This Day in History… October 15, 1817

Death of General Thaddeus Kosciuszko 

US #734 – was issued on the 150th anniversary of Kosciuszko’s American citizenship.  Click the image to order.

On October 15, 1817, Polish-Lithuanian General Thaddeus Kosciuszko died in Solothurn, Switzerland.

Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was born in early February 1746 (sources generally say February 4 or 12), near Kosów, Lithuania (present-day Kosava, Belarus). The youngest son of a Polish-Lithuanian army officer, Kosciuszko came from a family with noble ancestry.

After his father’s death, Kosciuszko joined Poland’s Corps of Cadets in 1765 where he studied military tactics and liberal arts.  He stayed as a student instructor after graduating and reached the rank of captain.  Then in 1769, he traveled to France to study at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.  While in Paris, he also audited lectures at the military academies.

After briefly returning home, Kosciuszko eventually made his way back to Paris, where he learned about the American Revolution.  He strongly supported their cause and set sail for America in June 1776.

US #1691-94 from the Bicentennial series. Click the image to order.

Shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania, Kosciuszko read Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.  He was so moved by it, because it stood for everything he believed, he wanted to meet the author.  A few months later, the two men met in Virginia and spent the day discussing philosophy and other shared beliefs.  They soon became close friends, with Kosciuszko enjoying several prolonged visits to Jefferson’s home at Monticello.  Jefferson once called Kosciuszko “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”

US #734 – 1933 Kosciuszko First Day Cover. Click the image to order.

In August 1776, Kosciuszko was officially assigned to the Continental Army.  Having gained significant engineering knowledge during his studies, Kosciuszko was tasked with building fortifications at Fort Billingsport in New Jersey, to protect the Delaware River from a British attack.  The following year, he joined the Northern Army and reviewed the defenses of Fort Ticonderoga.  His suggestions for improvements went unanswered, and the British ended up attacking just as he’d predicted.  Kosciuszko was then tasked with delaying the enemy, which he did by felling trees, damming streams, and destroying bridges to slow the British and give the Americans time to withdraw.

US #1728 pictures the British surrender at Saratoga. Click the image to order.

After that success, Horatio Gates tasked Kosciuszko with finding the most defensible position for the Battle of Saratoga, which he found at Bemis Heights.  Kosciuszko’s strong defenses there helped Gates win victory and force the British surrender at Saratoga.  In March 1778, Kosciuszko traveled to West Point, where he would spend two years improving the fortifications and defenses, and the results were seen as innovative.

Poland #2289-91 includes a stamp honoring the Kosciuszko Division of the Poland Color Guard. Click the image to order.

After that, Kosciuszko asked for a combat position and was granted it, though he would continue to provide engineering expertise.  He fought at the Second Battle of Camden, participated in the Siege of the Star Fort, and commanded troops at the last armed action of the war at James Island.

US #28 Jefferson from the first series of perforated U.S. stamps. Click the image to order.

After the war ended, Kosciuszko went back to Poland where he was commissioned in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army.  Inspired by the American Revolution, he launched the Kosciuszko Uprising to free Poland and Lithuania from Russian oppression in 1794.  He was eventually captured but later pardoned.  Kosciuszko returned to America.  He spent time with Thomas Jefferson, and wrote a will leaving his American assets to the education and freedom of US slaves (though this was never carried out as he intended).  He later went back to Europe and died in Switzerland on October 15, 1817.

Click here to learn about the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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