was a retired Hussar major in the Austro-Hungarian army of Maria Theresa, during the years of 1762 to 1776. The previous l8 years of his life, however, were divided between service periods in the Austro-Hungarian, French and Prussian armies. In addition, while in retirement in Upper Hungary (present-day Slovakia), he achieved considerable success and recognition as a training officer of the voluntary troops of Polish patriots then organizing themselves for the liberation of their nation in a movement called the Confederation of Bar (so named after the place where it has been constituted). This was the time when Kovats met and trained his future superior in the American army, young Casimir Pulaski.

Michael Kováts de Fabricy in the Service of the United States

Hungarian historians conducting their research either in the United States (like Eugene Pivany, Edmund Vasvary and others) or in Hungary (such as Aladar Poka-Pivny and Jozsef Zachar) have cleared the ground around many unknown details of the life and deeds of Michael Kovats de Fabricy. We have almost full knowledge of his military career in the various European armies, of his private and public life in Hungary, and the motivation for his decision to join the cause of American independence.

The key to all above is given in a letter written by him in Latin, on January 13, 1777, at Bordeaux, France, and mailed to Benjamin Franklin, United States envoy at Paris. Following a short description of his military life Kovats stated:

“I am now here, of my own free will, having taken all the horrible hardships and bothers of this journey" (that s, from Buda, Hungary, via Italy and France) "and I am willing to sacrifice myself wholly and faithfully as it is expected of an honest soldier facing the hazards and great dangers of the war, to the detriment of Joseph and as well for the freedom of your great Congress. "

And, as he also indicated in the same letter, the Hungarian officer sailed for far-away America without further delay.

This "Joseph" was the son of Maria Theresa, queen of Hungary and after the death of her husband, German-Roman emperor Charles V, also empress over the Imperial domains. Since 1765, her son, Joseph was ruling, at the side of his mother, with the title of "Emperor" in full command of all the military forces of the Empire including Hungary. He was the one who changed his mother's opposition to the dismemberment of Poland in 1773, and was well known for his ambitions to defeat Prussia and to regain power over all German speaking lands of Europe forming a new, Habsburg-dominated German empire. (Later, following the death of Maria Theresa in 1780 when the son ascended to the throne as emperor - but without the constitutional recognition as king of Hungary because he was not willing to take the coronation oath which would have compelled him to uphold Hungary's constitution and the rights of the Hungarian nation - he was branded even by Thomas Jefferson a “despot" for his treatment of his subjects in Belgium, then part of the Habsburg Empire.)

Such a ruler could not be suffered by Michael Kovats de Fabricy, a former anti-Habsburg "freedom fighter," commandant of a "Free Corps" and recipient of the highest military decoration in the Prussian army, the "Pour le Merit,, and, by his association with freedom loving Polish patriots, a supporter of Poland's independence. Also, because of Joseph's announced plans to recall most of the retired officers to active service in preparation for new campaigns against both Turkey and Prussia, Kovats had no other choice as an honest soldier true to his own self but to leave the Austrian Empire and to seek service somewhere else where the future could promise him a victory of his avowed ideals: human freedom and national independence. The only land where he could nurse any hopes for such promises was an independent, democraticUnited States of America.

For several reasons, however, Kovats' letter could not be forwarded by Benjamin Franklin, neither could the American diplomat initiate any recommendation on his own. The most important reasons were the, by then, very angry and repeated reactions by General Washington to the employment of any more of the foreign (mostly French) officers under his command who, for higher rank and more substantial pay, were offering their swords for the liberation of the American "colonists" from the rule of Britain. The other reason was the hope on the part of Franklin and of other American diplomatic representatives in Europe that, the queen of France being a daughter of Maria Theresa, and, thus, a sister of Joseph, the future almighty emperor of the Habsburg Empire, (who, for some mistaken reasons, was identified by the progressive French personalities maintaining close contacts with Franklin with the cause of reforms in France and Europe in general), they might enlist Austria's support for the American cause, even if not to the same degree as they managed to achieve it with France. No matter what, a letter by an obscure, rebellious Hungarian officer who declared to fight "for the detriment of Joseph", could not be forwarded to the American Congress by Benjamin Franklin, the best American diplomat in Paris. .

Consequently, Kovats' letter remained among the many other dormant pieces of Franklin's European correspondence. Besides, the Hungarian officer has left Europe without having presented himself in person to the American envoy. Later, with a few lines of introduction by Major General Joseph Spencer of Providence, Rhode Island, (dated April 30, 1777), Kovats paid his respect to the Commander-in-Chief at his headquarters in Philadelphia. The meeting did not bring the positive results the Hungarian officer was hoping for. As Washington indicated in his reply to Spencer on May 17, he has forwarded Spencer's recommendation to Congress but without any positive support of his own because, owing partly to mistakes made by the interpreter, some details in the past of Kovats appeared to be contradictory. According to reports, Kovats functioned as a voluntary recruiting officer for a Pennsylvania German unit during the summer, then, early in the fall, he visited several settlements of the so-called Moravian Order of Lutheran German Pietists who had their center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, because, as stated by the "Moravian Diary", members of both the male and female branches of the order knew him either in person or heard about the Hungarian officer through their own channels to Europe. In a few months, following Pulaski's fiasco as commander of the cavalry units in Washington's army, Kovats' excellent personal contacts with members of the Moravian Order and, in general, with the German speaking population of upper Pennsylvania, came as a real blessing for the Polish patriot: having fulfilled his request for an "Independent Legion", Pulaski got Kovats appointed, at first, as training officer, then as Colonel Commandant of the new unit.

It took the perseverance of the late Edmund Vasvary to find Kovats' letter of Bordeaux among the "Franklin Papers" held at the Library of the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia. When it was found and published by Vasvary, the important document helped to identify Michael Kovats de Fabricy, and to prove his Hungarian origin. (However, some Polish historians and public personalities are still trying to dismiss references to his Hungarian background by pointing to the Slavic etymological root of his family name - the word "kovacs," that is, "smith" being a Slavic loanword in the Hungarian language.)

"Fidelissimus ad Mortem" (Most Faithful unto Death"), the closing phrase in Kovats' letter to Franklin (the text of which, with its translation into English or Hungarian, had been published by several authors in the past) turned out to become a tragical reality for Kovats.

In early 1779, General Washington issued an order to march the Pulaski Legion to the South. Since the successful British invasion of Georgia in late 1778, the City of Charleston, South Carolina, with its most important port and trade contacts, became the next target for the British strategists. According to Washington's (and the Congress') order, Brigadier General Pulaski and his Hungarian Colonel Commandant led the only good cavalry unit available for the defense of the American cause, together with the Legion's infantry, to the aid of the Southern Department of the United States Army.

The Southern Department, a continuously changing amalgam of mostly militia units contributed by a number of the American states, was under the weak command of General Benjamin Lincoln, a brave New England patriot, who has submitted his resignation already to the Congress for poor health, particularly for an incurable wound in his leg. Mainly for this lamentable physical condition of the commanding general, and for his being a New England man in charge of Southern militia units, the Southern Military Department was in a constant state of turmoil. By the time when the Pulaski Legion arrived to Lincoln’s headquarters, a large British army has already entered the peninsula leading up to the City of Charleston. In fact, negotiations between the city and the governor of the state on one side, and the British commander on the other, for the surrender and the neutralization of the important port city have progressed so rapidly that, by May 10, when its of the Pulaski Legion entered the city, the British army, standing not far from Charleston, was halted on the assumption that they have to wait only for the final negotiation over the conditions of the surrender and the signing of the relative document

The appearance of the Pulaski Legion, however, (made even impressive for both the local militia and the British commander by some rumors that General Lincoln, with more than 5,000 troops under his command, is approaching the neck of the peninsula to cut off the retreat of the British forces), worked real wonders. It recharged the will and courage of the city population, changed the opinion of the city fathers, and, an audacious attack led by Pulaski and Kovats against the approaching British outside the city limits convinced the British commander of the eventually very dangerous outcome of any further aggression against Charleston: he turned around his troops of more than two thousand men, and, pursued by Pulaski's decimated Legion and some local units, led them back to the fortified city of Savannah, Georgia.

Unfortunately, however, Colonel Commandant Kovats, with a number of the Legion's cavalry, found his death in the clash with the British on May 11, 1779, right there, in the defense of Charleston. Mortally wounded by a rifle shot, he fell from his horse, and was buried in the battlefield, never to be found any more. His good friend and superior officer, Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, was fatally wounded later, during the ill-advised attack on Savannah, and died of his wounds on October 9, of' the same year. At the same time, the famous Legion was reduced to a meaningless, small group of veterans, and never revived as a unit of the American army.

The great success of the Pulaski Legion by saving Charleston and the American South for Washington. and the Congress was, initially, hailed by the American Commander-in-Chief as the greatest glory which ever befell American arms. But the formal, official recognition of the immortal heroes, Pulaski and Kovats, and their comrades-in-arms could never be issued by the highest authorities: as it turned out, their reward would have involved the initiation of a formal investigation into the circumstances of the surrender negotiations which could have amounted to treason and secession on the part of those responsible for them in the city of Charleston. Also, because of the death of the two commanding officers, and the reduced status of the Legion, any such move on the part of those responsible for the future of American democracy, appeared to be futile and possibly dangerous. More than a century after the glorious performance of the Pulaski Legion, representatives of the American Polish community launched increasingly intensive campaigns for the recognition of "their” hero, Casimir Pulaski. The most successful were those publicity campaigns, which succeeded the tragic turns in Poland's most recent history during and after the Second World War.

The public and official recognition of the merits of the Hungarian-born officer came considerably later and in different forms.

The Cult of Colonel Kováts in the United States and Hungary

The discovery that a Hungarian-born Hussar colonel had an important role in the American War of Independence electrified American Hungarians about half a century ago. Not bothered about the lack of authentical likenesses, several American Hungarian artists have painted imaginary "portraits" and created statues of the Hungarian hero on horseback. Also, a "Colonel Michael Kovats de Fabricy Historical Society" was founded in New York City, with branches organized in a number of other cities and states. The resulting research activities led to several substantial publications, mostly essays or well-documented articles, which grew out of the intensive correspondence between researchers in America and Europe.

Some commemorative celebrations on both sides of the ocean encouraged historical and cultural societies to hold "Kovats sessions" and other programs, many of them in cooperation with the above mentioned "Kovats Society." All these activities have greatly contributed to the rekindling of pro-American sentiments in Hungary - which was not a small success in those years when Hitler's star rose to the Firmament of European politics.

Regardless of the lamentable fact that this organization was swept away by the Second World War, the, by then, established cult of Colonel Kovats has not lost its fire. The American Hungarian Federation, an umbrella organization of most of the Hungarian-founded church, civic and cultural organizations in the United States, with its center in Washington, D.C., developed a cooperation with the Citadel, the Military Academy of the South, at Charleston, South Carolina, and revived the cult of the Hungarian hero. A training field of the Citadel was named after Colonel Kovats, and a marker with a bronze plaque placed at its corner informs posterity of his immortal merits in the service of the United States. In the course of the American Bicentennial celebrations, his memory was recalled by the Citadel, the United States Congress, the President of the United States of America, the City of Charleston, the State of South Carolina, as well as by other States of the Union, and last but not least, by the American Hungarian Federation, both in the official Bicentennial Year (1976), and in the officially proclaimed bicentennial anniversary year of Colonel Michael Kovats de Fabricy in 1979.

These American commemorative events were happily echoed in Hungary whenever the two great radio programs of the United States, the Voice of America and the Radio Free Europe have informed the Hungarian public, often in lengthy interviews with American Hungarian historians and other participants in the commemorative programs. And, when the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, Hungary's first Christian king was returned to Hungary and the official address delivered by Secretary of State Vance included a thoughtful reference to Colonel Kovats, the Hungarian hero of the American War of Independence, the, up to that time, cold attitude of Hungary's official authorities warmed up, and a flow of public information in the form of valuable research articles, books, commemorative addresses and stamps, began to create a new awareness of the great personality of this Hungarian military man.

A Still Unanswered Question: Where Did This Man Come From?

Col. Commandant Michael Kovats de Fabricy Family Tree
Col. Commandant Michael Kovats de Fabricy Family Tree
[Click for Larger Image]

All these commemorative publications and events, however, were constantly overshadowed by an unanswerable albeit seldom expressed question. It became rather painfully evident that nobody was in the position, including this writer, to provide any answer to a routine question about a prominent personality like Colonel Kovats: who were the parents and other ancestors of this excellent military leader, and, in general, what was the ancestral lineage, and, thus, what were the historical and genealogical heritage traits of such a human monument of character, courage and dedication to higher ideals? Since I used to be in close contact with the late Edmund Vasvary, one of the foremost researchers of Colonel Kovats’ life story and an eminent creator of the "Kovats lore” in America, I am in the position to report on the near desperate state of mind of this great student of American Hungarian history who, while trying to give his best efforts to his task, the writing of a complete and reliable biography of the Hungarian colonel, he was still not able, up to the very last day of his life, to serve his readers and the scholarly public with the names of his hero's parents, let alone to provide information about the history of his ancestors. (In fact, a biography of Colonel Kovats, in preparation by me since a number of years, could not be completed and published for lack of the same essential personal data.)

As it happened when Edmund Vasvary had found the Kovats letter among the "Franklin Papers" at Philadelphia, enabling him to conclusively identify Colonel Kovats as a Hungarian in General Washington's army, "Fate" moved its hand again, this time involving me.

As I have already informed the American Hungarian public via a bilingual journal entitled Testveriseg - Fraternity (vol. 59, no. 1-3, Jan. - March, 1981, p. 19-20) published by the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, a fraternal insurance company in Washington, D.C. (which has also published the original Kovats letter discovered by Edmund Vasvary), I happened to meet an old Hungarian friend of mine, Dr. Laszlo Keszi Kovats, of Budapest, at an international congress of researchers of Finno-Ugrian peoples and languages, held in August, 1980, at Turku, Finland, the ancient university city of that country. When he was inquiring about my current research activities, I have mentioned, among others, my work on the biography of Colonel Michael Kovats de Fabricy. With a good chuckle, he gamely remarked: "And, as all other American Hungarian historians, you don't even know who were the parents of Colonel Kovats?" With a demure expression in my face, I admitted that, yes, that's the fact. Then, as a good friend, he smiled at me, telling that I better turn to him for information because he comes from the same ancestral background as the famous Colonel, and he would be willing to prepare for me a copy of a long, 17-page document, originally written in Latin by an ancestor of his, Stephanus (Istvan) Kovats de Keszi, town notary at Tiszacsege, Hungary. Basing his final text upon an earlier, mid-l8th century version of the Kovats family history, prepared by a relative, Gabriel (Gabor) Hegyi de Zadorfalvá, a county notary of Heves and Szolnok counties, Stephanus Kovats de Keszi updated his documentation, ending it with the year of 1783, that is, four years after the tragic death of Colonel Kovats in America. Then, upon completion of the family history, it was deposited in the famous family archives of the Vay family (which also housed thousands of other documents important to numerous Hungarian noble families mainly of Eastern Hungary) where it remained for more than 150 years without being published or even registered and analyzed for its contents.

In view of the limited space available for this article, I don't wish to fill the pages of this journal with the full story of how my friend, Dr. Laszlo Keszi Kovacs has found and copied the original family history in the family archives of the Vay family at Tiszaberkesz, Hungary, in 1941. According to that document, a copy of which, made by Dr. Kovacs for me, is in my possession (waiting to get published in full in my Kovats biography now in preparation), the family's first known ancestor, Johannes Besenyo " became a "faber ferrarius" (iron smith), mentioned also as "Kowach Regis", meaning the "King's smith", and was rewarded by Hungary's king Charles Robert, of the Italin Anjous (Angevins), with a family domain in 1331, thus elevating him into the status of nobility. His descendants in succession became prominent civil servants, military leaders and prelates of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1479, Hungary's great Renaissance king, Matthias I (Hunyadi, named also Corvinus) rewarded the family with a beautiful coat-of-arms, a copy of which, explaining its details, is published with this article. The same document informs us also how subsequent generations of this Kovats family served a long succession of Hungary's monarchs, the legitimate kings of the various ruling houses including the Habsburgs, as long as they have solemnly promised to uphold the constitution of the country and to defend the nation's freedom and independence. And, when they failed to do so, members of this Kovats family joined the many thousands of Hungarian patriots, and supported the efforts of the elected princes of Transylvania (up to and including Francis Rakoczi II in the early l8th century) when the rulers of that small but independent-minded remnant of the powerful medieval Kingdom of Hungary felt compelled to fight the Habsburg kings of Hungary in order to force them again and again to sign "peace treaties" with Transylvania and to promise anew to honor their solemn oaths taken as constitutional kings of the Hungarians.

In the place of a lengthy narration of the Kovats family history, the next part of this article is a sketch of the ancestral lineage of Colonel Kovats which contains only the direct ancestors of the Colonel and some other persons whose memories could have influenced the Colonel’s own character development.

Characterizing the sons of Emericus (Imre) Kovats de Keszi and Kaal, father of Colonel Michael Kovats de Fabricy, the document's compiler, Stephanus (Istvan) Kovats de Keszi made an interesting statement. The English version of the original in Latin follows verbatim:

"Excelled among them this Michael, who was a prominent soldier, reaching the position of a Free Corps commander, and fighting in many campaigns, in the lands of foreign nations - under the assumed name of Michael Fabritius Kovats, - and he became a victim of death there also; this Michael Fabritius Kovats - correctly, Kovats of Keszi and Kaal - had a son, George (Gyorgy) whom he begot with the noble lady Franciska, daughter of Sigismund (Zsigmond) Merse de Szinye."

This short remark was penned down by the young family chronicler four years after the heroic death of the Hungarian-born Colonel Commandant of the Pulaski Legion. It misses only a couple of relevant details. The Colonel's son, George died at an early age, well before his Father had left Hungary, by which time the parents had already separated owing to the fathers frequent absences from the home because of his involvement in the training of the Polish patriotic forces. The mother, Franciska Merse de Szinye never remarried: she remained faithful to the memory of her husband.

Alas, the last important "mystery" in the life of the famous Colonel has found its documented explanation. Now we really know where "he came from," what were his family heritage values, the ancestral "images" which motivated him, and the elements of his European culture which enabled him to remain "Fidelissimus ad Mortem" (Most Faithful unto Death) to a cause which was adopted by him as his own.

AHF Establishes Medal of Freedom

The American Hungarian Federation (AHF) established the Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom to honor outstanding individuals and recognize their life's achievements, dedication to freedom and democracy, promotion of transatlantic relations, and meritorious contribution to society. The award, AHF's highest honor, is open to Hungarians and non-Hungarians alike. Learn about AHF's Highest Honor: The Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats [Medal of Freedom]

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AHF's Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom AHF's Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom Learn about AHF's Highest Honor: The Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats [Medal of Freedom]


Michael Kovats' Leter to Benjamin Franklin and US Congress, January 13th, 1777:

"Most Illustrious Sir:

Golden freedom cannot be purchased with yellow gold.
I, who have the honor to present this letter to your Excellency, am also following the call of the Fathers of the Land, as the pioneers of freedom always did. I am a free man and a Hungarian.

As to my military status I was trained in the Royal Prussian Army and raised from the lowest rank to the dignity of a Captain of the Hussars, not so much by luck and the mercy of chance than by most diligent self discipline and the virtue of my arms. The dangers and the bloodshed of a great many campaigns taught me how to mold a soldier, and, when made, how to arm him and let him defend the dearest of the lands with his best ability under any conditions and developments of the war.

I now am here of my own free will, having taken all the horrible hardships and bothers of this journey, and l am willing to sacrifice myself wholly and faithfully as it is expected of an honest soldier facing the hazards and great dangers of the war, to the detriment of Joseph and as well for the freedom of your great Congress. Through the cooperation and loyal assistance of Mr. Faedevill, a merchant of this city and a kind sympathizer of the Colonies and their just cause, I have obtained passage on a ship called "Catharina Froam Darmouth, " whose master is a Captain Whippy. I beg your Excellency, to grant me a passport and a letter of recommendation to the most benevolent Congress. I am expecting companions who have not yet reached here. Your Excellency would be promoting the common cause by giving Mr. Faedevill authorization to expedite their passage to the Colonies once they have arrived here.

At last, awaiting your gracious answer, I have no wish greater than to leave forthwith, to be where I am needed most, to serve and die in everlasting obedience to Your Excellency and the Congress.

Most faithful unto death (Fidelissiums ad Mortem),

Bordeaux, January l3th, 1777
Michael Kovats de Fabricy
P.S.: As yet I am unable to write, fluently in French or English and had only the choice of writing either in German or Latin; for this l apologize to your Excellency.


AHF Establishes Medal of Freedom

The American Hungarian Federation (AHF) established the Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom to honor outstanding individuals and recognize their life's achievements, dedication to freedom and democracy, promotion of transatlantic relations, and meritorious contribution to society. The award, AHF's highest honor, is open to Hungarians and non-Hungarians alike.The American Hungarian Federation (AHF) established the Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom to honor outstanding individuals and recognize their life's achievements, dedication to freedom and democracy, promotion of transatlantic relations, and meritorious contribution to society. The award, AHF's highest honor, is open to Hungarians and non-Hungarians alike.

Col. Commandant Michael Kovats, founding father of the US Calvary by Gabriella Koszorus-VarsaInscribed on the medal is AHF's Motto, “Fidelissimus ad Mortem" or "Faithful Unto Death” (Híven Mindhalálig in Hungarian) representing Hungarian American historical committment to the United States. The motto was taken from a letter written by former Hussar Officer Michael Kováts to Benjamin Franklin. Kovats, known as the Founding Father of the US Cavalry, who offered his sword in service to the United States. On May 11, 1779, Colonel Kovats gave his life in the American War forIndependence while leading the Continental Army cavalry he had trained in Hungarian hussar tactics against a British siege of Charleston. The British remarked that Kovats' forces were "the best cavalry the rebels ever had."He is immortalized in the almost lifesize portrait by Gabriella Koszorus-Varsa seen here. Colonel Michael Kovats Statue at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C. sculpted by Paul Takacs and executed by Attila DienesHe is immortalized at the Citadel Miltary Academy in South Carolina as they honor him and named "Kovats Field" after him. The Hungarian Embassy, too, has a statue in his honor (see here) sculpted by Paul Takacs and executed by Attila Dienes.

Just as Kovats’ life and service is celebrated annually by US Military Cadets at the Citadel, the motto reflects AHF virtues, and historically and inextricably ties Hungarians and Americans together while symbolizing Hungarians’ contributions and sacrifices to America’s beginning. Among the oldest ethnic organizations in the US, AHF was founded in 1906 in Cleveland, Ohio, and established as an association of Hungarian societies, institutions and churches to “defend the interest of Americans of Hungarian origin in the United States.”

Learn about AHF's Highest Honor: The Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats [Medal of Freedom]


The Citadel: The Kovats Memorial - The memorial plaque was presented to the school by the American Hungarian Federation on May 27, 1955 and the area was dedicated as Kovats Field in November, 1959.The Citadel: The Kovats Memorial
The memorial plaque was presented to the school by the American Hungarian Federation on May 27, 1955 and the area was dedicated as Kovats Field in November, 1959.

Located at the west entrance to the parking lot in the faculty housing area behind Bond Hall (formerly Kovats Field) is a memorial to Colonel Michael Kovats de Fabricy, a nobleman and military leader killed in Charleston during the Revolutionary War. A native of Hungary he served in his countries army as well as those of Austria and Prussia; while serving with the French army he learned of the American Revolution and volunteered his services to the American Ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. He was commissioned a Colonel-Commander in the Continental Army and placed in charge of the Lancers in the Legion organized by Count Casimir Pulaski; Kovats recruited, trained and lead what became the first U.S. Cavalry unit. He was killed on May 11, 1779 while leading an assault on British forces that were laying siege to Charleston and was reportedly buried a short distance from The Citadel campus. To this date, Michael de Kovats is celebrated by cadets at the college. (Courtesy - The Citadel Military College of South Carolina)

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