Americans will never cease to honor the memory of the Polish patriot, Thaddeus Kosciusko (kos si us' ko). In his early manhood he was one of the noble band of liberty-loving foreigners, who came to the United States and aided the American patriots in their struggle for independence.
Kosciusko was born in Poland in 1746. After a long and thorough course of study in the best military schools of Europe, he was appointed a captain in the Polish army. When the American revolution began, he determined to take part in it. He came to the United States and sought General Washington, who was commander-in-chief of the American army.
"General," he said, when he stood before Washington, "I have come to offer myself as a volunteer to fight for American independence."
"You are heartily welcome, captain," replied Washington, warmly shaking the hand of Kosciusko. "The patriot cause has need of the services of every one who is willing to aid it. What can you do?"
"Try me," said Kosciusko modestly.
Washington smiled. "I will try you, captain," he said cordially, "and I do not doubt that you will perform valuable service."
Kosciusko was appointed colonel of engineers, and soon showed by his skill in constructing fortifications that he could, indeed, render valuable service to the American army. He was subsequently made one of Washington's staff officers, and served with the great commander for some time.
"Never have I known better or more faithful service from any one," said Washington once when speaking of Kosciusko's work as a staff officer. "He was prompt, diligent, full of enthusiasm, while at the same time he was a man of large education and accomplishments. I regarded him almost as a younger brother, and trusted him with my most important plans."
Toward the close of the war, Kosciusko was honored with the public thanks of the Continental Congress for his gallant deeds. He was appointed brigadier general, and for some months commanded a large force of the American army.
When the revolution ended, Kosciusko went back to Poland, proud to have taken part in the patriotic struggle. His countrymen welcomed him home with enthusiasm; and later he was made major general in the Polish army.
In 1791, the Poles were forced to resist an invasion of their country by the Russians and Prussians. Kosciusko took part in the war, and on two occasions by skillful management saved the Polish force from entire destruction.
At the battle of Dubienka, with only about four thousand men, he kept at bay a Russian army of twenty thousand, and finally made his retreat without great loss. The Poles were generally out-numbered by the Russians and they fought gallantly; but they were completely over-powered. Russia and Prussia both annexed large parts of Poland.
This annexation is known as the second partition of Poland. The first partition had taken place twenty years before, when Austria, Russia, and Prussia each took parts of the little kingdom.
In 1794 the Poles were so angry at the loss of their country that they took up arms once more.
Kosciusko at Raclawice
A revolt was secretly planned, and on a certain day in the spring of 1794, Kosciusko suddenly appeared in the city of Cracow.
"The Russians must be driven from Poland; they must not rule our fair land," said Kosciusko to those of his countrymen who assembled at his call. "We can free ourselves from Russian slavery if we will fight."
The Poles hastily armed themselves, many with nothing but scythes, and advanced to meet the Russian army. After a sharp contest the enemy was driven out of Cracow.
A week later, at Raclawice (rat sla vit' se), a Polish army of five thousand, led by Kosciusko, routed a great force of Russians, and returned triumphantly to Cracow. The rebellion went on for several months with some success.
On October 10, 1794, an immense force of Russians advanced against the Poles. The little army of patriots numbered only four thousand. The Poles were defeated with heavy loss; and Kosciusko, fighting desperately, fell from his horse severely wounded.
He was made prisoner by the Russians, and taken to St. Petersburg, where he suffered a rigorous imprisonment. The Russian general, Suwaroff, captured Warsaw, and the kingdom of Poland came to an end; for now Russia, Prussia and Austria took to themselves all that remained of the Polish territory.
When Kosciusko had been in confinement two years, the czar gave him his liberty. "You are an enemy of Russia;" said the czar to him, "but you have shown great heroism; and I cannot help admiring a brave man."
The czar seeing that Kosciusko had no sword, offered him one.
"I have no need of a sword," said Kosciusko. "I have no country now to defend."
Immediately after his release from the Russian prison, Kosciusko went to England and then came to the United States. The Americans received him with great honor, and Congress gave him a liberal pension for his services in the Revolutionary War.
For some years afterwards he lived in France. Toward the close of his life he made his home in Switzerland, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits.
He died in 1817 in consequence of a fall from a horse.
His body was taken to Cracow and buried in the cathedral near the graves of other Polish patriots.
After the burial, the Polish people brought earth from all the battlefields on which Kosciusko had fought for Poland, and erected, near Cracow, a great mound, one hundred and fifty feet high, in honor of their hero.