Poland: Biographical History

By Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk


Section II



Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (b. nr. Slonim, 12 February 1746. d. Soleure, Switzerland,1817) is one of the giants of Polish history. At an early age Kosciuszko decided to join the military and studied at the Warsaw Cadet School, and in France, engineering and artillery. He volunteered to fight in the American War of Independence where he was appointed colonel of engineers in the Continental army (Oct.18 1776). During the southern advance of Burgoyne after the fall of Fort Ticonderoga (1777) he effectively delayed the British thus granting the Americans valuable time to build up their forces and he made important tactical decisions concerning the battle of Saratoga which followed. He was in charge of construction of the fortifications at West Point (1778 - 80) which made full use of the natural terrain and interlocking fields of fire. Kosciuszko proposed the establishment of a technical military school where all officers would be trained in engineering and the sciences which became the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was one of the founders of the Society of Cincinnati. In 1783 the American Congress awarded him citizenship and promoted him to the rank of Brigadier.

        During the Russo-Polish War (1792- 93), or the War of the Second Partition, he defended the Bug at Dubienka for five days with only 4000 men against 18,000. After the Second Partition of 1792, following the growing humiliation of the nation by Catherine the Great, in an effort to stop the destruction of Poland, Kosciuszko went to France to propose a league of republics which would oppose the league of sovereigns. The French were vague in their response and Kosciuszko had to return empty-handed. When, on 21 February 1794 the Russians ordered a further reduction of the army and the arrest of suspected subversives, the seeds had been sown for a national uprising. Finding that Polish officers were already in the act of revolting against the limitation of the army to 15,000 men, his hand forced, Kosciuszko arrived in Krakow on 23rd March, proclaimed the Act of Insurrection on the 24th with his famous oath in the Rynek;


"I, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, swear in the sight of God to the whole Polish nation that I will use the power entrusted to me for the personal oppression of none, but will only use it for the defence of the integrity of the boundaries, the regaining of the independence of the nation, and the solid establishment of universal freedom. So help me God and the Innocent Passion of His Son."

and was appointed dictator and commander-in-chief. His army of peasants defeated a greatly superior force of Russians at Raclawice, as a result of which a national insurrection flared up in Lithuania and Warsaw. The red four-cornered caps worn by the Krakow peasants were adopted by the National Cavalry, and later worn by the Polish lancers in Napoleon’s army, after which they became traditional wear for lancer units in all European armies. At Szczekociny, on 6 May, Kosciuszko was outnumbered by the Prussians under Frederick William, and defeated, leaving the way open for the occupation of Krakow (which they entered on 15 June). On 7 May his Polanice Manifesto gave freedom to the peasants. The new government’s army could not withstand the combined forces of Austria, Prussia and Russia and was annihilated at the bloody battle of Maciejowice, 10 October, where Kosciuszko was seriously wounded and captured. In November, Warsaw was taken by the Russians who slaughtered the population of the suburb, Praga, including women and children. Then, in 1795, the Third Partition wiped what was left of Poland off the map. The King, Stanislaw Augustus, was forced to abdicate and taken captive to St. Petersburg (where he died in 1798).


Following the death of the Tsarina Catherine II, Kosciuszko was released, going into exile to England, America (where he found himself under surveillance because of his pro-French sympathies and had to be smuggled out by his friend, Thomas Jefferson) and then to France (1798). When, in 1799, the Directory offered him the leadership of the Polish Legions he refused on the grounds that the French had shown no sign of recognising their distinct entity as a Polish national army. Kosciuszko was also uneasy about Napoleon’s ambitions and these feelings were confirmed when he proclaimed himself First Consul and then betrayed the hopes of the Legions at the Treaty of Luneville (1801). From then on he distrusted Napoleon and, suspicious of his intentions, refused to support his plan for the restoration of Poland in 1806. With the fall of Napoleon Kosciuszko watched the proceedings at the Congress of Vienna with despair and pleaded with Tsar Alexander for a restoration of Poland, to no avail. He settled at Soleure, Switzerland (1817) where he died. He left all his wealth for the purpose of freeing and educating the Negroes.


“When the Polish nation called me to defend the integrity, the independence, the dignity, the glory and the liberty of the country, she knew full well that I was not the last Pole, and that with my death on the battlefield or elsewhere Poland could not, must not end. All that the Poles have done since then in the glorious Polish legions and all that they will still do in the future to gain their country back, sufficiently proves that albeit we, the devoted soldiers of that country, are mortal, Poland is immortal”

Kosciuszko to Segur, quoted in M.M. Gardner, “Kosciuszko”, London 1920


On hearing the news of his death the government of the Free City of Krakow applied to the Tsar Alexander I (one of the “protectors”, alongside the rulers of Austria and of Prussia, of the City, according to the Congress of Vienna) for permission to inter Kosciuszko within the royal tombs of the Wawel. The Tsar, eager to court the Poles, approved. On 11 April 1818 Kosciuszko’s coffin was placed in a chapel in St. Florian’s Church and on 22 June taken, amidst great pomp, to the Wawel. He was placed next to the sarcophagi of Sobieski and Jozef Poniatowski. Shortly afterwards it was decided to raise a mound (Kopiec Kosciuszko) to his memory; a form of commemoration unique to the city of Krakow - only two others existed at the time; those of Krakus and Wanda. The work was started in 1820 when soil from Raclawice, and then Maciejowice was brought. In 1926, on the 150th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence, earth from the battlefields of America was brought over and deposited on the mound.


The house at the corner of Third and Pine Streets, Philadelphia, US, where Kosciuszko stayed during the winter of 1797-1798, was designated as the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in 1972.





Originally published at            http://www.kasprzyk.demon.co.uk/www/HistoryPolska.html