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 Thaddeus Kościuszko

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Thaddeus Kościuszko

  • Birth 4 Feb 1746 Bresckaja, Belarus
  • Death 15 Oct 1817 Solothurn, Bezirk Solothurn, Solothurn, Switzerland
  • Burial Krakow, Małopolskie, Poland
  • Memorial ID 4922

American Revolutionary War Soldier. He is remembered as a hero in the US, Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus for his participation in revolutionary causes as a military soldier. He was one of several foreign-born soldiers who joined the American Continental Army for a numerous reasons, but who added some well-needed professionalism to its rough-hewn tactics and tenuous grasp of strategy. He was born Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko in the village Mereczowszczyzna, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (now Merechevschina, Belarus), the youngest son of a Polish nobleman and officer in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army. His exact birth date is unknown (either February 4th or 12th). In 1755 he began attending school in Lubieszów, but never finished due to his family's financial straits after his father's death in 1758. In December 1768 he enrolled in the newly formed Corps of Cadets in Warsaw, Poland and graduated a year later. He remained with the Corps and achieved the rank of captain. In 1769, after the outbreak of a civil war involving the Bar Confederation the previous year, he moved to Paris, France to pursue his studies the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. In 1774 he returned to Poland, two years after the First Partition of Poland, and took a position as tutor in the household of Józef Sylwester Sosnowski. After he attempted to elope with Sosnowski's daughter and was severely beaten by the father's retainers, he returned to France. While in France, he learned about the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War and the British colonists' struggle for independence, and in June 1776 he decided to move to North America. On August 30, 1776, he submitted an application to the US Congress, and the next day he was assigned to the United States War Department. His first task was building fortifications at Fort Billingsport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to protect the banks of the Delaware River against a possible British crossing. He initially served as a volunteer in the employ of Benjamin Franklin, but on October 18, 1776, Congress commissioned him a colonel of engineers in the Continental Army. In spring of 1777, he was attached to the Northern Army under Major General Horatio Gates, arriving at the Canadian border in May. Subsequently posted to Fort Ticonderoga, he reviewed the defenses of what had been one of the most formidable fortresses in North America. His recommendation for the construction of a battery on Sugar Loaf, overlooking the fort, was turned down by the garrison commander, Brigadier General Arthur St. Clair, which proved a tactical blunder when the British army under General John Burgoyne arrived two months later did exactly what he had warned of and had his engineers place artillery on the hill. In view of their peril, the American forces abandoned the fort and he was able to implement delay tactics to prevent the British Army from overtaking the fleeing American forces. At the request of General Gates, he found a strongly defensive position near Saratoga, New York, and began fortifying it. When the British Army attacked on October 16, 1777, they were defeated and it helped turn the tide in the American's favor during the war. In March 1778 he arrived at West Point, New York and spent more than two years strengthening the fortifications and improving its defenses. Afterwards, he requested to be transferred to the Southern Army which was granted by General George Washington. He continued to build fortifications and camps, as well as scouting river crossings and developing intelligence contacts. On August 16, 1781 he participated in the Second Battle of Camden in South Carolina where he was wounded by a bayonet. During the final year of hostilities, he was most active in much smaller operations, harassing British foraging parties near Charleston, South Carolina. He commanded two cavalry squadrons and an infantry unit, and his last known battlefield command of the war occurred at James Island, South Carolina, on November 14, 1782. In what has been described as the Continental Army's final armed action of the war, he was very nearly killed as his small force was routed. In October 1783, in recognition of his services, the Continental Congress promoted him to brigadier general and in January 1784 he was finally paid for his services along with receiving the right to 500 acres of land, if he chose to remain in the US. He decided to return to Poland and in July 1784 he sailed for Europe and settled in Siechnowcize (Now Sehnovichi, Belarus). He managed to acquire some of the land that his brother had lost due to bad investments but his estate began to lose money and he started going into debt. Having failed to gain a commission in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army upon his arrival, he applied again in October 1789 and was finally granted a commission as a general. When the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth adopted their constitution in May 1791, it was perceived as a threat by it neighbors and Polish-Lithuanian dissidents and they formed the Targowica Confederation. In May 1792 they requested Russian support and a strong Russian Army invaded against the weaker Polish Army. The Polish Army was forced to retreat, but won skirmishes against the Russians at the Battles of Zielence and Dubienka, the latter of which Kosciuszko received the newly created Virtui Militari award (which is Poland's highest military decoration) for his military skills and leadership. After Dubienka, Poland's King Stanisław August Poniatowski promoted him to lieutenant general and awarded him the Order of the White Eagle. News of his victory spread over Europe, and in August 1792 he received the honorary citizenship of France from the Legislative Assembly of revolutionary France. King Stanislaw requested a ceasefire and shocked the Polish Army by announcing his accession to the Targowica Confederation and ordering the Army to cease hostilities against the Russians. In March 1794, two years after the Polish-Russian War of 1792 had resulted in the Second Partition of Poland (1793), he organized an uprising (called Kosciuszko Uprising) against Russia, serving as its Naczelnik (leader). In October 1794 Russian forces captured him at the Battle of Maciejowice where he was wounded. This defeat led to the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, which ended the country's independent existence for over 120 years until the Second Polish Republic was founded in 1918, at the end of World War I. In November 1796, following the death of Russia's Tsarina Catherine the Great, he was pardoned by Tsar Paul I and emigrated to the United States in June 1797 and resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A year later he returned to France and met with Napoleon Bonaparte to request his aid in restoring Poland's sovereignty. Napoleon refused and Kosciuszko began to distrust his intentions, convinced that he had created the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807 only as an expedient. After Napoleon's defeat at the hands of the Sixth Coalition in March 1814, he met with Russia's Tsar Alexander I. The Tsar hoped he could be convinced to return to Poland, where the Tsar planned to create a new, Russian-allied Polish state (the Congress Kingdom). In return for his prospective services, he demanded social reforms and restoration of territory, which he wished to reach the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers in the east. While in Vienna, Austria, he learned that the Kingdom of Poland to be created by the Tsar would be even smaller than Napoleon's earlier Duchy of Warsaw. He then left Vienna and moved to Solothurn, Switzerland where he lived until his death after falling from a horse, getting a fever, and suffering a stroke a few days later at the age of 71. In 1798 he had written a will dedicating his American assets to the education and freedom of slaves in the US. However, its execution proved difficult and the funds were never used for that purpose. In 1933 the US Post office issued a commemorative stamp honoring him that depicts an engraving of his statue that stands in Washington DC's Lafayette Square, near the White House. The stamp was issued on the 150th anniversary of Kosciusko's naturalization as an American citizen. There are numerous statues of him in Poland, the US, and in Switzerland. Mount Kosciuszko, the tallest mountain in Australia, is named in his honor. In 2005 a commemorative monument was built in his honor in Minsk, Belarus.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 23 Mar 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4922
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Thaddeus Kościuszko (4 Feb 1746–15 Oct 1817), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4922, citing Wawel Cathedral, Krakow, Małopolskie, Poland ; Maintained by Find A Grave .