TADEUSZ

KOŚCIUSZKO

Soldier, politician, movie star?
His life story is an instant blockbuster material.
Get to know why!



Soldier, politician, movie star?

His life story is an instant blockbuster material.

Get to know why!
Tadeusz Kościuszko was born in 1746
Mereczowszczyzna, his place of birth is located in today's Belarus.

He graduated from the School of Chivalry in Warsaw. Then, he went on to study as far away as Paris. He lived and worked in many cities of Europe. He even travelled to the United States.

He was a polyglot. He was fluent in English, Belarusian, French, German and Polish. He also knew Latin.

His favourite way to start a day was to have a cup of black coffee. He drank coffee every day, right after getting up which was very early in the morning.

This way, in spite of his numerous professional duties, he had plenty of time to compose music, plant herbs, do DIY projects and draw.

He was so skilful with his pencil that women in his company would beg him to draw their portraits.

From a small family village in the east of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, through school in Warsaw, to university in Paris. Tadeusz Kościuszko was very young when he travelled across the entire Europe.
He never got married. Fate and his enemies would always get in the way of Tadeusz and his loved ones.

At one point our hero tried to kidnap his beloved woman. Kościuszko came from a poor family. That was the reason why parents of Ludwika Sosnowska disapproved of him.

Tadeusz and Ludwika never accepted the family's decision. They saddled their horses and set off to a local chapel where they intended to get married.
Józef Sosnowski, Ludwika's father, quickly noticed that his daughter was gone and gave chase.

He easily caught up with the couple and gave Tadeusz a severe beating as "something to remember". The only thing the young man laying half-conscious in the middle of the road could do was to follow the love of his life with his eyes.

After this extreme experience Kościuszko took a dramatic decision. He packed up his modest belongings and left the country…
From then on it was like a Hitchcock movie, that starts with an earthquake and then the tension continues to rise.
KOŚCIUSZKO'S PRIVATE LIFE – A SUMMARY:

1. ARTIST Awesome pencil skills. He would sketch military fortifications plans and portraits of beautiful women with equal ease. He liked to play music. He was an amazing pianist and composer.

2. EMOTIONAL He loved and was loved. Unfortunately, he was not meant to be with any of the women he fell for. He stayed single until the end of his life.

3. EARLY BIRD He was always busy with something. He did not fancy losing time for sleep. He would get up early and kick off his day with a cup of strong black coffee.

4. TRAVELLER
Even though he was born in a small village in the eastern frontiers of Poland he would cross the Atlantic several times on his way to America and back. He would visit cities like Leipzig or Paris on regular basis.
KOŚCIUSZKO'S PRIVATE LIFE – A SUMMARY:

1. ARTIST Awesome pencil skills. He would sketch military fortifications plans and portraits of beautiful women with equal ease. He liked to play music. He was an amazing pianist and composer.

2. EMOTIONAL He loved and was loved. Unfortunately, he was not meant to be with any of the women he fell for. He stayed single until the end of his life.

3. EARLY BIRD He was always busy with something. He did not fancy losing time for sleep. He would get up early and kick off his day with a cup of strong black coffee.

4. TRAVELLER
Even though he was born in a small village in the eastern frontiers of Poland he would cross the Atlantic several times on his way to America and back. He would visit cities like Leipzig or Paris on regular basis.
Kościuszko was a talented military engineer and commander
His life was full of spectacular battle scenes. He fought for freedom and independence in two wars on two different continents.

After losing his beloved Ludwika, Tadeusz went to Paris where volunteers for the United States Army were being drafted.
The young state had just declared its independence and was at war with its mother country – the Great Britain.

Our hero got on a ship. After a two months' trip he reached the American shore.

Not before, however, the ship encountered a heavy storm near Haiti. Waves several meters tall would toss the ship around like a nutshell and ultimately broke it to pieces.

Fierce nature, however, did not defeat the brave Pole. Once the storm was over Tadeusz tied himself and other crew members to a broken mast and reached the shore with his last breath.

In the USA a dynamic military career awaited Kościuszko.

He used his engineering background to fortify Americans' military camps. His talent was spotted by George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the American army.

Kościuszko pays close attention to planning of his fortifications. In particular, he focuses on using the natural lie of the land in the prospective battle area.

The power of Kościuszko's mind gradually gives Americans an advantage over the British.
Kościuszko's American episode includes some lighter scenes as well.

According to an unconfirmed, yet fun, anecdote while drinking with George Washington Kościuszko apparently suggested the design for the United States flag. It was supposed to be based on the coat of arms of Sandomierz Land.

Tadeusz's few years' service ended with a spectacular success. Americans defeat the British and defend their independence.

The general with a difficult to pronounce Polish name becomes famous and receives gratitude.

A moment of patriotic manifestation follows that we know so well from American movies: soldiers returning to their families, flags flying in the wind and people gathering in squares to cheer Washington, Jefferson and Kościuszko.

It is also a moment to catch a breath. Kościuszko decides to return to Poland to face new challenges.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth has not been doing very well for a while
The country is ruled by foreign agents and corrupt nobility having only their own interest in mind. Kościuszko arrives in Poland in 1785. He is unable to find a place for himself for a long time. He manages his family estate and – to put it bluntly – lives from hand to mouth.
It is only after a few years that king Stanisław August Poniatowski appoints Kościuszko as general major of cavalry.

In 1792 the Polish-Russian war starts. Tadeusz is doing very well as commander. Yet his victories are of no avail. The king Stanisław August himself betrays his country and orders further struggle against Russians to cease.

Kościuszko does not accept the slow agony of his country. He is about to play the most important part of his life. On the 24th March 1794 on the market square in Cracow he becomes the Supreme Commander of the National Armed Forces.

Kościuszko takes an oath and assumes full responsibility for the fate of the entire nation.

" I, Tadeusz Kościuszko, hereby swear by God to the entire Polish Nation, that I shall not use the powers vested in me for anyone's oppression, but for defence of the integrity of the borders, recuperation of Nation's sovereignty and strengthening the universal freedom…
So begins Kościuszko's Uprising – the last attempt by Poles to oppose Russia with armed force.

Kościuszko following the example of the American Army drafts peasants. Units are formed consisting of troops referred to as "kosynierzy" (scythemen) who, for lack of better weapons, convert their mowing tools into war scythes.

A spectacular scythemen attack on Russian artillery lines leads to the first victory in the battle of Racławice. In skirmishes that follow Poles gradually yield to more numerous and better trained Russian army.

The uprising fails. Kościuszko is taken captive by Russians. Poland disappears from the world map for 123 years.

Would a film adaptation of the Commander's life end on such a tragic note?

Not necessarily. Having been set free Kościuszko turned from a soldier into a diplomat. Until the end of his life he was advocating Poland's independence.

So, let us leave it up to professional screenwriters to choose the final scene.
KOŚCIUSZKO'S PROFESSIONAL LIFE – A SUMMARY:

1. AMERICAN GENERAL Served in the American army fighting for independence against the British. Outstanding military engineer. Fortifications built under his supervision secured Americans' victory.

2. COMMANDER OF THE 1794 UPRISING He became the most important person in Poland and instigated an armed uprising against Russians. He failed, but the myth of Kościuszko's and his soldiers' heroism survived and inspired the following generations of Poles to fight for independence.

3. VIRTUTI MILITARI
He was awarded the most important Polish military medal for outstanding achievements on the battlefield.

4. POLITICIAN & DIPLOMAT After the failed uprising he spent the rest of his life on diplomatic attempts at reinstating Poland's independence. For this end he met the Napoleon and Russian tsar Alexander I, among others.

KOŚCIUSZKO'S PROFESSIONAL LIFE – A SUMMARY:

1. AMERICAN GENERAL Served in the American army fighting for independence against the British. Outstanding military engineer. Fortifications built under his supervision secured Americans' victory.

2. COMMANDER OF THE 1794 UPRISING He became the most important person in Poland and instigated an armed uprising against Russians. He failed, but the myth of Kościuszko's and his soldiers' heroism survived and inspired the following generations of Poles to fight for independence.

3. VIRTUTI MILITARI
He was awarded the most important Polish military medal for outstanding achievements on the battlefield.

4. POLITICIAN & DIPLOMAT After the failed uprising he spent the rest of his life on diplomatic attempts at reinstating Poland's independence. For this end he met the Napoleon and Russian tsar Alexander I, among others.

Bold hero and a story full of twists and adventure
Is it enough for a blockbuster movie? At first glance yes, but it is hard to imagine a Hollywood hit without a universal message.

18th century was an era full of injustice. Since Christopher Columbus' discoveries Europeans would colonise entire continents. Also the power of the United States was founded on slave labour of Africans.

In Tadeusz Kościuszko's home country the nobility was exploiting hard working peasants.

Kościuszko did not discriminate against people based on their ethnicity, religion or class.

In the place where he came from he was regarded as the model landlord. Instead of a whip and curses he offered respect and gratitude for labour.

When in March 1794 he became the Supreme Commander one of the first things he did was to prepare the Proclamation of Połaniec providing partial freedom to Polish peasantry.

Drafting peasants into the Polish army had huge significance.

Thousands of people for the first time in their lives got something from their motherland, even if it was just a pair of boots and a modest soldier's meal. What was the most important was the dignity that the Commander restored to peasant soldiers.

His attitude was also convincing for the large Jewish community inhabiting the Commonwealth. Berek Joselewicz, a representative of Warsaw Jews, went as far as to call Kościuszko a "God's Messenger" and encouraged other members of his community to join the Uprising.

Kościuszko handed over the property he received from the US Government for his military service to Thomas Jefferson.

He requested the future US President to use the money to ransom as many black slaves as possible and help them gain education and start new lives.

During his stay in the United States he met with Little Turtle, a famous Native American chief. The meeting ended with Kościuszko presenting Little Turtle with a pair of pistols. The Pole instructed the Native American to use them on "the first man who ever comes to subjugate you."

In the era of little concern for human rights Tadeusz Kościuszko was their defender. He dedicated his life to helping others. Doesn't Hollywood just love such stories?
After Tadeusz Kościuszko's death a true cult was born in Poland
In many cities across the country commemorations were erected in his honour. One of the most important ones is the Kościuszko Mound in Cracow completed in 1823.

Currently many schools, streets and squares in Poland are named after Tadeusz Kościuszko.
Kościuszko is very popular in the United States.

The most notable monuments to him are located in Washington near the White House and in the US Military Academy, West Point.

Museums, plaques and statues may be found in Belarus, where he was born, in France, Russia and Switzerland. His heroism will become known to anyone who climbs Australia's tallest mountain – Mount Kosciuszko.

We marked Kościuszko-related objects on our interactive map. If you know a place commemorating the famous Pole which is not included, send it to us filling in this simple form.

The world, however, is on the move.

Plaques and statues are important, yet they reach only a small group of tourists interested in history.

In Poland and in the USA students learn basic facts about Kościuszko during history lessons. However, all of us know how much, or rather how little knowledge may be taught during a 45-minutes class.

Tadeusz Kościuszko is missing from the world of contemporary media.

Yet, it is so easy to imagine a strategy game, a TV series or a movie hit based on his biography.

We are sure that someday the story of the bold and just Pole will be told using state-of-the-art means. Maybe it is you who will face this challenge?

Are you impressed by Tadeusz Kościuszko's achievements? Share the things you know about him in social media!
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Alicja Jakimów
infographics
Grzegorz Paluch
illustrations
Szymon Pifczyk
maps
Łukasz Grajewski
story & project coordination


Website is co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the contest Public Diplomacy 2017 - component "Eastern Dimension of Polish Foreign Policy 2017". The content of the website expresses only the views of the authors and and do not reflect the official position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.
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