Kosciuszko, Thaddeus Andrzej Bonawentura

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Kosciuszko, Thaddeus Andrzej Bonawentura

KOSCIUSZKO, THADDEUS ANDRZEJ BONAWENTURA. (1746–1817). Continental officer. Poland. Born on his family's estate near Kosów, Poland, on 12 February 1746, Kosciuszko graduated from the Royal Military School at Warsaw, 1769. As a captain, he was sent to the school of artillery and military engineering at Mézières, France. Returning to Poland, which had just been partially partitioned, in 1774, he found little opportunity for advancing his career, and after an unfortunate love affair he returned to France. With a loan from his brother to pay his passage to America, he reached Philadelphia in August 1776, and in due course the Pennsylvania Committee of Defense employed him to assist in planning the Delaware River forts. This initial assignment gained him a commission from Congress as a colonel of engineers on 18 October 1776. He joined General Horatio Gates at Ticonderoga, and played an important role in stopping General John Burgoyne's offensive. Kosciuszko's selection and fortification of the Saratoga battlefield made possible the American victory that marked the turning point of the war.

From March 1778 until June 1780, Kosciuszko was engaged in planning and building the defenses of West Point, a place of utmost strategic importance. By this time, he and Gates had become close friends. Invited to become the chief engineer of the Southern Department, he arrived after Gates's defeat at Camden but remained to serve under General Nathanael Greene. He was assigned the mission of exploring the Catawba River Valley and was in charge of transportation during Greene's dramatic race to the Dan River. Kosciuszko's design of wagons with detachable wheels was particularly inspired. In the siege of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, from 22 May to 19 June 1781, Kosciuszko got a costly lesson in the art of practical military engineering, making two mistakes that may well have caused this operation to fail. First, he placed his siege works too close to the British fortifications, and second, he persuaded Greene to attack the British at their strongest point. During the remainder of his service in the southern region, there was more opportunity for him to show his ability as a cavalry leader than as an engineer. In the spring of 1783 he went north with Greene, and in October he was brevetted brigadier general.

In July 1784 he left New York and returned through Paris to Poland. After four years in rural retirement he became a major general in the Polish army, in October 1789. In the spring of 1792 he fought a gallant but futile campaign against the Russian invaders, which earned him promotion to lieutenant general, before his king ended Polish resistance. He and other Polish generals emigrated to Leipzig, and Kosciuszko later went to Paris to enlist the support of the French revolutionary government. The Jacobins withheld French assistance, so Kosciuszko returned to his homeland to lead a noble but unsuccessful uprising against the Russians and Prussians. Defeated and captured in October 1794, but with his country no longer in existence, Kosciuszko was freed after two years, and in August 1797 arrived in Philadelphia. Congress gave him $20,000 and 500 acres in Ohio. In May 1798 he left America and went to Paris, where Napoleon earnestly sought his military assistance. Napoleon, however, would not meet Kosciusko's terms—the promise to support the restoration of Poland. For the rest of his life, Kosciusko strove for this goal, but without success. Before his death he emancipated his serfs. Money from the sale of his Ohio land was used to establish the Colored School at Newark, New Jersey. He died in Switzerland on 15 October 1817.

SEE ALSO Burgoyne's Offensive; Philadelphia Campaign; Southern Campaigns of Nathanael Greene.


Haiman, Miecislaus. Kosciuszko in the American Revolution. New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943.

Kosciuszko Papers. Chicago: Polish Catholic Union of America.

Pula, James S. Thaddeus Kosciuszko: The Purest Son of Liberty. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles