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GENERAL THADDEUS KOSCIUSZKO: ENGINEER OF WEST POINT


GENERAL THADDEUS KOSCIUSZKO: ENGINEER OF WEST POINT
Am-Pol Eagle, March 5, 2015
by Patrick B. Burke, Erie County Legislator 7th District.

Many of you are familiar with General Casimir Pulaski, a great man that we celebrate in early March, but I wanted to draw attention to another great man that I think should be celebrated in early February.  I want to wish a happy belated birthday to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Born on February 4, 1746, he would be celebrating his 268th birthday this year. Born in the village of Mereczowszczyzna in the province of Polesie in modern day Belarus; Kosciuszko grew into a young man who would later travel to Paris to study military engineering.  He fought in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s war against Imperial Russia, and being highly recognized for his engineering talents, he set his sights on sailing to the British colonies in America to support the efforts of the American’s Revolution against the British.

Kosciuszko worked closely with General George Washington, using his time as a soldier and utilizing his knowledge and skills in engineering he fought in the battles of Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga in New York. Washington saw Kosciuszko's superior skill set during the Revolutionary War and commissioned him to build a defensive fort on the Hudson River to deny the British access to the New York waterways.  That fort was established at West Point, New York, and is known today as the Military Academy at West Point, one of our nation’s most prestigious military academies. West Point took Kosciuszko two and half years to build and became the largest fort in America.  It was widely praised in its time for being highly innovative in its design, and, according to Kosciuszko, the fort at West Point was his greatest accomplishment.

For his service in the American Revolutionary War, Kosciuszko was awarded the rank of General and received Citizenship in the United States of America in 1783.  He was a highly intelligent engineer, and like many of our other founding fathers Kosciuszko was also a wise and kind man. With the American Revolution at an end Kosciuszko was making arrangements to return to the Commonwealth of Poland to continue the fight against Imperial Russia in what would later be known as Kosciuszko’s Uprising.  However, before Kosciuszko left the United States he made arrangements with his close friend Thomas Jefferson that the proceeds of his will and estate would go to free and educates slaves, very advanced thinking for a man of his time.

In his Uprising to throw off the yoke of Imperial Russia, Kosciuszko abolished serfdom in Poland, a form of slavery in the Russian Empire, and granted civil liberty to all peasants to provide them protection against the abuses of the Imperial nobility. However, Kosciuszko’s Uprising was unsuccessful, and he returned to the United States one last time in 1797.  But he soon left again for Europe after receiving news of Polish forces fighting the Russian Empire under General Napoleon Bonaparte, he hoped to make an agreement with France for Poland’s freedom.  That was to be Kosciuszko last time in the United States, he died in 1817 in Switzerland. In Kosciuszko’s lifetime his friends and colleagues always spoke of him fondly; Thomas Jefferson said this about Kosciuszko, “He was as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known". Washington too mentions Kosciuszko as “a gentleman of science and merit who very much deserved to be remembered".

He was a vital part of the American story, and I will always remember his contributions to freedom amongst those of General Casimir Pulaski in this time of the year.