Read CHAPTER VII - THE RISING OF KOSCIUSZKO II of Kosciuszko A Biography , free online book, by Monica Mary Gardner, on

We have reached the month of May, 1794. Kosciuszko and the Russian army under Denisov were now at close grips, Denisov repeatedly attacking, Kosciuszko beating him off. Communications with Warsaw and all the country were impeded. Provisions were almost impossible to procure. Kosciuszko’s men went half starved. Burning villages, set on fire by Denisov’s soldiers, a countryside laid waste, were the sight the Poles beheld each day, while the homeless peasants crowded into Kosciuszko’s camp to tell him their piteous stories. Then Denisov retreated so swiftly towards the Prussian frontier that Kosciuszko, either through the enemy’s rapidity, or because he was detained by the civil affairs of the government with which his hands were just then full, and by the no less arduous task of organizing the war in the provinces, was not able to overtake him. At this moment the Rising promised well. The Polish regiments, escaping from Russian garrisons, augmented the number of the army that, against unheard-of difficulties short of money, short of all military requisites Kosciuszko had by the end of May gathered together. From Kiev, under the very eyes of the Russian troops in the town. Kopec who for his share in the national war later underwent exile in the penal settlements of Kamchatka led a band of Polish soldiers to Kosciuszko’s Rising. They had already been in communication with the Poles who were preparing the Rising in Warsaw, when the news of the outbreak of the insurrection reached them. Catherine II at once resolved to disarm them and send them to the Crimea. Kopec was despatched by the Russian authorities to convey to the Polish soldiers flattering promises from the Empress of pay and rewards. He seized the opportunity for a different purpose, took the oath of the Rising from his compatriots and succeeded in leading them out of Kiev. Halting on the way at Uszomierz, he repaired in the middle of the night to the Carmelite convent, to beg the blessing of the old monk, Marek, who had preached with the fire of a Bernard the Bar war, and around whose white-robed figure among the patriots fighting for freedom tales of miracle had gathered. Rising from his bed of sickness, the old man went out with Kopec, crucifix in hand, to the Polish soldiers, and gave them his blessing, adding the words: “Go in the name of God and you shall pass through.” Eluding the strong Russian forces that were on all sides, they effected their escape, and, singing the ancient battle hymn of Poland, marched to the banners of Kosciuszko.

We have seen that Kosciuszko held the war as a sacred crusade. He enforced rigid discipline. Licence was unknown in his camp, where the atmosphere, so eyewitnesses have recorded, was that of gaiety and ardour tempered by a grave enthusiasm.

There is here, writes the envoy whom Kosciuszko was sending to Vienna and whom he had summoned to the camp to receive his instructions, neither braggadocio nor excess. A deep silence reigns, great order, great subordination and discipline. The enthusiasm for Kosciuszkos person in the camp and in the nation is beyond credence. He is a simple man, and is one most modest in conversation, manners, dress. He unites with the greatest resolution and enthusiasm for the undertaken cause much sang-froid and judgment. It seems as though in all that he is doing there is nothing temerarious except the enterprise itself. In practical details he leaves nothing to chance: everything is thought out and combined. His may not be a transcendental mind, or one sufficiently elastic for politics. His native good sense is enough for him to estimate affairs correctly and to make the best choice at the first glance. Only love of his country animates him. No other passion has dominion over him."

The name of Kosciuszko is linked, not with victory but with a defeat more noble than material triumph. The watchword he had chosen for the Rising, “Death or Victory,” was no empty rhetoric; it was stern reality. The spring of 1794 saw the insurrection opening in its brilliant promise. From May the success of an enterprise that could have won through with foreign help, and not without it, declined Kosciuszko had now to reckon not only with Russia Prussia was about to send in her regiments of iron against the little Polish army, of which more than half were raw peasants bearing scythes and pikes, and which was thus hemmed in by the armed legions of two of the most powerful states in Europe.

On the 6th of June Kosciuszko reached Szczekociny. It was among the marshes there that the Polish army met the fiercest shock of arms it had yet experienced in the course of the Rising. “The enemy,” wrote Kosciuszko in his report, “stood all night under arms. We awaited the dawn with the sweetest hope of victory.” These hopes were founded on the precedent of Raclawice and on the battles in which Kosciuszko had fought in the United States, where he had seen British regulars routed by the American farmers. But as hostilities were about to begin with the morning, Wodzicki, examining the proceedings through his field-glasses, expressed his amazement at the masses moving against the Polish army. “Surely my eyes deceive me, for I recognize the Prussians,” he said to a Polish officer at his side. It was too true. In the night the Prussian army had come up under Frederick William II. “We saw,” says Kosciuszko “that it was not only with the Russians we had to deal, for the right wing of the enemy was composed of the Prussian army.” The Poles fought with desperate valour. Kosciuszko himself records the name of a Polish sergeant who, when both of his legs were carried off by a cannon-ball, still cried out to his men, Brothers, defend your country! Defend her boldly. You will conquer!" The charges of the Polish reapers went far to turn the tide of victory; but the overwhelming numbers of Prussian soldiers, and of scientific machines of war in a ratio of three to Kosciuszko’s one, carried the day against the Poles. Kosciuszko’s horse was shot under him, and himself slightly wounded. Only two of his generals emerged from the battle unscathed. The rest were either killed, including the gallant Wodzicki and another who, like him, had been one of the earliest promoters of the Rising, and the others wounded, Poninski redeeming by his blood a father’s infamy.

There was no choice left open to Kosciuszko, if he would save an army composed for the most part of inexperienced volunteers, but to order a retreat. This retreat was carried out in perfect order. The field was strewn with Polish dead, whom, after the withdrawal of the Prussians, the villagers piously buried in their parish church. There, too, on the battlefield, lay so many corpses of Prussian soldiers that Frederick William expressed the hope that he would gain few more such costly victories. It was at the close of this disastrous defeat that Kosciuszko for a moment gave way to despair. An officer of his Sanguszko met him wandering stupefied over the battlefield when the day was lost. “I wish to be killed,” was all Sanguszko heard him say. Sanguszko only saved his general’s life by gripping him by the arm and forcing him within the turnpike of a village hard by, where the shattered Polish ranks had taken refuge. This was, however, but a momentary faltering of Kosciuszko’s soul. On the morrow of the battle he was once more sending his country summonses to a renewed courage and calling up a fresh general levy.

The proivisional government of Poland was the while negotiating with France and Austria. It was hoped that France would support the Rising financially, and persuade Turkey with French encouragement to declare war on Russia. France, preoccupied with internal revolution, had no thought to spare for Polish affairs, and her assistance was never gained. Nor had the Poles’ overtures to Austria any happy result. The Austrian Government gave secret orders to arrest Kosciuszko and Madalinski if they crossed the frontier, and the Austrian regiments received instructions to attack any Polish insurgents who should pass over into Galicia, providing that the Austrians were superior in number. The favourable answer obtained through a French intermediary from the Porte arrived after Kosciuszko was in a Russian prison. By the irony of fate he never heard it, and it was only divulged thirty years after his death. Thus every diplomatic means failed the patriot, who was no match for the machinations of the European statecraft which has borne its lamentable fruits in the recent cataclysm we have all witnessed. He was thrown on the resources with which he was more familiar: those of an ennobling idea and of the exactions of self-devotion in its cause. Immediately after his eyes had been opened at Szczekociny to the new peril that had burst upon his country he sent out another order, bidding his commanders to go over the Prussian and Russian boundaries into the provinces that were lawfully Polands but which had been filched from her at the partitions, and proclaiming there the freedom and the rising of the Poles, summon the peasants oppressed and ground down with slavery to join us and universally arm against the usurpers and their oppression: to do the same in Russia proper and Prussia, to all who are desirous of returning to the sweet liberties of their own country or desirous to obtain a free country."

A peasant war could at the moment be only a chimera, impossible of realization. Does this manifesto prove that Kosciuszko, in a most perilous situation, abandoned by Europe, was pushed to a measure that he himself knew was a desperate hope? Or was it the generous prompting of a great dream that beats down, that refuses to be disconcerted by the obstacles that stand before it that in its failure we call visionary, but in its success the reform for which the world has waited? Be that as it may, the proclamation was not without its response. The Supreme Council modified its wording, and sent it into Great Poland the so-called “Prussian” Poland with the result that the Poles there took up arms.

A lion striving in the toils: such is the simile by which a Polish historian describes the position of Kosciuszko. Not one word or sign of sympathy for his nation in her gallant struggle for life reached him from any quarter outside his country. Nor was he beset only by external obstacles. Difficulties inside the state added to his cares. In answer to the complaint of a deputation from Warsaw, dissatisfied with the composition of the Supreme Council, he wrote from his tent, begging the people of the city, his brothers and fellow-citizens, to remember that he, whom their delegates saw, as he expresses it, serving you and the country in the sweat of my brow, had only the happiness of the sons of Poland at heart. May, says he, his vow made before God and the world calm all the anxieties of each citizen and defend them from irregular steps against the established Council. ... My answer is short: let us first drive out the enemy, and then we will lay down the unchangeable foundations of our happiness."

Sincerity was the groundwork of Kosciuszko’s dealings with his people. The greater the reverses which the cause of Poland encountered, the greater must be the courage with which to conquer them. Defeat must be regarded merely as the incentive to victory. Thus, a few days after the battle of Szczekociny, giving the nation a full report of the battle, in which he mitigated none of his losses, he ended with these words:

“Nation! This is the first test of the stability of thy spirit, the first day of thy Rising in which it is free to thee to be sad, but not to be dismayed. Those guilty of thy defeat will amend it at the first opportunity, and they who have never deceived thee as to their courage thirst to avenge thy misfortune of a moment. Wouldest thou be worthy of liberty and self-government if thou knowest not how to endure the vicissitudes of fate? Nation! Thy soil shall be free. Only let thy spirit be high above all."

He then marched in haste towards Warsaw, whose safety was threatened. On the way tidings of a great disaster were brought to him that of the capitulation of Cracow to the Prussians by its Polish commander, the national honour only redeemed by the gallant attempt of the Cracow burghers led by a book-keeper to defend the castle, to whom the Prussian general gave the honours of war as they marched out. The knowledge that the Prussians were in possession of the ancient capital of Poland, the most beloved of Polish cities, which had rung with the first vows of the national uprising, must have been bitter beyond expression to Kosciuszko and to all Poland; but again he would permit neither himself nor his nation to meet this blow with anything but unshaken fortitude.

“We have sustained a loss “ thus his manifesto: “but I ask of courageous and stable souls, ought this to make us fear? Can the loss of one town bid us despair of the fate of the whole commonwealth? The first virtue of a free man is not to despair of the fate of his country.” He speaks of Athens and the Persians, Rome after Cannae, France driving the English out of their country, and the heroes of his own nation who had repulsed Sweden, Turkey, Russia, and the Tartars. “Other men of courage and of virtue have not doubted. Instead of breaking into profitless lamentations they flew to arms, and delivered the country from the invasions of their enemies. ... I have told you, citizens, what my duty bade me tell you in the conditions of to-day: beware of indirect and alarmist impressions, beware of those who spread them. Trust in the valour of our armies and the fidelity of their leaders. ... Let not Europe say: ’The Pole is swift to enthusiasm, swifter to discouragement.’ Rather let the nations say: ’The Poles are valiant in resolution, unterrified in disaster, constant in fulfilment."

As if to prove the truth of his words, good news poured in from Lithuania, Samogitia, Courland. Bands of peasants were fighting in Lithuania. The Rising was general in Samogitia. Courland remembered that in the past she had been a member of the Polish Commonwealth, and her citizens gave in their act of adhesion to the Polish Rising.

Taking advantage of Frederick William’s incapacity of profiting by his victory at Szczekociny, Kosciuszko pushed rapidly on to Warsaw. By a series of skilful manoeuvres, in the last days of June he arrived outside the city, and prepared to defend her at all costs.

Events then occurred in Warsaw of a nature to arouse his strong condemnation. Hearing of the loss of Cracow at the hand of a traitor, the Warsaw populace, with the memory of Targowica, many of whose confederates were still in their midst, staring them in the face, dragged out from the prisons certain Poles who had either been guilty or who were suspected of treason, and executed them then and there. Kosciuszko was in camp in the neighbourhood of Warsaw. Any form of terrorism was abhorrent both to his private and national conscience. So deeply did he take to heart this outbreak of popular fury that one of his Lithuanian commanders, Prince Michal Oginski, who visited him at that time, heard him declare that he would have preferred the loss of two battles as being less prejudicial to the Polish cause. As the head of the national government, he at once addressed the following letter to the city of Warsaw:

“While all my labours and efforts are strained to the expulsion of the enemy, the news has reached me that an enemy more terrible than a foreign army is threatening us and tearing our vitals asunder. What happened in Warsaw yesterday has filled my heart with bitterness and sadness. The wish to punish delinquents was well, but why were they punished without the sentence of a tribunal? Why have you outraged the authority and sanctity of the laws? Is that the act of a people which has raised its sword and conquered foreign invaders in order to restore a well-ordered liberty and the rule of law, and the tranquil happiness that flow therefrom?”

Warning them in impassioned accents that such conduct was the surest means of playing into the hands of the enemy whose desire was to promote public confusion and thus impede the national work:

“As soon as the turn of war permits me to absent myself for a moment from the duties entrusted to me, I shall be among you. Perhaps the sight of a soldier who daily risks his life for you will be agreeable to you; but I would that no sadness imprinted on my countenance shall mar that moment. I would that our joy shall then be full, both yours and mine. I would that the sight of me shall remind you that the defence of freedom and of our country should only knit and unite us together, that only in unity can we be strong, that by justice, not by violence, shall we be safe at home and respected in the world. Citizens! I conjure you for the sake of the nation and of yourselves wipe out a moment of madness by unison, by courage against the common enemies and by a henceforth constant respect of the laws and of those who are appointed in the name of the law. Know this, that he who refuses to be submissive to the law is not worthy of freedom.”

He blames the Council of State for not having brought the prisoners to trial before, and bids this be done immediately.

And thus fulfilling what public justice exacts, I from henceforth most severely forbid the people, for their welfare and salvation, all lawless riots, violence against the prisoners, laying hands on individuals, and punishing them by death. Whoso does not betake himself to the government by the proper way is a rebel, a disturber of the public peace, and as such must be punished. You whose ardent courage is fain to take action for the country, employ it against the enemies, come to my camp; we will receive you here as brothers."

Many responded to this call, Kilinski, the shoemaker, with the cap of liberty planted rakishly on his head, as we may see him in his portraits, went to Kosciuszko with the proposal that he should “catch” the lower classes of the town. Kosciuszko gave his hearty consent, and a regiment of these was formed with Kilinski as their colonel. Kosciuszko was always singularly happy in his dealings with men and with the extraordinarily involved and delicate situations in which the domestic affairs of his country at this difficult period of her history placed him. His tact and common sense saved the situation. The guilty were punished. Order was restored.

The Russian and Prussian armies were advancing to invest Warsaw. At Kosciuszko’s bidding the President of the town, Zakrzewski, whom Kosciuszko addresses as his “beloved” Zakrzewski, had already in stirring language summoned the citizens to take their share in Warsaw’s defence.

Old men and young men, mothers and children, masters and servants, convents and confraternities, and all, in whatsoever you have of strength and health, present yourselves on the ramparts of the city with spades, shovels, barrows, baskets. You who are rich forget your comforts. You who are highborn forget your rank. Stand with the poor and hard-working citizens so that you who have drawn life from one soil shall on one soil taste the fruits of your safety, liberties, and possessions."

Crowds toiled on the ramparts, singing over their spades the song then sung throughout Poland, calling the Pole to the labour without which he would be torn from his brothers, “a prisoner on his own soil.” The sons of noble families enrolled themselves in Kilinski’s burgher regiment, eager to serve under his command. On the 13th of July the Russian and Prussian armies, the King of Prussia being present with the latter, were seen from the walls of Warsaw. The alarm was given and the cannon fired from the castle. The citizens took up their places in the entrenchments with an order and a precision that won high praise from Kosciuszko as he went his round of inspection. With undisturbed equanimity Kosciuszko prepared with his body of 26,000 men, of whom 16,000 were regulars, the rest peasants armed with scythes, to defend Warsaw against 41,000 Russians and Prussians and 235 cannon. Despite the labour of the townsfolk, the defences of the city were weak and incomplete when the enemy first appeared; but during the fortnight while the hostile armies lay encamped before Warsaw, waiting for their heavy cannon, Kosciuszko, by dint of his great gift of organization, put the fortifications into strong working order.

His creative power, said of him one of his adversaries, a Prussian officer, who took part in the siege, is worthy of admiration, since he alone, in the midst of creating an army, fought with it against the two best armies of Europe, having neither their stores nor their discipline. What would he not have shown himself at the head of a good army, since he did so much with peasants who knew nothing? Equally great in character, in devotion, in love of his country, he lived exclusively for her freedom and independence."

The story would be long to tell, of how the Poles, peasants, burghers and soldiers alike, with the inheritance of the fighting blood that runs in the veins of every son of Poland, with the fire of patriotism and of measureless devotion to the chief who led them, fought day after day the besieging army till it was beaten. The diary of the siege is the daily record of deeds of gallantry, of steadfastness, of a few carrying off the honours against many. Nor is there wanting a touch of that wild and romantic spirit of knightly adventure which runs all through the history of a country that for centuries defended Christendom against Turk and Tartar. Thus we find a Polish officer, Kamienski, who had already crowned himself with glory at Szczekociny, choosing to celebrate his name-day by inviting his friends to come with him and stir up the Russians, hitherto entirely passive in the operations of the siege. This, so to speak, birthday party was swelled by a band of eager Polish youths and by General Madalinski, who hastened to offer himself as a volunteer. They attacked a Russian battery, spiked the cannon and cut the gunners to pieces. Again and again Dombrowski, who was later to lead the Polish Napoleonic legions, and whose name stands at the head of the famous patriotic song so beloved of Poland, would at Kosciuszko’s laconic order, “Harass the enemy,” sally forth on some daring expedition. Or we hear of a sixteen hours’ battle, the Poles, under a terrific fire, successfully driving the Prussians from height to height, Kosciuszko himself commanding Kilinski’s burgher regiment. No shirkers were to be found in Warsaw. Under the fearful Prussian bombardment the citizens coolly put out the fires, and the children ran into the streets to pick up the spent balls and take them to the arsenal, receiving a few pence for each one that they brought in. Once as Kosciuszko and Niemcewicz stood on the ramparts with cannon-balls pattering about them, Niemcewicz heard a voice shouting into his ear through the din: You are coming to supper with me, arent you?" The host who had the presence of mind to arrange a party under these circumstances was the President of Warsaw.

Even those who will not allow that Kosciuszko was a military commander of the first capacity acknowledge that the defence of Warsaw was a magnificent feat. He was its life and soul. Organizing, encouraging, seeing into the closest details, the somewhat small but strongly built figure of the commander, clad in the peasant sukman worn, after his example, by all his staff, including the “citizen General Poniatowski,” was to be met with at every turn, his face lit up by that fire of enthusiasm and consecration to a great cause that confers upon its rough lineaments their strange nobility. From the 13th of July till the 6th of September, when the enemy abandoned the siege, Kosciuszko never once took off his clothes, merely flinging himself on a little heap of straw in his tent on his return from his rounds to catch what sleep he could. His very presence inspired soldiers and civilians alike to redoubled ardour. The sweetness of his smile, the gentle and kindly word of the leader who yet knew how to be obeyed and who was famed for his courage in the field, left a memory for life with all who saw him. Passionate admiration, the undying love of men’s hearts, were his. “Death or Victory is Kosciuszko’s watchword, therefore it is ours,” said a Polish officer who served under him. “Father Tadeusz” was the name by which his soldiers called him. Invariably he spent some part of his day among his beloved peasants, and daily he recited with them public prayers. Often at night he and they together went up to the teeth of the Russian batteries on expeditions to spike the cannon. His inseparable companion, Niemcewicz, who slept with him in his tent till the-end came, describes how the silence of these nights was broken hideously by the wild, shrill cry of the reapers, by the sudden roar of the cannon and crack of gunfire, by the groans of the wounded.

The defence of Warsaw was but half of the task that fell to Kosciuszko. The minutest particulars were dealt with by him personally. He wrote letter after letter, commandeering everything in the country for the national cause: requisitioning linen from the churches to clothe his soldiers, who in the beginning of the siege were half naked, sending out his directions to the leaders of the Rising in the provinces, issuing proclamations, maintaining an enormous correspondence on affairs it is said that the number of letters from his pen or signed by him at this time is almost incredible giving audiences, and conducting the civil government of Poland.

Early in August the Prussian general, in a letter to Orlowski, Kosciuszko’s old friend, whom he had made commandant of Warsaw, summoned the city to surrender, while the King of Prussia addressed himself in similar language to Stanislas Augustus, whose part in the historical drama of the siege was that of an inert spectator. Kosciuszko drily replied, “Warsaw is not in the necessity to be compelled to surrender.” The Polish King replied, not drily, to the same effect. The fortunes of the Rising in the rest of the country were fluctuating, and in Lithuania, where Wilno fell, hopeless. In the beginning of September exultation ran through Warsaw at the news that every province of Great Poland had risen against their Prussian conquerors. Kosciuszko characteristically took up the general joy as the text of a manifesto to the citizens of Warsaw, warning them that Prussia would, in the strength of desperation, redouble her efforts against them, and urging them to a dogged resistance. On the 4th of September, shortly after the Poles had by a most gallant attack carried off a signal triumph, when Warsaw was preparing for a fresh and violent bombardment, Kosciuszko wrote in haste to the President: “Beloved Zakrzewski, to-day, before daybreak, we shall certainly be attacked, and therefore I beg and conjure you for the love of our country that half of the citizens shall go to-day into the line, and that if they attack all shall go out."

The attack did not take place; and on the 6th of September the Prussians retired from Warsaw. During the whole course of the siege, with the exception of one post they had taken in its earliest stage, they had gained not one inch against the Poles defending their city with smaller numbers and inferior ammunition. The Russians retreated with the Prussians. They had remained almost immovable during the siege. Neither of these two collaborators in the destruction of Poland were on the best terms with each other, and Catherine II had no mind to share with Prussia the distinction, and still less the profits, of bringing Warsaw to its knees. Austria, although she was by way of being at war with Kosciuszko, had held aloof from the siege, unwilling to commit herself, but determined on coming in for the spoils when the Rising should be crushed out.

Kosciuszko then tasted one of the greatest triumphs of his life: the armies of the enemy were no more seen round the city he had saved.

“By your assiduity, your valour,” the National Council wrote to him, “you have curbed the pride and power of that foe who, after pressing upon us so threateningly, has been forced to retreat with shame upon his covetous intentions. The Council knows only too well the magnitude of the labours which you brought to the defence of this city, and therefore cannot but make known to you that most lively gratitude and esteem with which all this city is penetrated.

Further, it expressed the wish that Kosciuszko should show himself to a grateful people in some solemn function.

To this Kosciuszko politely replied, declining to take any share in a public honour which it was against every dictate of his nature to accept.

“I have read with the greatest gratitude and emotion the flattering expressions of the Supreme National Council. I rejoice equally with every good citizen at the liberation of the city from the enemy armies. I ascribe this to nothing else but to Providence, to the valour of the Polish soldiers, to the zeal and courage of the citizens of Warsaw, to the diligence of the government. I place myself entirely at the disposition of the Supreme National Council: in what manner and when do you wish the celebration to take place? My occupations will not permit me the pleasure of being with you. I venture to trust that the God who has delivered the capital will deliver our country likewise. Then, as a citizen, not as a bearer of office, will I offer my thanks to God and share with every one the universal joy."

He stayed in his camp and, in order to avoid an ovation, did not enter Warsaw. No public triumph was celebrated, but Masses of thanksgiving were sung in every church of the city.

Although he was the ruler of the state, Kosciuszko lived in the utmost simplicity. He had refused the palace that was offered to him, and took up his quarters in a tent. When receiving guests his modest meal was spread under a tree. Asked by Oginski why he drank no Burgundy, his reply was that Oginski, being a great magnate, might permit himself such luxuries, “but not the commander who is now living at the expense of an oppressed commonwealth.” When taken unawares by a royal chamberlain he was discovered blowing up his own fire, preparing some frugal dish.

In the first flush of joy at the liberation of Warsaw, he wrote to Mokronowski:

Warsaw is delivered. There are no longer either Muscovites or Prussians here: we will go and seek them out. Go, my friend, and seek them out, and deliver Lithuania from the invaders."

But Kosciuszko’s steadiness of outlook was not for an instant relaxed by the signal success he had won. Untiring vigilance and redoubled activity were his order of the day, both for himself and his fellow-Poles. The short breathing-space that followed the retirement of the enemy was devoted by him to the pressing internal concerns of the nation, taxation and so forth. He was determined on perfect freedom for all classes and all religions in Poland. He ordered the erection of new Orthodox places of worship for the members of the Eastern Church. He enrolled a Jewish legion to fight in Poland’s army, and commanded that this regiment should be equipped and treated on equal terms with the Polish soldiers of the Republic. In a transport of gratitude the Jewish leaders called upon their fellow-believers to rise for Poland in confidence of victory under “our protector, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who is without doubt the emissary of the eternal and Most High God."

Kosciuszko was a generous enemy. His Russian captives he treated with a courtesy and kindness that were ill repaid during his own march into Russia as a prisoner in Russian hands. He directed that services in their own language and faith should be held for the Prussian prisoners. A letter of his remains that he wrote to the Lutheran minister of the evangelical church in Warsaw, expressing his gratitude that this clergymans pulpit had been a centre of patriotism, at a time when nations who love freedom must win the right to their existence by streams of blood, and telling the pastor that he has issued orders for the Prussian prisoners to be taken to church in the conviction that you will not refuse them your fatherly teaching."

This letter and the snuff-box that accompanied it were preserved as relics in the pastor’s family.

The Bohemian and Hungarian prisoners were by Kosciuszko’s command released, “in memory of the bond that united the Hungarians and Czechs, when free countries, with the Polish nation.” We have lived to see the descendants of that Hungarian generation spreading untold atrocities through Polish towns and villages as the tool of Prussia in the recent war.

The triumph over the Prussians was but a temporary respite. The Prussian army returned to the investment of Warsaw, at some distance from the town itself. The ambassador of the King of Prussia was treating in Petersburg with Catherine II for the third partition of Poland. She on her side sent Suvorov with a new and powerful army against the Poles. The Austrians were already in the country. Kosciuszko, fighting for life against Russia and Prussia, had no army to send against the third of his foes. His generals were engaging the enemy in different parts of Poland, at times with success, as notably Dombrowski in Great Poland, where events continued to be the one gleam of hope in these last days of the Rising, but again with terrible defeats, such as Sierakowski experienced by the army of Suvorov, near Kosciuszkos old home. Kosciuszko deceived himself with no illusions: but neither fear nor despair found an entry into his soul. He did not lose heart, writes one who never left him. He turned and defended himself on all sides." Wherever his presence was most urgently needed, thither he repaired. Accompanied only by Niemcewicz he rode at full speed into Lithuania to rally the spirits of Mokronowski’s corps, depressed by defeat. He returned at the same breakneck pace, miraculously, says his companion, escaping capture by the Cossacks who were swarming over the country. On this occasion, Princess Oginska, at whose house the travellers took a hasty dinner, pushing on immediately afterwards, gave Kosciuszko a beautiful turquoise, set with diamonds. It was to be among the Russian spoils at Maciejowice.

The proclamation that Kosciuszko addressed to the Lithuanian soldiers, found later in his handwriting among his letters, bears its own testimony to the soul of the leader who, in the face of strong armies marching upon his doomed nation, would give no entrance to despair or discouragement. Expressing the joy he experienced at being among the soldiers of Lithuania, on whose soil he was born:

“My brothers and comrades! If till now the results of your toil and struggles have not entirely corresponded to the courage and intrepidity of a free nation, I ascribe this, not to the superior valour of our enemies (for what could there be more valiant than a Polish army?); but I ascribe it to a want of confidence in our own strength and courage, to that false and unfortunate idea of the enemy’s power which some fatality has sown among your troops. Soldiers valiant and free! Beware of those erroneous conceptions that wrong you; thrust them from your hearts; they are unworthy of Poles. ... A few thousand of your ancestors were able to subdue the whole Muscovite state, to carry into bondage her Tsars and dictate to her rulers, and you, the descendants of those same Poles, can, wrestling for freedom and country, fighting for your homes, families and friends, doubt ... if you will conquer. ... Remember, I repeat, that on our united courage and steadfastness the country must depend for her safety, you for your freedom and happiness.”

He threatens with the utmost rigour of martial law any who shall attempt to undermine the spirit of the army by representing the difficulty of opposing the enemy, or similar offences.

“It were a disgrace to any man to run away, but for the free man it were a disgrace even to think of flight.”

I have spoken to the cowards who, God grant, will never be found among you. Now do I speak to you, valiant soldiers, who have fulfilled the duties of courageous soldiers and virtuous citizens, who have driven the enemies even to the shores of the sea. ... I speak to those who have in so many different battles spread wide the glory of the Polish name. Accept through me the most ardent gratitude of the nation."

In the same month, towards the end of September, he sent his country what proved to be his last message, still from his tent outside Warsaw.

“Freedom, that gift beyond estimate for man on earth, is given by God only to those nations which by their perseverance, courage, and constancy in all untoward events, are worthy of its possession. This truth is taught us by free nations which after long struggle full of labours, after protracted sufferings manfully borne, now enjoy the happy fruits of their courage and perseverance.

“Poles! You who love your country and liberty equally with the valorous nations of the south, you who have been compelled to suffer far more than others oppression and disdain; Poles, who, penetrated with the love of honour and of virtue, can endure no longer the contempt and destruction of the Polish name, who have so courageously risen against despotism and oppression, I conjure you grow not cold; do not cease in your ardour and in your constancy.”

He tells them he knows only too well that in a war with the invaders their possessions are exposed to the danger of loss; but in this perilous moment for the nation we must sacrifice all for her and, desirous to taste of lasting happiness, we must not shrink from measures, however bitter, to ensure it to ourselves. Never forget that these sufferings (if we may call such sacrifices for our country by that name!) are only passing, and that contrariwise the freedom and independence of our land prepare for you uninterrupted days of happiness."

These were the numbered days of Kosciuszko’s Rising. A Russian army of highly trained troops under the able command of Suvorov was marching on Warsaw. To prevent Suvorov’s juncture with the forces of the Russian general, Fersen, Kosciuszko prepared to leave Warsaw and give Fersen battle. Beset from every quarter, he had been compelled to divide his army in order to grapple with the powerful armies against him. Sierakowski had, as we have seen, been defeated. There was not a moment to be lost. On the 5th of October Kosciuszko confided to Niemcewicz that by daybreak on the following morning he intended to set out to take command of Sierakowski’s detachment. He spent the evening in the house of Zakrzewski, for the last time among his dearest and most faithful collaborators, Ignacy Potocki, Kollontaj, and others. The next morning by dawn he was off with Niemcewicz. They galloped over the bridge at Praga. A month later that bridge was to run red with the blood of Polish women and children; its broken pillars were to ring with the agonizing cries of helpless fugitives as they fled from Suvorov’s soldiers only to find death in the river below. The life of Poland depending on his speed, for Fersen at the head of twenty thousand men was nearing both Warsaw and Suvorov, Kosciuszko, with his companion, rode at hot haste. They only paused to change horses, remounting the miserable steeds of the peasants, sorry beasts with string for bridle and bit, and saddles without girths; but none others were to be found in a land laid waste by the Cossacks and by the marches of armed men. At four in the afternoon Kosciuszko rode into Sierakowski’s camp, where he at once held a council of war. The army under his command moved on October 7th, The day was fair, glowing with the lights of the Polish autumn. The soldiers were gay of heart, and sang as they marched through villages ruined by the Cossacks to defeat. They halted at one of these villages where the Russians had been before them. The staff spent the night in the house of the squire. The furniture had been hacked to pieces by the Cossacks, books, utensils, all destroyed. That evening a courier rode in to convey to Kosciuszko the intelligence that Dombrowski had won a victory over the Prussians at Bydgoszcz rechristened by Prussia, Bromberg and had taken the town. It was Kosciuszko’s last hour of joy. He published the news through the camp, amidst the soldiers’ acclamations, bidding them equal Dombrowski’s prowess with their own. With an old friend of his Niemcewicz walked in the courtyard of the house where the staff was quartered. A flock of ravens wheeled above them. “Do you remember your Titus Livy?” asked Niemcewicz’s companion. Those ravens are on our right. It is a bad sign. It might be so for the Romans, replied the poet, but not for us. You will see that though it seems difficult we shall smash the Muscovites. I think so too, answered the other. In this spirit the Polish soldiers advanced to the fatal field of Maciejowice. Tents they had none. Fires were lit, around which they stood or sat, arms in hand.

On the 8th of October rain poured, and the wearied soldiers rested. On the 9th the army went forward. Again over that last march the strange beauty of a Polish autumn shed a parting melancholy glory. The way led through forests flaming with the red, gold, and amber with which the fall of the year paints the woods of Poland. At four o’clock the forest was left behind, and the army emerged near the village of Maciejowice. Kosciuszko, taking Niemcewicz and a few lancers, pushed on to reconnoitre the position. A scene of terrible splendour met the gaze of the doomed leader. The Vistula stretched before him, reddening in the sunset, and as far as the eye could reach lay on its shores the Russian army, their weapons flashing to the sinking sun. The hum of multitudes of men, the neighing of horses, the discordant clamours of a camp, filled the air. Advancing, Kosciuszko with his little troop had a skirmish with the Cossacks. The general and Niemcewicz were twice surrounded, and narrowly escaped with their lives. Then with the evening the Polish army came up, and hostilities ceased.

The village of Maciejowice stood in a hollow outside a wood among marshes. The night quarters of the staff were in the manor-house belonging to the Zamojski family. It, too, had been ravaged by Russian soldiers, the family portraits in a great hall on the first floor slashed by Cossack sabres, the contents of the library wantonly destroyed. No foreboding seemed to have hung over the Polish officers as they sat at supper. They were in high spirits, and peals of laughter greeted the quaint scraps that Niemcewicz read out from a handful of old Polish newspapers he had hit upon intact in a chest. Shortly after supper Kosciuszko lay down for a few hours’ sleep; at midnight he rose and dictated to Niemcewicz his instructions for the day. Before sunrise the Russians were moving to the attack, and Kosciuszko was on his horse. Impelled by necessity, he gave orders to fire a village that lay in the line of the Russian advance. The lamentations of the women and children as they fled into the woods from the flames that were destroying their all, the wild cries of frightened birds and beasts, the volumes of smoke rising over ruined homes, combined to make up a scene of horror, unforgettable by those who witnessed it, and that must have wrung a heart such as Kosciuszko’s. Under a steady Polish fire the Russian soldiers and cannon, advancing through mud and marsh, sank at every step. For three hours the Poles kept the enemy at bay, standing steadily against his terrific fire with artillery that was no match for his. The Polish staff were covered with branches that the Russian balls sent crashing from the trees. Kosciuszko himself fired the cannon with an accuracy of aim under which the Russians wavered. It appeared as though they were about to retreat. But the enemy’s superiority of numbers, the strength of his artillery, began to tell, and his heavy fire sowed death among the Polish ranks. A shell burst between Kosciuszko, his aide-de-camp, Fiszer, and Niemcewicz, but left them unharmed. What Niemcewicz, who lived through it, describes as a hailstorm of bullets, grapeshot and shells, poured down upon the Polish lines. How any came out alive to tell the tale was to him a marvel. The dead lay in heaps. Not a Pole stirred from his post under this rain of fire. Each fell where he stood. Every artillery horse was by now killed or mutilated. Then at that moment it was past midday the Polish cannon were silent: the ammunition had run out. Riding madly through the Polish ranks, Kosciuszko shouted to his soldiers to fight on, to keep up heart, Poninski with fresh supplies was coming up. He did not come, and the rumour of treachery, never, however, proved, gathered about a name that was already of ill repute to a Polish ear. Galled by standing motionless without ammunition, a Polish battalion rashly charged, and the Russians broke through the Polish line. Niemcewicz, rushing up to repulse them at the head of a Lithuanian squadron, was wounded, captured by the Russians, and his men dispersed. Another faithful friend of Kosciuszko, Kopec, struggling to cut a way through for his general, and thrice wounded, was in his turn taken prisoner. The little Polish army was now encircled on all sides by the Russians, attacking in their whole strength. Then ensued a fearful bayonet charge in which the Poles were mowed down like corn before the sickles, each soldier falling at his post, yielding not to the enemy of their country, but only to death. The battalion of Dzialynski he who had been among the most ardent propagators of the Rising in its beginning died to the last man. One who passed over the battlefield before the close of day shuddered at the sight of those serried rows of the dead, testifying by the order in which they lay to the unbroken discipline in which they had died. Of that battlefield, such is the phrase, the enemy only remained master by treading over the ranks of the corpses of our soldiers, still occupying after death the same place they had occupied in the battle." Without hope of victory the Polish riflemen fired till their last cartridge was spent. With the Russians on all sides of them the gunners, standing at the cannons, had worked till the end. A final desperate effort was made by Kosciuszko to form up a front with a small band of his soldiers. His third horse was killed beneath him. He mounted another, when a wave of Russian cavalry swept in upon the broken remains of the Polish army, and all was over. Fighting in a hand-to-hand struggle in a marsh, Kosciuszko fell, covered with wounds, unconscious, and was taken prisoner by three young Russian ensigns. Only two thousand of the Poles who had fought at Maciejowice returned to Warsaw from that tragic and heroic field. Conducted to the manor where a few hours before he had slept by the side of Kosciuszko, Niemcewicz found there Kosciuszko’s devoted officers, Sierakowski, Kniaziewicz, who had commanded the left wing at the battle. Kopec and Fiszer all prisoners of war. The last drop was added to their cup of bitterness when they heard that nothing was known of the fate of their beloved leader, save the report that he was slain.