Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Kosciuszko is most probably the most internationally known military leader of Polish origin. He is a very important hero of Polish history, as he encouraged the Poles to fight and initialized the uprising to avoid the partition of Poland. Although the Poles lost the fight with 3 occupants (Russia, Austria and Prussia), Kosciuszko was remembered as one of the strongest patriots.
Tadeusz was born as a 4th child of Polish-Lithuanian family (with also Ruthenian roots), that derived from Konstanty (called Kostushko) who was a courtier of king Sigismund I. For his great service towards the king, Kosciuszko family was granted the property in Siechnowicze. As it was Tadeusz’s eldest brother who was to inherit the land, he himself chose the military career. With the support of Czartoryski family, Kosciuszko joined Corps of Cadets school that was created by Poland’s king Stanislaw Poniatowski to train officers. As he proved to be talented, and stood out from other students, he was sent for a scholarship to France. There he would enrich his engineer knowledge. He would study himself because as a foreigner – with not enough of money – he had no chances to attend French military school (and was at the same time not interested in painting and sculpture school offered to him through scholarship). But Kosciuszko’s visit to France had a strong impact on his life. The country and ambience, just before French Revolution, shaped his social and political believes.
After Kosciuszko came back to Poland, the country had been already partitioned by 3 occupiers, he was unable to find any position in Polish military (as the number of soldiers was decreased). He left again to France where he heard about the success of American colonies fighting with Great Britain. He decided to join the Americans in their fight. Very quickly after getting to the new continent he was hired to fortify Philadelphia and other military camps (American victory by Saratoga – thanks to his fortifications – gave him recognition). He was entrusted (what was supported by George Washington) the task of building strong West Point fortress by Hudson river. He was afterwards granted land and a big amount of money. Although he had financial problems, he sacrificed his money to give freedom and education to his African slaves.
Kosciuszko came back to Poland in 1784. Although a small part of his inheritance did not bring him big income, he decreased the payments that were made by statute-labour. In 1789 he became Major general what ended his financial difficulties. Internal situation of Poland, and the will to introduce the reforms, brought out Polish-Russian War of 1792.
In June 1793 Kosciuszko prepared a plan of all-national uprising. He was named ‘naczelnik’ what meant ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of Polish-Lithuanian forces. At the beginning the uprising brought success of Poles (like the Battle of Raclawice), however during the battle in Maciejowice Kosciuszko was wounded and captured by the Russians. In 1796 Kosciuszko was set free by Russian Tsar Paul I (in return for Oath of Loyalty). He left back to the USA and then shortly after returned to Europe. He never joined army of Napoleon. He died in 1817.
Kosciuszko is thought to be the hero of Poland, United States, Lithuania and Belarus. In Poland he is also a symbol of faith in brighter future and a patriot who gives hope to others. Many schools and streets are named after him, as one of the greatest Poles in the history.