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Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746 - 1817)
The Kosciuszko Uprising 2 - The Siege of Warsaw and Defeat (1794)

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

Elsewhere On The Web
Belarusian Perspective
Decline and Partition
Kosciuszko's Campaigns

Despite victory at Raclawice, the pressure on Kosciuszko's forces grew, and several defeats - including the loss of Krakow - forced a retreat to Warsaw. Here Kosciuszko was able to establish a strong defensive position, mobilising the city's population to construct earthworks and marshalling them effectively alongside the trained soldiers. Combined Prussian and Russian forces laid siege to Warsaw for nearly two months before a further uprising in Wielkopolska, under the command of General Dombrowski, attacked the besiegers in the rear and forced them to retreat. This defence is arguably Kosciuszko's finest military achievement, a distillation of his skill, ingenuity, and the techniques he learnt in the War of Independence. Additionally, he continued to play a part in the actual fighting, supposedly leading bayonet charges.

Conversely, Wilno did not have a Kosciuszko to defend it, and the town was attacked and crushed by a second large Russian army, which then marched towards Warsaw. This force was led by Suvorov, "the most battle-seasoned general in Europe." (Doyle, The Old European Order, Oxford, p. 338.) Now facing two substantial Russian fronts, Kosciuszko acted quickly to prevent them from combining. He marched to Maciejowice, intending to combine his own force with that of General Poninski, stationed less than thirty miles away. However, the Russians captured Kosciuszko's first messenger, and although later communications did arrive and prompt Poninski to move, he would be too late. On October 10th the Russians, under the command of General Ferson, attacked with a force almost twice that of Kosciuszko's. They marched straight through a swampy river and the Polish right flank; during the attack Kosciuszko was wounded and taken prisoner, while Colonel Jasinski was killed. Needless to say, the rebellious army was defeated.

Many narratives are quick to describe Kosciuszko's capture as the end of the rebellion but, although morale was certainly crushed, some areas remained defiant for nearly another month. Within weeks of Kosciuszko's defeat Suvorov arrived at the outskirts of Warsaw, where he implemented a simple, wholly effective and perfectly horrifying plan. His army bombarded, and then entered, the suburb of Praga, massacring the entire population. Figures vary, but between 10,000-15,000 adults and children were killed on November 4th 1794; Warsaw capitulated immediately, and the rebellion was over. Rebels were arrested, executed or deported to Siberia, while a third partition in 1795 removed Poland-Lithuanian from the map of Europe. Austria, Prussia and Russia carved up the territories, with the former subsuming the whole Grand Duchy of Lithuania, while King Poniatowski, who had accepted the uprising, was forced to abdicate and return to Russia.

Although a potentially irrelevant question, it is one that continues to fascinate: could the Polish rebellion of 1794 have succeeded? The Commonwealth may have had an effective leader in Kosciuszko, but it was surrounded by three powerful, and hostile, neighbours, each with large armies and the industry to supply them; Poland had almost nothing. Equally, France refused to support the uprising, denying Kosciuszko the foreign support that proved so crucial to the successful American Revolution (although it has been argued that the Polish rebellion was essential to the French Republic's survival, because it distracted Prussia and Austria).

Even so, the rebellion had an important effect on the formation of Polish and Lithuanian national identities, forming the myth upon which later uprisings were partly based. Kosciuszko captured the faith of all levels of society, drawing support from the peasant classes as well as the nobles and magnates. Indeed, words allegedly said by Kosciuszko at his capture now form the first part of the Poles national anthem: "Jeszcze Polska nie zginiela bugy my zyjemy - Poland is not dead whilst we live (Jozef Wybicki, cited from here.)". Finally, there is a clear sign of how important Kosciuszko's role was in the Polish-Lithuanian uprising of 1794: it is the only revolt in Polish history to be named after one individual: the Kosciuszko Rebellion.

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

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