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Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko ([ta'deuʃ koɕ'ʨuʃko]; 1746 – 1817) was a Polish and Lithuanian national hero, general and a leader of 1794 uprising (which bears his name) against the Russian Empire. He fought in the American Revolutionary War as a colonel in the Continental Army on the side of Washington. In recognition of his dedicated and faithful service he was brevetted by the Continental Congress to the rank of Brigadier General in 1783, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States that same year.
There are several Anglicized spellings for his name, but the most frequent is Thaddeus Kosciusko, the spelling his modern-day family uses, though the full Andrew Thaddeus Bonventure Kosciusko also appears in some texts. In Lithuanian, his name is spelled Tadas Kosciuška. In Belarusian his name is spelled Тадэвуш Касьцюшка (Tadevuš Kaściuška).
Tadeusz Kościuszko was born February 4, 1746, in the village of Mereszowszczyzna, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth (now Kosava in Belarus), to the szlachta family of Ludwik Tadeusz Kościuszko and Tekla (née Ratomska). His family’s ancestor was a certain Konstanty, a courtier of king Sigismund I who in 1509 was granted the village of Sihnievičy(Polish: Siechnowicze), given nobility, became szlachcic, and used the Roch III Coat of Arms. However, by the time Tadeusz was born his family was already somewhat impoverished and the village with its small manor was their only property.
In 1755 Tadeusz and his elder brother Józef started education in a Piarist school in Lubieszów. After five years, in 1760, both were forced to return home due to family problems. Józef was chosen to inherit the family’s property and Tadeusz decided to start a military career.
In 1764 king Stanisław August Poniatowski created the Szkoła Rycerska, a university that was to educate the cadre of well-educated officers and state officials. On December 18, 1765, Tadeusz Kościuszko joined the newly-formed school and became a member of its Cadet Corps. Apart from the strictly military-related subjects, he studied also history of Poland, history of the World, philosophy, Latin, Polish, German and French language, as well as law, economy, geography, arithmetic, geometry and engineering. Upon his graduation he was promoted to Captain.
Kościuszko in France
In 1769 Kościuszko and his colleague Orłowski were granted a royal scholarship and on October 5 they set off for Paris. There Kościuszko briefly studied in the Academy of Fine Arts, but soon he realised that the career of a painter was not what he dreamt of. However, as a foreigner he could not apply for any of the French military academies and he lacked funds necessary to study engineering. However, for five years Kościuszko educated himself as an extern, by attending various lectures and the libraries of the military academies of Paris. His stay in pre-revolutionary France had a tremendous influence on his later political views.
Return to Poland
After the first partition of Poland-Lithuania the neighbouring countries of Russia, Prussia and Austria annexed a large part of the Polish-Lithuanian territory and secured their influence on the internal politics of Poland and Lithuania. The country was forced to reduce the Polish Army to 10,000 soldiers and when Kościuszko finally returned home in 1774, there was no place for him in the armed forces. His difficult economic situation also prevented him from getting married and in the autumn of 1775 Kościuszko decided to emigrate.
Dresden and Paris
In late 1775 Kościuszko arrived in Dresden, where he wanted to join either the Saxon court or the elector’s army. However, he was refused and decided to travel back to Paris. There he was informed of the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, in which the former British colonies in North America revolted against the crown and started the fight for independence. The first American successes were well publicised in France and the cause of the revolutionaries was openly supported by the French people, whose government also supported the Americans.
American Revolutionary War
Kościuszko was recruited in France by Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin and in August 1776 he arrived in America. He initially served as a volunteer but Congress later commissioned him a Colonel of Engineers in the Continental Army on October 18, 1776. Due to the recommendation of Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski and General Charles Lee, Kościuszko was named head engineer of the Continental Army.
He was sent to Pennsylvania for his work with the Continental Army. Shortly after arriving, he read the United States Declaration of Independence. Kościuszko was moved by the document because it encompassed everything in which he believed; he was so moved, in fact, that he decided to meet Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration. The two met in Virginia a few months later. After spending the day discussing philosophy, and other things they shared in common, they became very close friends. Kościuszko was a guest at Monticello, on many occasions, and spent prolonged visits there.
Kościuszko’s first task in America was the fortification of Philadelphia. On September 24, 1776, Kościuszko was ordered to fortify the banks of the Delaware River against a possible British crossing. In the spring of 1777 he was attached to the Northern Army under General Horatio Gates. As the chief engineer of the army he commanded the construction of several forts and fortified military camps along the Canadian border. His work made significant contributions to the American successful retreat from the battle of Ticonderoga and victory at Saratoga in 1777.
After the battle, Kościuszko, then regarded as one of the best engineers in American service, was put in charge by George Washington of military engineering works at the stronghold in West Point on the Hudson River. Then he asked to be transferred to the Southern Army, where he also made significant contributions to the American victories.
After seven years of service, on October 13, 1783, Kościuszko was promoted by the Congress to the rank of Brigadier General. He was also granted American citizenship, 2.5 square kilometres of land in America, and a large sum of money. He used the money to help some black slaves gain their freedom. He was also admitted to the prestigious Society of the Cincinnati, one of only three foreigners allowed to join, and to the American Philosophical Society.
Return to Poland
In July 1784 Kościuszko set off for Poland, where he arrived on August 12. He settled in his home village of Siechnowicze. The property, administered by Tadeusz’s brother-in-law, brought small yet stable profits and Kościuszko decided to limit the corvee of his serfs to two days a week, while completely freeing all female serfs. This move was seen by the local szlachta as a sign of dangerous liberalism of Kościuszko.
By that time the internal situation in Poland changed rapidly. A strong yet still informal group of politicians underlined the need of reforms and strengthening of the state. Notable political writers like Stanisław Staszic and Hugo Kołłątaj promoted the ideas of granting the serfs and the burghers more rights and strengthening the central authorities. These ideas were supported by a large part of the szlachta, who also wanted to overthrow the foreign dictate and meddling in Poland’s internal affairs.
Finally the Sejm Wielki of 1788-1792 started the necessary reforms. One of the first acts of the new parliament assumed the creation of a 100,000 men strong army to defend the borders of Poland against her aggressive neighbours. Kościuszko saw it as a chance to return to military service and serve his country in the field he had the most experience. He applied for the army and on October 12, 1789, received the royal nomination to Major General. As such he also started receiving a high salary of 12,000 złotys a year, which ended his financial difficulties.
The internal situation in Poland and the reforms of the May Constitution of Poland, the first constitution written in the modern era in Europe and second in the world after the American, were seen by the surrounding powers as a threat to their influence over Polish politics. On May 14, 1792, the conservative magnates created the Confederation of Targowica, which asked the Russian empress Catherine II for help in overthrowing the constitution. On May 18, 1792 a Russian army of 100,000 crossed the Polish border and headed for Warsaw, thus starting the War in Defence of the Constitution.
War in Defence of the Constitution
Although the plan for creation of a 100,000 men strong army in Poland was not accomplished due to economic problems, the Polish Army was well-trained and prepared for the war. Before the Russians invaded Poland, Kościuszko was made the deputy commander of the 3rd Crown Infantry Division of Prince Józef Poniatowski. When the latter was made the Commander in Chief of all the Polish army in May of 1792, Kościuszko automatically assumed command of the unit.
After the betrayal of Prussian allies, the Army of Lithuania did not oppose the advancing Russians. The Polish Army was too weak to oppose the enemy advancing in the Ukraine and withdrew to the western side of the Bug river, where it regrouped and counter-attacked. Victorious in the battle of Zieleńce (June 18), Kościuszko was among the first to receive the newly-created Virtuti Militari medal, the highest military decoration of Poland, even today.
In the following battles of Włodzimierz (July 17) and Dubienka (July 18) Kościuszko repelled the numerically superior enemy and became regarded as one of the most brilliant Polish military commanders of his time. On August 1, 1792, the king promoted Kościuszko to Lieutenant General. However, before the nomination arrived to Kościuszko’s camp in Sieciechów, king Stanisław August joined the ranks of the Targowica confederation and surrendered to the Russians.
The capitulation of the king was a hard blow for Kościuszko, who did not lose a single battle in the campaign. Together with many other notable Polish commanders and politicians he fled to Dresden and then to Leipzig, where the emigrants started preparing an uprising against Russian rule in Poland. The politicians, grouped around Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaj, sought contacts with similar groups of opposition formed in Poland and by spring 1793 were joined by other politicians and revolutionaries, among them Ignacy Działyński and Karol Prozor.
On August 26, 1792, the French Legislative Assembly awarded Kościuszko with honorary citizenship of France in honour of his fight for freedom of his fatherland and the ideas of equality and liberty. After two weeks in Leipzig, Kościuszko set off for Paris, where he tried to gain French support of the planned uprising in Poland.
On January 13, 1793, Prussia and Russia signed the Second Partition of Poland, which was ratified by the Sejm of Grodno on June 17. Such an outcome was a giant blow for the members of Targowica Confederation who saw their actions as defence of centuries-old privileges of the magnates, but now were regarded by the majority of Polish population as traitors. After the partition Poland became a small country of roughly 200,000 square kilometres and population of approximately 4 million. The economy was ruined and the support for the cause of an uprising grew significantly, especially that there was no serious opposition to the idea after the Targowica confederation was discredited.
In June of 1793 Kościuszko prepared a plan of an all-national uprising, mobilisation of all the forces and a war against Russia. The preparations in Poland were slow and he decided to postpone the outbreak. However, the situation in Poland was changing rapidly. The Russian and Prussian governments forced Poland to again disband the majority of her armed forces and the reduced units were to be drafted to the Russian army. Also, in March the tsarist agents discovered the group of the revolutionaries in Warsaw and started arresting notable Polish politicians and military commanders. Kościuszko was forced to execute his plan earlier than planned and on March 15, 1794 he set off for Kraków.
Tadeusz Kościuszko taking the oath to liberate Poland from oppression on Kraków’s Market Square on March 24, 1794. A 1797 painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz.During the Uprising, Kościuszko was made the Naczelnik (Commander-in-Chief) of all Polish-Lithuanian forces fighting against Russian occupation, and issued the famous Proclamation of Połaniec. After initial successes following the Battle of Racławice, he was wounded in the Battle of Maciejowice and taken prisoner by the Russians, who imprisoned him in Saint Petersburg. The Uprising ended soon afterwards with the Massacre of Praga.
In 1796 Paul I of Russia pardoned Kościuszko and set him free. In exchange for his oath of loyalty, Paul I liberated also approximately 20,000 Polish political prisoners still held in Russian prisons and forcibly settled in Siberia. Kościuszko emigrated to the United States, but the following year he returned to Europe and in 1798 he settled in Breville near Paris. Still devoted to the Polish cause, Tadeusz Kościuszko took part in creation of the Polish Legions. Also, on October 17 and November 6, 1799, he met Napoleon Bonaparte. However, he did not trust the French leader and decided not to support his idea of re-creation of Poland under the auspice of France.
He remained an active politician in the circles of the Polish emigrants in France and in 1799 he was one of the founding members of the Society of Polish Republicans. However, he did not return to the Duchy of Warsaw and did not join the reborn Polish Army allied with Napoleon. Instead, after the fall of Napoleon’s empire in 1815 he met with tsar Alexander I of Russia in Braunau. Alexander asked him to go to Warsaw, however soon afterwards in Vienna Kościuszko learned that the Kingdom of Poland created by the tsar would be even smaller than the Duchy of Warsaw. Kościuszko called such an entity ‘a joke’ and when he received no replies to the letters he send to the tsar, he left Vienna and moved to Solothurn in Switzerland, where his friend Franciszek Zeltner was a mayor. Suffering from poor health and old wounds, Tadeusz Kościuszko died there of a fall from his horse on October 15, 1817.
In 1818 his ashes were transferred to Kraków and interred in a crypt in the Wawel Cathedral, the pantheon of Polish national heroes and kings. His descendants are still among us and honor him to this day.
Things and places named after Kościuszko
General Thaddeus Kosciuszko House, 301 Pine Street (at 3rd Street), Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA. West (front) elevation along Pine Street. The house is now the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, administered under Independence National Historical Park. As a national hero of both Poland and the USA, Kościuszko became the namesake of numerous places in the world. The Polish explorer Count Paweł Edmund Strzelecki named the highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko, for him. Nowadays the mountain is the central point of the Kosciuszko National Park.
He is also the namesake of Kosciusko, Mississippi, Kosciusko County in Indiana, the two Kosciuszko Bridges in New York State (one just north of Albany, the other on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway), Kosciuszko Street (BMT Jamaica Line), the Kosciuszko Bridge that crosses the Naugatuck river in Naugatuck, Connecticut, Kosciuszko Park across from the Polish Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, Wisconsin contains an equestrian statue honoring him, and Thaddeus Kosciusko Way in downtown Los Angeles. There is a statue of him in Detroit, one in Boston Public Garden, one in Scranton, Pennsylvania, one in Museum Campus in Chicago, one in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., one at the USMA in West Point, New York, one in Williams Park in St. Petersburg, Florida, and, as of 2006, one in the Red Bud Springs Memorial Park in Kosciusko, Mississippi. His home in Philadelphia is preserved as Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial. There is also his monument at the corner of Benjamin Franklin Pkwy and 18th Street. In Hamtramck, MI there is a school named Kosciuszko Middle School. Chicago has a public park named for him, and the city of East Chicago, Indiana, has a public park (with statue), a school, and a neighborhood, all bearing Kosciuszko’s name.
In Poland every major town has a street or a square named after Kościuszko. Also, between 1820 and 1823 the citizens of Kraków erected a mound  to commemorate the leader. A similar mound was erected in 1861 in Olkusz . He is also a patron of the Kraków University of Technology, the Military University of Wrocław and countless other schools and gymnasia throughout Poland. He was also the patron of 1st Regiment of the Polish 5th Rifle Division, 1st Division of the Polish 1st Army and the 303rd Polish Squadron. There are also two ships named after him: S/S Kosciuszko and ORP Generał Tadeusz Kościuszko, a former US Navy frigate transferred to Poland. Also, there are streets named after Kościuszko in downtown Belgrade, Serbia (Ulica Tadeuša Košćuška), as well as in Budapest, Hungary (Kosciuszkó Tádé utca). In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, one of important streets is named after Kościuszko (Kosciuškos gatvė).
“As pure a son of liberty as I have ever known,” said Thomas Jefferson about Kościuszko.