Thaddeus Kosciusko

THADDEUS KOSCIUSKO, the last generalissimo of the republic of Poland, one of the noblest characters of his age, was descended from an ancient and noble, though not rich family, in Lithuania, and was born in 1756. He was educated in the military school at Warsaw. The prince Adam Czartoriski, perceiving his talents and industry, made him second lieutenant in the corps of cadets, and sent him, at his own expense, to France, where he studied drawing and the military art. After his return, he was made captain. But the consequences of an unhappy passion for the daughter of Sosnowski, marshal of Lithuania (who was afterwards married to the prince Jos. Lubomirski), obliged him to leave Poland. Solitary studies, particularly in history and mathematics, and an elevated character, prepared him for the struggle for freedom, in which he engaged under Washington, who made him his aid. He distinguished himself particularly at the siege of Ninety-Six, and was very highly esteemed by the army and the commander in-chief. He and Lafayette were the only foreigners admitted into the Cincinnati. Kosciusko received the rank of general, and, in 1786, re turned to Poland. When the Polish army was formed (1789), the diet appointed him a major-general. He declared himself for the constitution of May 3, 1791, and served under prince Joseph Poniatowski. In the campaign of 1792, he distinguished himself against the Russians at Zieleneck and Dubienka. At the latter place, under cover of some works which he had thrown up in the course of 24 hours, he repulsed, with 1000 men, three successive attacks of 18,000 Russians, who prevailed only after the loss of 4,000 men. Kosciusko retired without having suffered severely. When king Stanislaus submitted to Catharine, he, with sixteen other officers, left the army, and was, therefore, obliged to retire from Poland. He went to Leipsic; and the legislative assembly of France, at this time, gave him the rights of a French citizen. The Poles becoming impatient under the oppression of Russia, some of Kosciusko's friends in Warsaw determined to make an effort for the liberation of their country. They chose Kosciusk o as their general, and made him acquainted with their plans. He imparted them to the counts Ignatius, Potocki and Kolontai in Dresden, who thought the enterprise injudicious. Kosciusko, however, went to the frontier, and sent general Zajonezeck and general Dzialynski into the Russian provinces of Poland, to prepare everything in silence. But when the Polish army was merged, in part, in the Russian, and the remainder reduced to 15,000 men, the insurrection broke out before the time fixed on. In Posen, Madalinski forcibly opposed the dissolution of his regiment. All now flew to arms; the Russian garrison was expelled from Cracow. Just at this moment, Kosciusko entered the city. The citizens now formed the act of confederation of Cracow (March 24, 1794), and Kosciusko, at their head, called upon the Poles to restore the constitution of May 3. Kosciusko then advanced to meet the Russian forces. Without artillery, at the head of only 4,000 men, part of whom were armed only with scythes and pikes, he defeated 12,000 Russians at Raclawice (April 4, 1794.) His army was now increased to 9,000 men, and he formed a junction with general Grochowski.

In the mean time, the Russian garrisons of Warsaw and Wilna had been put to death, or made prisoners. Kosciusko checked the outbreak of popular fury, sent troops against Volhynia, and organized the government at Warsaw. He marched out of the city, with 13,000 men, to oppose 17,000 Russians and Prussians, attacked them at Szezekocini, June 6, but was defeated after an obstinate conflict. He retreated to his entrenched camp before Warsaw. The Prussians took Cracow. Disturbances broke out, in conseqence, in Warsaw, June 28. The people murdered a part of the prisoners, and hung some Poles who were connected with the Russians. But Kosciusko punished the guilty, and restored order. The king of Prussia now formed a junction with the Russians, and besieged Warsaw with 60,000 men. Kosciusko, however, kept up the courage of his countrymen. After two months of bloody fighting, he repelled, with 10,000 men, a general assault. All Great Poland now rose, under Dombrowski, against the Prussians. This circumstance, together with the loss of a body of artillery, compelled the king of Prussia to raise the siege of Warsaw. Thus this bold general, with an army of 20,000 regular troops and 40,000 armed peasants, maintained himself against four hostile armies, amounting together to 150,000 men.

His great power consisted in the confidence which his fellow-citizens reposed in him. The nephew of the king, once his general, served under him. Kosciusko had unlimited power in the republic, but he displayed the integrity of Washington, and the activity of Caesar. He attended the procuring supplies, superintended the raising and payment of money, and prevented plundering and fraud, and was equally active in the council and the field. His days and nights, all his powers, were devoted to his country. He secured the administration of justice, abolished bondage, and finally restored to the nation, May 29, in the supreme national council which he established, the great power which had been delegated to him. Catharine at length decided the contest by an overwhelming superiority of numbers Suwaroff defeated the Poles under Sierakowski at Brzec, in Volhynia, September 18th and 19th. Repnin penetrated through Lithuania, and formed a union with Suwaroff; general Fersen was to support them with 12,000 men. To prevent this, Kosciusko marched from Warsaw with 21,000 men. Poninski was to have supported him with his division; but the Russians intercepted the messenger. The united Russian armies under Fersen attacked the Poles, who were not more than one-third as strong as the Russian, October 10, at Macziewice (about 50 miles from Warsaw); they were three times repulsed, but, on the fourth attack, they broke through the Polish lines. Kosciusko fell from his horse covered with wounds, exclaiming Finis Poloniae, and was made prisoner by the enemy. In losing him, his country lost all. Suwaroff stormed Praga November 4; Warsaw capitulated on the 9th; Madalinski left Great Poland; an Austrian army appeared before Lublin. But the noble efforts of the conquered had awakened the regard of Europe towards the unhappy country, and the dearest hopes of the nation - the restoration of their monarchy, with a free constitution - found a powerful support in public opinion. Catharine caused the hero and his noble colleagues, who were prisoners of war, to be thrown into a state prison. Paul I gave them their liberty, and distinguished Kosciusko by marks of his esteem. He presented his own sword to the general, who declined it with these words - ' I no longer need a sword, since I have no longer a country.' To the day of his death, he never again wore a sword. Paul then presented him with 1,500 peasants, and his friend Niemcewicz, the poet, with 1,000. When on the Russian frontier, Kosciusko declined this present by a letter. He and his friend now went by the way of France and London, where Kosciusko was treated with distinction, to America (1797).

His fortune was very small. On his return to his native country after the war of the revolution, he had received a pension from America, and he now found there such a reception as he deserved. In 1798, he went to France. His countrymen in the Italian army presented to him the sabre of John Sobieski, which had been found (1799) at Loretto. Napoleon afterwards formed the plan of restoring Poland to its place among the nations, and thus, at the same time, injuring Russia, and extending his own power over the east of Europe. But Kosciusko would take no part in this struggle, which was conducted by Dombrowski, in 1807-8, being prevent ed less by ill health than by having given his word to Paul I never to serve against the Russians. To Napoleon's proposals he answered, that he would exert himself in the cause of Poland, when he saw the country possessed of its ancient territories, and having a free constitution.' Fouché tried every means to carry him to Poland. An appeal to the Poles, which appeared under his name in the Moniteur of November 1, 1806, he declared to be spurious.

Having purchased an estate in the neighborhood of Fontainebleau, he lived there in retirement until 1814. April 9, 1814, he wrote to the emperor Alexander, to ask of him an amnesty for the Poles in foreign lands, and to request him to become king of Poland, and to give to the country a free constitution, like that of England. In 1815, he traveled with lord Stuart to Italy, and, in 1816, he settled at Soleure. In 1817, he abolished slavery on his estate of Siecnowicze, in Poland. He afterwards lived in retirement, enjoying the society of a few friends. Agriculture was his favorite occupation. A fall with his horse from a precipice, not far from Vevay, occasioned his death, October 16, 1817, at Soleure. He was never married. In 1818, prince Jablonowski, at the expense of the emperor Alexander, removed his body, which, at the request of the senate, the emperor allowed to be deposited in the tomb of the kings at Cracow. A monument was also erected to his memory, and the women went into mourning for his loss.