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Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the American Revolution


Thaddeus Kosciuszko, one of the most understated names of the American Revolution, came to mind today as I was thinking about some of the key international contributions to American independence. Kosciuszko served in the Revolution from 1776-1783. Educated in Warsaw and Paris an an engineer, he came to the United States in 1776 and offered his services to the Continental Congress and used his classical warfare training at places like Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and West Point. He was praised by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for not only his contributions to the war effort not only as "a gentleman of science and merit," but as a "pure . . . son of liberty."


In 1780, Kosciuszko was sent to serve under Greene to serve as chief engineer of the Southern Department of the Continental Army. Under Greene's command, Kosciuszko scouted rivers, found suitable campsites for the army, built boats, and constructed fortifications across the South. In the all-important retreat to the Dan River in 1781, he prepared fortifications for the crossing. Once across, Greene dispatched Kosciuszko to Halifax to see if the city was in a defendable position.


But it was at Ninety-Six in South Carolina, during a 28-day siege, where Kosciuszko has been considered either a hero or failed tactician for Greene's inability to take the Star Fort. Kosciuszko constructed artillery batteries, parallels and saps as well as the construction of a mine to break through the Star Fort. That effort failed, as did Greene's ability to force the British from the star. Even though the British left Ninety-Six later, as its isolation made it an untenable position, Kosciuszko was criticized by famed cavalry commander Henry Lee for failing to focus on the most important detail: cutting off the enemy's water supply. That lack of attention, according to Lee, was responsible for the failed siege of Ninety-Six. Lee later wrote, "Never regarding the importance which was attached to depriving the enemy of water, for which he entirely depended on the rivulet to his left, Kosciuszko applied his undivided attention to the demolition of the star, the strongest point of the enemy's defence." Greene, however, described the approaches as "judiciously designed and would have infallible gained success if time had admitted of their being completed."


Kosciuszko later returned to Poland to fight for its independence which he never saw in his lifetime. He was truly a patriot and a freedom fighter, dreaming of lifting up the poor and dispossessed of his native Poland, not fame or fortune, and should never be forgotten as one of our true international heroes of the American Revolution. See chapter 7 of "Greene and Cornwallis in the Carolinas . . . " for more details on the siege at Ninety-Six.



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