What makes someone uproot his life and enlist in a foreign war? For Polish military strategist Tadeusz Kosciuszko—the engineer behind several key Patriot victories—it was the ideal of independence.
The youngest son of a noble family, Kosciuszko was born in 1746 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, present-day Belarus. He attended military school as a young man but left for Paris in 1768, when civil war divided his country. In 1775, Kosciuszko learned about the rebellion in the British colonies and felt drawn to the Patriot cause. He sailed across the ocean in 1776 and joined the Continental Army.
Kosciuszko designed effective defensive works and fortifications that sustained the Americans in the Battle of Saratoga and at West Point before accepting an appointment as chief engineer in the Southern Campaign. Under Major General Nathanael Greene, he kept Patriot troops one step ahead of General Lord Cornwallis’s army in what is known as the Race to the Dan. His expertise in scouting crossings along the Dan River from North Carolina to Virginia allowed the Continental Army to escape the British and helped Greene stage the Battle of Guilford Court House. Kosciuszko’s logistics enabled Greene to win back South Carolina from British occupiers. The engineer also served in the Battle of Camden and orchestrated the siege at Ninety-Six.
A decade after returning to Poland in 1784, Kosciuszko led an unsuccessful effort to liberate his own land from Russian rule. He died in exile in Switzerland in 1817.
DATE OF BIRTH - DEATH
February 4, 1746 - October 17, 1817
For more on the life of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, visit Battlefields.org.