Polish Generals in America?
I grew up in Maryland and a memory I carry with me is riding in a car down the Pulaski Highway dedicated to Casimir Pulaski. He was a Polish general in the revolutionary Continental Army. My teachers didn’t spend classroom time on the European Poles that fought for American independence, focusing instead on what American patriots thought about American patriots. Learning how foreigners saw and reacted to the American revolution helps to understand the choices faced and made by America’s founders.
Alex Storozynski introduced me to Thaddeus Kosciuszko, another European Pole that decided America’s fight was his fight and why.
Joining the Continental Army
Thaddeus Kosciuszko, schooled in the arts and sciences of European warfare offered his services to Benjamin Franklin. Kosciuszko requested that Franklin give him the examination to join the Continental Army as qualified military engineer and officer. Franklin told him no such examination existed, and sent Kosciuszko on to meet others to test his knowledge.
Fortifications and Logistics
Kosciuszko’s specialties were fortifications – both how to build them and how to defeat them – and military logistics. He proved both were critical to engaging and defeating the better armed and supplied British armies in the battles of Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and West Point. Kosciuszko understood the well-supplied army that took advantage of the lay of the land won battles, while rash American generals put their faith in a man with a musket.
Kosciuszko studied the river ways and lake systems of New York, known as the Empire State for its navigable waterways, and created plans for a system of fortifications and redoubts to defeat the British armies. Generals and staff in the Continental Army didn’t appreciate this thinking officer that believed planning can win a battle. They ignored parts of his plans and turned other parts around to the advantage of the British. When the generals listened to him at the Battles of Saratoga and West Point, the Continental Army won. When they didn’t at Siege of Fort Ticonderoga, the army lost.
Polish War for Independence
Kosciuszko practiced his military and leadership skills during the American Revolution, and then used those skills in the Polish wars for independence. George Washington wanted Kosciuszko to remain in America. He praised Kosciuszko as a great American general and offered him land and work in America after the war. Kosciuszko chose instead to return to Europe to lead Polish armies against the Russian and Prussian armies.
Kosciuszko helped craft the Polish Constitution of 1791, a document more liberal than its American counterpart. George Washington departed from his foreign policy of non-involvement to support Kosciuszko and his Polish cause for independence. While president, Washington praised both Kosciuszko and the new Polish Constitution. Washington’s praise is remarkable, because he knew that his support for the Polish cause would turn the governments of Russia and Prussia against the United States and incur trouble with the reactionaries in France and England.
Storozynski and Kosciuszko taught me that:
- European money from France and Spain purchased the armaments and supplies the Continental Army needed to fight the British army.
- The Continental Army depended on the technical knowledge of European trained advisers like Kosciuszko to stand against the large British army.
- Kosciuszko intervened time and again to have Washington and the Continental Congress treat its soldiers better.
- Kosciuszko’s planning turned the battles of Saratoga and West Point into victories.