Tadeusz Kosciuszko

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Tadeusz Kosciuszko

Tadeusz Andrezej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (February 4, 1746 in Ivatsevichy District, Poland, today Belarus - October 15, 1817 in Solothurn, Switzerland) was a Polish freedom fighter and statesman. He led revolts against Russia in his homeland, but is best known for his participation in the American Revolutionary War.

Early life

Kosciuszko was born into a noble family in the village of Mereczowszczyno; Ivatsevichy District, Poland (today Belarus). His parents were Ludwik Kosciuszko, sword-bearer of the palatinate of Brzesc, and Tekla Ratomska. After being educated at home he entered the corps of cadets at Warsaw, where his unusual ability and energy attracted the notice of Prince Adam Casimir Czartoryski, by whose influence in 1769 he was sent abroad at the expense of the state to complete his military education. In Germany, Italy and France he studied diligently, completing his course at Brest, where he learnt fortification and naval tactics, returning to Poland in 1774 with the rank of captain of artillery. Two years later he moved to the United States and became the head engineer of the Continental Army. He expressed deep love for the Declaration of Independence, which he said embodied everything he believed in. During the War he masterminded a key British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga. He was also a personal friend of Thomas Jefferson and an Abolitionist. There are many monuments in America and Poland made for him. He was made an honorary citizen of the United States.

In 1775 he returned home. In 1792 Catherine the Great invaded Poland, Kosciuszko led Polish forces. After the government capitulated, he moved into exile in Saxony, Germany. Two years later he returned and led an uprising for independence, but was captured by Russian forces. After he was reprieved by Russian government he moved to Switzerland, where he died in 1817.[1]

Revolutionary War

In 1776 he entered the army of the United States as a volunteer, and brilliantly distinguished himself, especially during the operations about New York and at Yorktown. Washington promoted Kosciuszko to the rank of a colonel of artillery and made him his adjutant. His humanity and charm of manner made him moreover one the most popular of the American officers. In 1783 Kosciuszko was rewarded for his services and his devotion to the cause of American independence with the thanks of Congress, the privilege of American citizenship, a considerable annual pension with landed estates, and the rank of brigadier-general, which he retained in the Polish service.

Russian War

In the war following upon the proclamation of the constitution of the 3rd of May 1791 and the formation of the reactionary Confederation of Targowica, Kosciuszko took a leading part. As the commander of a division under Prince Joseph Poniatowski he distinguished himself at the battle of Zielence in 1792, and at Dubienka (July 18) with 4000 men and to guns defended the line of the Bug for five days against the Russians with 18,000 men and 60 guns, subsequently retiring upon Warsaw unmolested.

When the king acceded to the Targo-wicians, Kosciuszko with many other Polish generals threw up his commission and retired to Leipzig, which speedily became the centre of the Polish emigration. In January 1793, provided with letters of introduction from the French agent Perandier, Kosciuszko went on a political mission to Paris to induce the revolutionary government to espouse the cause of Poland. In return for assistance he promised to make the future government of Poland as close a copy of the French government as possible; but the Jacobins, already intent on detaching Prussia from the anti-French coalition, had no serious intention of fighting Poland's battles. The fact that Kosciuszko's visit synchronized with the execution of Louis XVI subsequently gave the enemies of Poland a plausible pretext for accusing hex of Jacobinism, and thus prejudicing Europe against her.


On his return to Leipzig Kosciuszko was invited by the Polish insurgents to take the command of the national armies, with dictatorial power. He hesitated at first, well aware that a rising in the circumstances was premature. " I will have nothing to do with Cossack raiding," he replied; "if war we have, it must be a regular war." He also insisted that the war must be conducted on the model of the American War of Independence, and settled down in the neighbourhood of Cracow to await events. When, however, he heard that the insurrection had already broken out, and that the Russian armies were concentrating to crush it, Kosciuszko hesitated no longer, but hastened to Cracow, which he reached on the 23rd of March 1794. On the following day his arms were consecrated according to ancient custom at the church of the Capucins, by way of giving the insurrection a religious sanction incompatible with Jacobinism.

The same day, amidst a vast concourse of people in the market-place, Kosciuszko took an oath of fidelity to the Polish nation; swore to wage war against the enemies of his country; but protested at the same time that he would fight only for the independence and territorial integrity of Poland. The insurrection had from the first a purely popular character. We find none of the great historic names of Poland in the lists of the original confederates. For the most part the confederates of Kosciuszko were small squires, traders, peasants and men of low degree generally. Yet the comparatively few gentlemen who joined the movement sacrificed everything to it. Thus, to take but a single instance, Karol Prozor sold the whole of his ancestral estates and thus contributed 1,000,000 thalers to the cause. From the 24th of March to the ist of April Kosciuszko remained at Cracow organizing his forces. On the 3rd of April at Raclawice, with 4000 regulars, and 2000 peasants armed only with scythes and pikes, and next to no artillery, he defeated the Russians, who had 5000 veterans and 30 guns.

This victory had an immense moral effect, and brought into the Polish camp crowds of waverers to what had at first seemed a desperate cause. For the next two months Kosciuszko remained on the defensive near Sandomir. He durst not risk another engagement with the only army which Poland so far possessed, and he had neither money, officers nor artillery. The country, harried incessantly during the last two years, was in a pitiable condition. There was nothing to feed the troops in the very provinces they occupied, and pro-visions had to be imported from Galicia. Money could only be obtained-by such desperate expedients as the melting of the plate of the churches and monasteries, which was brought in to Kosciuszko's camp at Pinczow and subsequently coined at Warsaw, minus the royal effigy, with the inscription: "Freedom, Integrity and Independence of the Republic, 1794." Moreover, Poland was unprepared.

Most of the regular troops were incorporated in the Russian army, from which it was very difficult to break away, and until these soldiers came in Kosciuszko had principally to depend on the valour of his scythemen. But in the month of April the whole situation improved. On the 17th of that month the 2000 Polish troops in Warsaw expelled the Russian garrison after days of street fighting, chiefly through the ability of General Mokronowski, and a provisional government was formed. Five days later Jakob Jasinski drove the Russians from Wilna. By this time Kosciuszko's forces had risen to 14,000, of whom 10,000 were regulars, and he was thus able to resume the offensive. He had carefully avoided doing anything to provoke Austria or Prussia. The former was described in his manifestoes as a potential friend ; the latter he never alluded to as an enemy. " Remember," he wrote, " that the only war we have upon our hands is war to the death against the Muscovite tyranny." Nevertheless, Austria remained suspicious and obstructive; and the Prussians, while professing neutrality, very speedily effected a junction with the Russian forces.

This Kosciuszko, misled by the treacherous assurances of Frederick William's ministers, never anticipated, when on the 4th of June he marched against General Denisov. He encountered the enemy on the 5th of June at Szczekociny, and then discovered that his 14,000 men had to do not merely with a Russian division but with the combined forces of Russia and Prussia, numbering 25,000 men. Nevertheless, the Poles acquitted themselves man-fully, and at dusk retreated in perfect order upon Warsaw un-pursued. Yet their losses had been terrible, and of the six Polish generals present three, whose loss proved to be irreparable, were slain, and two of the others were seriously wounded. A week later another Polish division was defeated at Kholm; Cracow was taken by the Prussians on the 22nd of June; and the mob at Warsaw broke upon the gaols and murdered the political prisoners in cold blood.

Kosciuszko summarily punished the ringleaders of the massacres and had 10,000 of the rank and file drafted into his camp, which measures had a quieting effect. But now dissensions broke out among the members of the Polish government, and it required all the tact of Kosciuszko to restore order amidst this chaos of suspicions and recriminations. At this very time too he had need of all his ability and resource to meet the external foes of Poland. On the 9th of July Warsaw was invested by Frederick William of Prussia with an army of 25,000 men and 179 guns, and the Russian general Fersen with 16,000 men and 74 guns, while a third force of 11,000 occupied the right bank of the Vistula. Kosciuszko for the defence of the city and its outlying fortifications could dispose of 35,000 men, of whom io,000 were regulars. But the position, defended by 200 inferior guns, was a strong one, and the valour of the Poles and the engineering skill of Kosciuszko, who was now in his element, frustrated all the efforts of the enemy.

Two unsuccessful assaults were made upon the Polish positions on the 26th of August and the 1st of September, and on the 6th the Prussians, alarmed by the progress of the Polish arms in Great Poland, where Jan Henryk Dabrowski captured the Prussian fortress of Bydogoszcz and compelled General Schwerin with his 20,000 men to retire upon Kalisz, raised the siege. Elsewhere, indeed, after a brief triumph the Poles were everywhere worsted, and Suvarov, after driving them before him out of Lithuania was advancing by forced marches upon Warsaw. Even now, however, the situation was not desperate, for the Polish forces were still numerically superior to the Russian. But the Polish generals proved unequal to carrying out the plans of the dictator; they allowed themselves to be beaten in detail, and could not prevent the junction of Suvarov and Fersen. Kosciuszko himself, relying on the support of Poninski's division 4 m. away, attacked Fersen at Maciejowice on the loth of October. But Poninski never appeared, and after a bloody encounter the Polish army of 7000 was almost annihilated by the 16,00o Russians; and Kosciuszko, seriously wounded and insensible, was made a prisoner on the field of battle. The long credited story that he cried "Finis Poloniae!" as he fell is a fiction. Kosciuszko was conveyed to Russia, where he remained till the accession of Paul in 1796. On his return on the 19th of December 1796 he paid a second visit to America, and lived at Philadelphia till May 1798, when he went to Paris, where the First Consul earnestly invited his cooperation against the Allies.

But he refused to draw his sword unless Napoleon undertook to give the restoration of Poland a leading place in his plans; and to this, as he no doubt foresaw, Bonaparte would not consent. Again and again he received offers of high commands in the French army, but he kept aloof from public life in his house at Berville, near Paris, where the emperor Alexander visited him in 1814. At the Congress of Vienna his importunities on behalf of Poland finally wearied Alexander, who preferred to follow the counsels of Czartoryski; and Kosciuszko retired to Solothurn, where he lived with his friend Zeltner. Shortly before his death, on the 2nd of April 1817, he emancipated his serfs, insisting only on the maintenance of schools on the liberated estates. His remains were carried to Cracow and buried in the cathedral; while the people, reviving an ancient custom, raised a huge mound to his memory near the city. Kosciuszko was essentially a democrat, but a democrat of the school of Jefferson and Lafayette. He maintained that the republic could only be regenerated on the basis of absolute liberty and equality before the law; but in this respect he was far in advance of his age, and the aristocratic prejudices of his country-men compelled him to resort to half measures.


He wrote Maneuvres of Horse Artillery (New York, 1808) and a description of the campaign of 1792 (in vol. xvi. of E. Raczynski's Sketch of the Poles and Poland; Posen, 1843).


  • Jozef Zajaczek, History of the Revolution of 1794 (Pol.) (Lem-berg, 1880)
  • Leonard Jakob Borejko Chodzko, Biographie du general Kosciuszko (Fontainebleau. 1837)
  • Karol Falkenstein, Thaddeus Kosciuszko (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1834; French ed., Paris, 1839)
  • Antoni Choloniewski, Tadeusz Kosciuszko (Pol.) (Lemberg, 1902)
  • Franciszek Rychlicki, T. Kosciuszko and the Partition of Poland (Pol.) (Cracow, 1875).

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