The Polish captain stood out in an army bereft of military engineers, a shortage of immense concern to Washington and Congress. On 18 October 1776, Congress commissioned Kosciuszko a colonel and later authorized an Army Corps of Engineers, long delayed by the dearth of qualified candidates. The arrival of Louis Le Bègue de Presie Duportail with a coterie of French veterans hastened the Corps' formation but slowed Kosciuszko's ascent, for the two men distrusted one another. Nevertheless, Kosciuszko served with distinction throughout the war, most notably in laying out West Point's defenses, fatally slowing Gen. John Burgoyne's 1777 expedition below Ticonderoga, and selecting the battlefield for the American victory at Bemis Heights.
[See also Engineering, Military; Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Miecislaus Haiman , Kosciuszko in the American Revolution, 1972.
J. Mark Thompson
"Kosciuszko, Thaddeus." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kosciuszko-thaddeus
"Kosciuszko, Thaddeus." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kosciuszko-thaddeus
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Born February 12, 1746
Breescin, Lithuania (then part of Poland)
Died October 15, 1817
Polish-born American military leader
Thaddeus Kosciuszko is one of Poland's most honored patriots as well as one of America's most honored heroes. Kosciuszko came to America during the Revolutionary War to help create a new independent nation. He built vital forts, then went on to become widely admired for his kindness and military skill. Back in Poland, he led his comrades in an effort to rid his country of Russian domination. Even today, his name stands as an international symbol of the fight for liberty and human rights.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko (pronounced THAD-ee-us ko-SHOE-sko) was born in the Lithuanian region of Poland on February 12, 1746. His parents were Ludwig Kosciuszko, an army colonel (pronounced KER-nuhl) and member of the minor nobility, and Thecla Ratomska Kosciuszko. As the youngest of four sons, Kosciuszko could share in but not inherit control of the family estates, so he chose to make his career in the army.
Kosciuszko's father died in 1758, during the years Kosciuszko was being tutored by his uncle and attending Roman Catholic schools near his home. In 1765 the bright youth entered the Royal Military School in Warsaw, Poland, in time becoming an instructor of students. In 1768 he was made a captain, and he graduated the following year.
Kosciuszko earned a scholarship and borrowed money from his family to attend military school in Paris, France, where he studied engineering and artillery (the science of using guns). For one year he attended an art school in Paris, which helped him develop his skills as an artist and draftsman. Many of his sketches have been preserved.
Brokenhearted, leaves Poland for America
In 1774 Kosciuszko returned to Poland. Two years earlier, Prussia (a state in Germany), Russia, and Austria, three countries that surrounded Poland, had achieved a bloodless takeover of the country. They divided various sections of Poland, leaving a greatly diminished nation. Russia took over Lithuania, where the Kosciuszko family lived. Kosciuszko came home to find that the Polish army was now almost nonexistent and that his brother had squandered most of the family fortune.
While in Poland, Kosciuszko fell in love with Ludwika Sosnowska (pronounced lewd-VEE-ka sos-NOV-ska), the daughter of a wealthy nobleman. But her father, fearing that Kosciuszko had no prospects for making much money, put an end to the relationship. The brokenhearted Kosciuszko never married.
Kosciuszko lacked the funds to buy a commission (position as an officer) in the army. Seeing no future for himself in Poland, he sailed to America to obtain an officer's commission from the Continental Congress, the governing body during the American Revolution (1775–83). American Charles Henry Lee, who had served in the Polish army for five years and later held a military position in America, helped Kosciuszko obtain a commission with the Continental army, the army of the American rebels. Kosciuszko got involved in America's fight for independence out of a desire to help people resist unjust rule—a cause that he strongly supported all his life.
Serves in the American Revolution
Kosciuszko arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1775, and soon went to work for the Pennsylvania Committee of Defense as an engineer. Engineers were responsible for designing and building fortifications, bridges, and other structures. He used his engineering talents to help plan and supervise the construction of forts along the Delaware River. The forts were vital to thwarting any attempt by the British navy to attack the city of Philadelphia, then America's capital city. In October 1776, Congress made Kosciuszko a colonel of engineers in the Continental army.
Later that year, Kosciuszko took part in the Battle of Ticonderoga, New York. There he advised American general Horatio Gates to fortify a site known as Bemis Heights. This was done, and the British were unable to take Bemis Heights. Their failure played a major role in the great 1777 victory of the Americans over the British forces of General John Burgoyne see entry at Saratoga, New York.
In the spring of 1778, Kosciuszko went to West Point, New York, to oversee the construction of forts there. In 1780 he went to serve in the south under General Nathanael Greene in the Carolina campaign. He stayed there as a fighting officer and an engineer until the capture of Charleston, South Carolina, by the British in 1782.
Receives American honors, returns to Poland
In October 1783, after the Treaty of Paris was signed and the war was officially over, the Continental Congress showed its thanks to Kosciuszko. He was promoted to brigadier general, made an American citizen, and granted 500 acres of land in Ohio. General George Washington presented him with a sword and two pistols to show his appreciation for Kosciuszko's help. Washington welcomed him into the Society of the Cincinnati, an exclusive club for former Revolutionary War officers. The society was named for the heroic Roman citizen-soldier Cincinnatus. Washington also presented Kosciuszko with the antique cameo ring the Society had given to Washington.
Kosciuszko stayed for a time in New York City. With no duties to perform, he left for a brief vacation in Paris, and in 1784 returned home to Poland. There he spent several restless years in retirement in the Polish countryside. Though much of Poland was still divided among Prussia, Austria, and Russia, there had developed a strong desire for liberty among Poland's common people.
In 1789 King Stanislas of Poland asked Kosciuszko to return to active duty in the Polish army as a major general and help train young soldiers. When Russia declared war on Poland in the spring of 1792, Kosciuszko led a small and poorly supplied unit in an attempt to defend his country. But his troops met with quick defeat; he was forced to flee Poland and went to France. There he sought financial help for the rebel Poles. But France was in the middle of a revolution and could not help.
In 1794 Kosciuszko returned to Poland, where he led a victorious uprising of Polish citizens. He was chosen to be the country's leader. He instituted reforms that granted much greater freedom to individuals than had previously been permitted. But before long, a large and well-armed Russian force defeated his soldiers and put down the rebellion.
Kosciuszko was captured and sent to a prison near St. Petersburg, Russia. He was released by Russian Czar (emperor) Paul I in November 1796. After he promised never again to take up arms against Russia, he was exiled. Kosciuszko traveled to several European countries, then returned to a hero's welcome in America in 1797. Congress gave him a considerable amount of back pay it owed him. Kosciuszko used the money to buy black slaves in America and give them their freedom.
Works for freedom of Poland
In 1799 Kosciuszko returned to France. There he wrote an account of his war experiences in America, a major study of the horse artillery, and a variety of articles, including one concerning democracy.
From 1799 to 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte engaged in a series of battles, called the Napoleonic Wars, to establish a French empire throughout Europe. In 1806 Napoleon asked for Kosciuszko's help in the invasion of Russia, but Kosciuszko, having given his word to the Russian czar, refused. Poland did join in the fighting.
The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 with the downfall of Napoleon, by then the emperor. During that time, Kosciuszko met in Paris with Czar Alexander of Russia (who succeeded Paul I in 1801). He tried to gain the czar's support for the restoration of an independent Polish nation and an amnesty (forgiveness without penalties) for Polish patriot prisoners of Russia. But despite his agreement and promises to Kosciuszko, the czar failed to deliver.
The Congress of Vienna, made up of representatives of various European powers, met in Austria in 1815. There they signed a peace treaty that settled the wars. The treaty readjusted territories throughout the continent and restored the European monarchies Napoleon had overthrown. It also established the "Kingdom of Poland," a tiny country that belonged to Russia and was subject to its laws, and distributed the rest of Poland among Russia, Austria, and Prussia.
During that time, Kosciuszko spoke out in favor of Polish democracy. In 1816 he freed the serfs on his Polish estate. Serfs were workers, often farm laborers, who were bound to the land by the lord who owned it. They could neither be thrown off the land nor leave it voluntarily.
Final years in Switzerland
Kosciuszko decided that he could no longer bear to live in his greatly diminished homeland. On a visit to Switzerland, he became friends with Francis Xavier Zeltner, brother of the Swiss ambassador, who invited him to come and stay with his family in Soleure (pronounced so-LUR), Switzerland. Soleure was a pretty city at the base of the Jura Mountains.
Kosciuszko took up residence with the Zeltners, and before long he was like a member of the family. He spent his time riding horses and reading history and geography books. On October 15, 1817, Kosciuszko died after a brief illness. His remains were returned to Poland and buried at the cathedral at Cracow.
The people of Poland mourned Kosciuszko as a national hero. He had directed in his will that his lands in Ohio be sold and the profits used to free American slaves. The money also went to found the Colored School at Newark, New Jersey, one of the first schools for black students established in the United States.
Thomas Jefferson see entry, who was a friend of Kosciuszko, once wrote of his admiration for "the purity of [Kosciuszko's] virtue, the [kindness] of his heart, and his sincere devotion to the cause of liberty." The French Duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt (pronounced ROWSH-foo-ko LEE-en-cor) wrote about the Polish hero in his personal diary: "There is no heart friendlier to liberty, or an admirer of virtue and talent, in whom the name of Kosciuszko does not excite sentiments of interest and respect…. Elevation and sentiment, grandeur, sweetness, force, goodness, all that commands respect and homage, appear to me to be concentrated in this celebrated and interesting [man]."
For More Information
Abodaher, David J. Warrior on Two Continents: Thaddeus Kosciuszko. New York: Julian Messner, 1968.
"Kosciuszko, Tadeusz." Webster's American Military Biographies. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Co. Publishers, 1978, pp. 221-22.
"Kosciuszko, Thaddeus." Who Was Who During the American Revolution. Compiled by the editors of Who's Who in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1976, p. 502.
Pula, James S. Thaddeus Kosciuszko: The Purest Son of Liberty. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999.
"Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Suzanne M. Bourgoin and Paula K. Byers, eds. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998, vol. 9, p. 88.
Ward, Harry M. "Kosciuszko, Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura." American National Biography. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, vol. 12, pp. 884-85.
Foreign Soldiers in the Continental Army
Throughout the Revolutionary War, General George Washington faced constant manpower and supply shortages. The situation improved after Silas Deane (1737–1789; America's first ambassador abroad) went to France in 1776 to request military assistance. The French sent supply ships, and soon there was an influx of foreign officers from throughout Europe into the American army.
Deane was not qualified to sort out the good soldiers from the bad, and he was inclined to say yes to anyone who had a noble title. The foreign officers proved to be a mixed blessing. Many were adventurers searching for fortune or reputation. Most found it difficult to adjust to American conditions, and few were willing to accept any but the highest ranks. Their arrogance caused trouble among Americans. Nevertheless, they brought with them a professional military knowledge and competence that the Continental army sorely needed. Once the misfits had been identified and placed where they could do the least harm, the foreign officers' skills were exploited by the Americans to considerable advantage.
It took time for these foreign volunteers to make their presence felt. Louis du Portail, a Frenchman, and Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Pole, did much to advance the art of engineering in the Continental army. Casimir Pulaski organized its first real cavalry unit. Johann de Kalb and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, both Germans, and the Marquis de Lafayette (see entries), a French nobleman, made valuable contributions as trainers and leaders of the Continental forces.
"Kosciuszko, Thaddeus." American Revolution Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/educational-magazines/kosciuszko-thaddeus
"Kosciuszko, Thaddeus." American Revolution Reference Library. . Retrieved September 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/educational-magazines/kosciuszko-thaddeus