Tadeusz Kościuszko is a national hero in Poland, Lithuania and the United States. Born in 1746 to a Polish noble who traced their bloodline back to Lithuania, Kosciuszko went on to become a military leader in the American Revolution before leading his own countrymen in an Uprising against Imperial Russia in 1794.
The young Kościuszko was first initiated into the art of military combat in 1765 at the age of 19 when he enrolled in the Corps of Cadets which had been introduced that year by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski to educate military officers and government officials. Kościuszko graduated with the rank of captain.
When civil war broke out in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1768, Kościuszko was confronted with a difficult choice to join the rebels or his regal sponsors. He chose not to side with either and in October 1769 emigrated to France where he engaged in another five years of military studies.
Return to Poland Cut Short
By the time Kościuszko did return to Poland the Polish-Lithuanian army had been imposed by cutbacks to just 10,000 military personnel and there was no room for him in the army. When he heard of a revolution in America he boarded a boat across the Atlantic. After reading the United States Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson he was so moved he went to meet him in Virginia. They would become close friends.
Kościuszko volunteered his services and was sent to Pennsylvania to work with the Continental Army. His first station was in Philadelphia under the command of General Arthur St. Clair. Kościuszko advised the Scottish general to build stronger fortifications but was ignored and the British pushed the battalion back to the Hudson River. Kościuszko was not ignored a second time and he played an influential role in defeating the British.
He was then transferred south to Virginia and eventually acted as the chief engineer to General Nathanael Greene. Kościuszko strategies, planning and execution helped the US rebels conquer the Carolinas and Georgia.
Before leaving America, Kościuszko wrote a will naming his friend and future President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson as executor. In the will Kościuszko expressed his desire for Jefferson to use the money he bequeathed to free black slaves. Kościuszko died in 1817, but Jefferson failed to carry out the terms of the will. Years later when a dispute arose over Kościuszko´s money, a High Court ruled the will was not valid on US soil and the money was returned to his estate in Poland.
After his victorious campaign in America, Kościuszko returned to Poland. At the time the internal politics were changing dramatically and the first constitution of modern Europe was written by Polish magnates who turned to Catherine II of Russia for help. The Tsarina responded by sending 100,000 troops across the border, promoting the Polish-Russian War of 1792.
Kościuszko was appointed general and did not lose one single battle in the conflict. However, the Polish army was too young and inexperienced to compete with the superiority of the Russians and was trounced. Kościuszko fled to Germany.
In commemoration of Tadeusz Kościuszko a mound was created by the people of Krakow which is located a short walk from Krakow’s city centre and is a current tourist attraction in the city.