Read CHAPTER II - THE FIGHT FOR AMERICAN FREEDOM of Kosciuszko A Biography , free online book, by Monica Mary Gardner, on ReadCentral.com.

In the early summer of 1776 Kosciuszko crossed the Atlantic on the journey to America that was then in the likeness of a pilgrimage to a wholly strange land. He found the country palpitating in the birth-throes of a nation rising to her own. Not only was she carrying on the contest with Great Britain by arms, but democratic resolutions, appeals for freedom for all men, were being read in the churches, proclaimed at every popular gathering. What a responsive chord all this struck in Kosciuszko’s heart we know from his subsequent history.

His best documented historian ruthlessly dismisses the story that the Pole presented himself to Washington with the one request that he might fight for American independence, and that in reply to Washington’s query, “What can I do for you?” his terse reply was, “Try me.” As a matter of fact he applied to the Board of War, and his first employment was in the old Quaker city of Philadelphia where, in company with another foreign engineer, a Frenchman, he was put to work fortifying the town against the British fleet’s expected attack by the Delaware. These fortifications of his devising still remain. They gained for him his nomination

by Congress as engineer in the service of the States and the rank of colonel.

After some months passed in Philadelphia, Kosciuszko was taken over by Gates for the northern army, and sent to report upon the defences of Ticonderoga and Sugar Loaf Hill. Gates highly approved of his proposed suggestion of building a battery upon the summit of Sugar Loaf Hill; but at this moment Gates was relieved of his command, and Kosciuszko’s ideas were set aside for those of native Americans to whom his plan was an unheard-of innovation. The authorities soon saw their mistake. “For the love of God let Kosciuszko return here,” wrote Wilkinson when sent by the commander to inspect the work, “and as quickly as possible.” But it was then too late. The English fleet was on Lake Champlain, and Kosciuszko’s design was vindicated by the British carrying it out themselves. He, meanwhile, was fortifying Van Schaick, with the result that the army of the States, retreating in disorder before Burgoyne, could retire on a safe position, Kosciuszko’s personal privations and discomforts were considerable. He did not so much as possess a blanket, and had perforce to sleep with Wilkinson under his. He was then sent on by Gates, who was again in command, to throw up fortifications in the defence of Saratoga.

With justifiable pride the Poles point to the part played by their national hero in the victory at Saratoga which won for America not only the campaign, but her recognition as an independent nation from Louis XVI. The Americans on their side freely acknowledged that Kosciuszko’s work turned the scale in their favour. Gates modestly diverted the flood of congratulations of which he was the recipient by the observation that the hills and woods were the great strategists which a young Polish engineer knew how to select with skill for my camp; and his official report to Congress states that Colonel Kosciuszko chose and entrenched the position, Addressing the President of Congress at the end of the year 1777, Washington, speaking of the crying necessity of engineers for the army, adds: I would take the liberty to mention that I have been well informed that the engineer in the northern army (Kosciuszko I think his name is) is a gentleman of science and merit." The plan of the fortifications that saved Saratoga is preserved in Kosciuszko’s own hand among Gates’s papers, and traces of them could as late as 1906 be still discerned among beds of vegetables.

That winter of the war 1777-1778 was famous for its length and its intolerable severity. The American soldiers suffered from all the miseries of hunger and cold and insufficient pay, Kosciuszko, to whom the piercing rigour of the climate must have seemed as a familiar visitant from his northern Lithuanian home, was on the borders of Canada when he heard of the arrival in Trenton of a Pole, famous, as Kosciuszko himself as yet was not, in the national records of Poland Kazimierz Pulaski. With his father, brothers, and cousin, Pulaski had led the war of the Bar Confederation. He alone survived his family. His father died in prison, suspected by his confederates; his brothers fell in battle, or in their turn breathed their last in prison. Ignorant of fear and gaily risking all for his country, Kazimierz carried on the struggle without them. Pursued on all sides by the Russians, he performed almost incredible feats of doubling and unheard-of marches: leading his troops in the Ukrainian steppes, escaping to the Carpathians, reappearing in Great Poland, fighting on until the last doomed defence of Czenstochowa, after which he was seen no more in Poland. In, Paris he met Benjamin Franklin and other envoys of the States, and, like Kosciuszko, he set sail to fight for liberty in the New World.

At Christmas time in that bitter winter Kosciuszko came out on furlough through the wild snowbound land to Trenton, impelled by desire to see the Pole whom he knew well by repute, and by the craving to hear news of his country from the first compatriot who had come across his path in the New World. They had not known each other in Poland, for Kosciuszko had been a youth engaged in his studies at home and abroad while the Bar confederates were fighting; but for the love of Poland they met as brothers. Kosciuszko stayed ten days with Pulaski and his Polish companion, entertained, despite their poverty, in true Polish style, and then returned to his quarters. Probably on the way to or from Trenton he turned aside to Valley Forge to make the acquaintance of Lafayette, who had come over to America with Pulaski, and it is possible that on this occasion he may have met Washington. He never saw Pulaski again, for, leading a headlong charge with the fiery impetus of the Polish knight of old, the leader of Bar fell at Savannah in October 1779.

The question of the defence of the Hudson was now being agitated. West Point, the so-called Gibraltar of the Hudson, was chosen for its commanding position on the heights above the river, and the work of fortifying it was finally conferred, over the head of the French engineer, Radiere, upon Kosciuszko. “Mr. Kosciuszko,” wrote McDougall, the general now in command of the northern army, to Washington, Gates being employed at the Board of War, “is esteemed by those who have attended the works at West Point to have more practice than Colonel Radiere, and his manner of treating the people is more acceptable than that of the latter; which induced General Parsons and Governor Clinton to desire the former may be continued at West Point." Washington acceded to McDougalls request and confirmed the appointment to the Pole, not only because he was the cleverer engineer, but especially, adds Washington, because you say Kosciuszko is better adapted to the genius and temper of the people." A few months later Washington ordered Kosciuszko to submit his plans to the approval of an inferior officer. Kosciuszko, who never sought distinction or pushed his own claims, did not permit himself to resent what was, in fact, a slight; but quietly went forward in his own thorough and painstaking manner with the business entrusted to him.

Kosciuszko’s work at West Point was the longest and the most important of his undertakings in the United States, and is inseparably connected in the American mind with his name. Little is now left of his fortifications; but the monument raised in his honour by the American youth, with the inscription: “To the hero of two worlds” remains, a grateful tribute to his memory. That the military students of the United States can look back to West Point as their Alma Mater is in great measure Kosciuszko’s doing. When it was first resolved to found a training school in arms for the young men of the States, Kosciuszko urged that it should be placed at West Point, and suggested the spot where it now stands.

Kosciuszko was at West Point for two years. Here, if we do not accept the legends and conjectures of former meetings, he met Washington for the first time. He had two thousand five hundred workmen under him, whom he treated with the courtesy and consideration that always distinguished his dealings with his fellow-men, whether his equals or subordinates. The story goes that with his own hands, assisted by his American workmen, he built himself some sort of cottage or shanty in the hope of one day receiving his own countrymen as his guests. One of his modern Polish biographers often heard in his youth a song purporting to be Kosciuszkos composition, with the tradition that he had composed it to his guitar he played both the guitar and the violin on the arrival of Polish visitors. The doggerel, kindly little verses, express the hope that everything his compatriots see in his modest house will be as agreeable to them as their company is to their host, and inform them that he raised its walls with the purpose of welcoming them therein. It is a fact that, true to the Pole’s passion for the soil, he laid out a little garden, still known as “Kosciuszko’s Garden,” where he loved to spend his leisure hours, alone with his thoughts of Poland. Times were hard at West Point and provisions scanty. Washington himself could not sufficiently furnish his table, and Kosciuszko naturally fared worse; but out of the pay that he could ill afford and from his own inadequate stores the Pole constantly sent provisions to the English prisoners, whose misery was extreme. It is said, indeed, that had it not been for Kosciuszko’s succour our prisoners would have died of want. Many years later a Pole, who collected the details of Kosciuszko’s American service, fell sick of fever in Australia. An English shopkeeper took him into his house and tended him as though he were his own for the reason that he was a compatriot of the man who had saved the life of the Englishman’s grandfather when the latter was a starving prisoner at West Point.

The West Point episode of Kosciuszko’s career came to its end in the summer of 1780, when he asked Washington to transfer him to the southern army. The motive of the request was that, without having given Kosciuszko notice, Washington had removed a number of his workmen. The correspondence that passed between them was courteous but dry, Kosciuszko avoiding acrimonious expressions, and simply stating that under the present conditions he could no longer carry on the work at West Point. The relations between the liberator of America and the champion of Poland’s freedom were, indeed, never of the nature exacted by romance. They were confined to strict necessity, and held none of the affection that marked the intercourse of Gates and Nathaniel Greene with their Polish engineer. The precise reason of this is hard to fathom. It has been ascribed to Kosciuszko’s intimacy with Gates, Washington’s adversary, or, again, to Kosciuszko’s extreme reserve which latter conjecture, in view of the warm and enduring friendships that the hero of Poland won for himself in the New World, seems untenable.

Gates, now nominated to the command of the southern army, had at once requested that Kosciuszko should be sent to him. “The perfect qualities of that Pole,” he wrote to Jefferson, “are now properly appreciated at headquarters, and may incline other personages to putting obstacles against his joining us; but if he has once promised we can depend upon him.”

Washington gave the required permission, to which Kosciuszko replied from West Point on August 4th:

“The choice your Excellency was pleased to give me in your letter of yesterday is very kind; and, as the completion of the works at this place during this campaign, as circumstances are, will be impossible in my opinion, I prefer going to the southward to continuing here. I beg you to favour me with your orders, and a letter of recommendation to the Board of War, as I shall pass through Philadelphia. I shall wait on your Excellency to pay due respects in a few days."

A French engineer took Kosciuszko’s place, and the latter had not long left when the treachery of the new commandant of West Point, Arnold, was disclosed by the capture of Andre. Before Kosciuszko had time to reach the southern army his old friend Gates was defeated at Camden, and in consequence disgraced. Nathaniel Greene, after Washington the greatest general of the American Revolution, was appointed his successor. While awaiting Greene’s arrival to take up his command Kosciuszko was for some time in Virginia among the planters. He thus saw the coloured slaves at close quarters, and was brought face to face with the horrors of the slave trade. It was probably then that, with his strong susceptibility to every form of human suffering, he learnt that profound sympathy for the American negro which, seventeen years later, dictated his parting testament to the New World.

Through the whole campaign of the Carolinas, the most brilliant and the most hardly won of the American War, Kosciuszko was present. When Greene arrived he found himself at the head of an army that was starving. His troops had literally not enough clothing required for the sake of decency. He was without money, without resources. He resolved to retire upon the unknown Pedee river. Immediately upon his arrival he sent Kosciuszko up the river with one guide to explore its reaches and to select a suitable spot for a camp of rest, charging him with as great celerity as he could compass. Kosciuszko rapidly acquitted himself of a task that was no easy matter in that waste of forest and marsh. In the words of an American historian: “The surveying of the famous Kosciuszko on the Pedee and Catawba had a great influence on the further course of the campaign. The campaign was carried on in a wild country of deep, roaring rivers, broken by falls, and often visited by sudden floods. The frequently impassable swamps breathed out poisonous exhalations. Rattle-snakes and other deadly reptiles lurked by the wayside. Great were the hardships that Kosciuszko, together with the rest of the army, endured. There were no regular supplies of food, tents and blankets ran out, the soldiers waded waist-deep through rushing waters. Often invited to Greenes table, where the general entertained his officers with a kindliness and cordiality that atoned for the poor fare which was all that he could offer them, Kosciuszko was regarded with strong affection and admiration by a man who was himself worthy of the highest esteem. Kosciuszkos office, after the survey of the river, was to build boats for the perilous transport of the army over the treacherous and turbulent streams of the district. Greene writes: Kosciuszko is employed in building flat-bottomed boats to be transported with the army if ever I shall be able to command the means of transporting them." The boats of Kosciuszko’s devising contributed to the saving of Greene’s army in that wonderful retreat from Cornwallis, which is among the finest exploits of the War of Independence. Again his skill came prominently forward when Greene triumphantly passed the Dan with Cornwallis on his heels, and thus definitely threw off the British pursuit. Kosciuszko was then despatched to fortify Halifax, but was soon recalled to assist in the siege of Ninety Six, a fort built with heavy stockades originally as a post of defence against the Red Indians. The night before the siege began Greene with Kosciuszko surveyed the English works. It was dark and rainy, and they approached the enemy so close that they were challenged and fired at by the sentries. The mining operations that Kosciuszko directed were of an almost insuperable difficulty, and his Virginian militiamen struck. By his persuasive and sympathetic language Kosciuszko rallied them to the work; but finally Greene abandoned the siege.

When the campaign changed to guerilla warfare Kosciuszko fought as a soldier, not as an engineer. At the battle of Eutaw Springs, where the licence of the American soldiers pillaging the British camp and murdering the prisoners lost Greene a decisive victory, we hear of Kosciuszko as making desperate attempts to restrain a carnage which horrified his humane feelings, and personally saving the lives of fifty Englishmen. Peace and the defeat of Great Britain were in the air, but hostilities still dragged on, and Kosciuszko fought through 1782 near Charleston with distinction. After the gallant Laurens had fallen, his post of managing the secret intelligence from Charleston passed to Kosciuszko. Kosciuszkos innumerable communications, says the grandson and biographer of Greene, exhibit the industry and intelligence with which he discharged that service." Kosciuszko possessed all the Polish daring and love of adventure. He would sally forth to carry off the English horses and cattle that were sent to pasture under guard, protected by English guns from the fort. He succeeded in capturing horses, but the cattle were too closely protected. Or, accompanied by an American officer named Wilmot, he would cross the river to watch or harry the English on James’ Island. One of these expeditions, when Kosciuszko and his companion attacked a party of English woodcutters, has the distinction of being the last occasion on which blood was shed in the American War. They were surprised by an ambuscade, and Wilmot was killed. At length Charleston fell. On December 14, 1782, the American army entered the town in a triumphal procession, in which Kosciuszko rode with his fellow-officers, greeted by the populace with flowers and fluttering kerchiefs and cries of “Welcome!” and “God bless you!” Greene’s wife, a sprightly lady who kept the camp alive, had joined him outside Charleston. Her heart was set on celebrating the evacuation of Charleston by a ball, and, although her Quaker husband playfully complained that such things were not in his line, she had her way. The ball-room was decorated by Kosciuszko, who adorned it with festoons of magnolia leaves and with flowers cunningly fashioned of paper.

Peace with England was now attained. Kosciuszko had fought for six years in the American army. The testimony of the eminent soldier in whose close companionship he had served, whose hardships he had shared, whose warmest friendship he had won, that of Nathaniel Greene, best sums up what the Pole had done for America and what he had been to his brother-soldiers. “Colonel Kosciuszko belonged” thus Greene “to the number of my most useful and dearest comrades in arms. I can liken to nothing his zeal in the public service, and in the solution of important problems nothing could have been more helpful than his judgment, vigilance and diligence. In the execution of my recommendations in every department of the service he was always eager, capable, in one word impervious against every temptation to ease, unwearied by any labour, fearless of every danger. He was greatly distinguished for his unexampled modesty and entire unconsciousness that he had done anything unusual. He never manifested desires or claims for himself, and never let any opportunity pass of calling attention to and recommending the merits of others." All those who had been thrown together with him in the war speak in much the same manner. They notice his sweetness and uprightness of soul, his high-mindedness and delicate instincts, his careful thought for the men under his command. Even Harry Lee ("Light Horse Harry"), while carping at Kosciuszko’s talents, to the lack of which, with no justification, he ascribes Greene’s failure before Ninety Six, renders tribute to his engaging qualities as a comrade and a man. But Kosciuszko’s services did not in the first instance receive the full recognition that might have been expected from the new Republic. He alone of all the superior officers of the Revolution received no promotion other than that given wholesale by Congress, and was forced to apply personally to Washington to rectify the omission. In language not too cordial, Washington presented his request to Congress, which conferred upon Kosciuszko the rank of brigadier-general with the acknowledgment of its “high sense of his long, faithful and meritorious services.” The recently founded patriotic Society of the Cincinnati, of which Washington was the first president, elected Kosciuszko as an honoured member. Its broad blue and white ribbon carrying a golden eagle and a representation of Cincinnatus before the Roman Senate, with the inscription: “Omnia relinquit servare Rempublicam,” is often to be seen in the portraits of Kosciuszko, suspended on his breast.

Kosciuszko was now a landowner of American soil, by virtue of the grant by Congress of so many acres to the officers who had fought in the war. Friendship, affluence, a tranquil life on his own property, that most alluring of prospects to a son of a race which loves Mother Earth with an intense attachment, lay before him in the New World. To him nothing was worth the Poland that he had left as an obscure and disappointed youth.

For all these years his heart had clung to the memory of his native land. On the rocks of West Point he had walked in solitude under the trees of his garden, and sat by the fountain which is still shown, yearning with an exile’s home-sickness for his country. At times, probably very rarely in days of long and difficult transit and when communications for a fighting-line were doubly uncertain, letters crossed between Kosciuszko and friends in far-off Poland. “Two years ago I had a letter from him,” wrote Adam Czartoryski in 1778, as he requested Benjamin Franklin to ascertain what had become of the youth in whom he had been interested; but from that time I have heard nothing of him." Some sort of correspondence was carried on by Tadeusz with a friend and neighbour of his in his old home, Julian Niemcewicz, the poet and future politician, later to be Kosciuszko’s companion in the Rising and his fellow-prisoner and exile. Niemcewicz, wrote the Princess Lubomirska who had been Ludwika Sosnowska, to Kosciuszko in America, “has told me that you are alive, he gave me your letter to read, and I in my turn hasten to tell you through Julian that in my heart I am unalterably and till death yours."

This letter, the same in which the lady gives the remarkable account of her marriage to which we have already alluded, left Kosciuszko cold. That chapter was entirely put away from him. The first and hopeless romance of his youth had naturally enough been driven off the field by stirring and strenuous action in a new hemisphere. Even had this not been the case, Kosciuszko was of too high a moral mould to cherish a passion for a married woman. His relations with the other sex were always of the most delicate, most courteous and most chivalrous; but, admired and honoured by women as he invariably was, they in reality enter but little in his life.

Now that the war had ended Kosciuszko only waited to wind up his affairs in America, and then he could keep away from his country no longer. He started for Europe in July 1784, landed in France, and by way of Paris reached Poland in the same year. From America he brought an enhanced attraction to the democratic ideas that were gaining vogue in Europe, and which had had a hold over him from his youth. Still more, he had seen with his own eyes the miracle of a national struggle.

He had fought and marched side by side with ragged, starving, undisciplined, unpaid men who had carried off the victory against a powerful nation and a regular army. With that memory burnt into his soul, ten years later he led a more desperate throw for a freedom to him incomparably dearer his country’s.