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Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746 - 1817)
War of Independence 2 - West Point and Victory (1777 - 1784)

More of this Feature
1: Introduction
2: Early Life
3: Road to Saratoga
5: Peace, War & Exile
6: Rebellion & Raclawice
7: Warsaw & Defeat
8: Final Years
9: Timeline

Elsewhere On The Web
Kosciuszko's Campaigns
Wars of the 'Revolution'

After his success at Bemis Heights, Kosciuszko was promoted to Chief Engineer of the Middle Department and given another task - the defence of the Hudson and its surrounding area. Instigated by George Washington, who wanted a defensive system centered on the key strategic position of West Point, Kosciuszko worked on the region for over two years, from early 1778 to mid 1780. His fortifications are widely acknowledged as brilliant. Strong redoubts in high positions, such as that of Fort Putnam, enabled withering artillery fire to be directed at the water, and a massive iron chain was laid across the river. Lying submerged, this could be pulled tight, causing it to rise and block enemy ships from advancing. Although Kosciuszko's chain was never used, it certainly advanced his reputation.

Kosciuszko's success at West Point was of far a subtler nature than that of Bemis Heights. The British never launched a major attack on his large network of defences, nor did they try and sail through them to the larger river network beyond; consequently, there was no great defensive victory. Instead, the area became one of minor skirmishes and stalemate. However, it was Kosciuszko's work that created this situation, his fortifications appearing too imposing or effective for the British to attack. Instead, they used other tactics, often trying to draw out the Continental forces by attacking unfinished or outpost areas. These proved ineffective, as Washington always held firm, often countering effectively with a smaller, stealthier, force.

Another stratagem involved the bribery of General Arnold, who had himself posted to West Point in order to betray it, but whose plan was discovered in late 1780. Many stories surround Kosciuszko's time at West Point. He is supposed to have been given a slave, Agrippa Hull, whom he freed immediately, and to have shared his rations with some of the captured British troops. Kosciuszko is also supposed to have laid out a garden that still remains.

In 1780 Kosciuszko was named Chief Engineer of the South, serving under General Nathaniel Greene. This time, however, the Pole's role had changed, for he commanded his own troops and took part in battle. His strategy and innovation continued, and on two occasions Kosciuszko masterminded a retreat across potentially difficult rivers - the Dan and the Yadkin - leading some modern commentators to claim that he made the Southern Army amphibious. He also organised the blockade of Charleston, leading the eventually victorious colonists into the city and ending the South's official resistance. After the British defeat in 1784, Kosciuszko was promoted to Brigadier General and given US citizenship in honour of his contribution; Washington also presented him with the Cincinnati Order Medal. Kosciuszko returned to Poland later that year.

As an individual in a multi-continental war, Kosciuszko made a noticeable, and lasting, contribution. His fortifications helped change the direction of the conflict - Bemis Heights and West Point providing secure areas for the colonists to work from - while his ability on the retreat brought time and kept units from destruction. Of the foreign subjects who came to the revolution's aid, Kosciuszko's contribution was perhaps only second to the great French General Lafayette. Of course, the war also benefited Kosciuszko himself. He learnt how to win battles with a militia of untrained and poorly equipped men, as well as how to apply his years of study - often quite brilliantly - in the field, abilities he would use in his later career.

Some narratives of Kosciuszko's life argue, most plausible, that he also developed a personal political and social ideology, including a strong dislike for slavery and an evolved belief in the rights of freedom and liberty. In Kosciuszko's mind, these applied not just to the newly independent colonies, but to Poland. Finally, he made many friends and admirers, including General Greene and Thomas Jefferson, with who he had a particularly close bond. The latter famously said this of the Pole: "He was as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known."

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For Citation And Footnotes
Title: Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746 - 1817)
Author: Robert Wilde
Date: 2001

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