Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: The American Revolution & the European Response

By Charles W. Toth | Go to book overview

The eighteenth century actually gave America two Polish freedom fighters -- Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciusko. Even though extant portraits of Kosciusko possess strong Byronic overtones, Pulaski's contribution to the war for American independence appears the more romantic since his military efforts almost always bordered on the flamboyant. Indeed, sometimes these efforts were reckless. So much so that Washington would lecture his European officers that "it is time for the age of knight-errantry and mad heroism to be at an end." But if "mad heroism" was the raison d'étre for such as Pulaski, Kosciusko's career was not devoid of battlefield heroics. Even as Pulaski could slash his way into a besieged Charleston begging the city not to surrender to the British, Kosciusko would participate in the final siege of that very same city "with four balls piercing his coat." And while fighting with Nathanael Greene in the Carolinas, Kosciusko would receive "an inglorious wound in the seat of honor." (However, he was escaping from a British trap).

Interestingly the closest these expatriates had ever been to each other during the American Revolution was Charleston. Kosciusko ended the American chapter to his career with a triumphful march into that beleaguered city in 1782 where three years earlier, just offshore, the body of Pulaski had been committed to the waters after he was mortally wounded on the ramparts of Savannah.

Kosciusko made the more substantial contribution to the American war effort. He helped to bring victory in the very crucial battle of Saratoga; in addition he engineered the building of America's "Gibraltar" on the Hudson -- West Point. With respect to the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777, General Gates would report that "the great tacticians of the campaign were hills and forests which a young Polish engineer was skillful enough to select for my encampment." Indeed, the redoubts and entrenchments, combined with the forested ravines, eventually forced Burgoyne to surrender in exhaustion. And, with respect to Kosciusko's work at West Point, his contribution prevented the British from any attempt to isolate the highlands of the Hudson and New England from the rest of the colonies.

As soldiers in exile the American Revolution provided an

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