- Historic Sites
The brilliant Polish engineer who made possible the victory at Saratoga was a fighter for freedom in both America and his homeland
June 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 4
To anyone who knew Kosciusko, his sudden departure for Europe could have meant only one thing: he had once again heard his country’s call. He had been summoned to take command of the Polish legions, which were forming under Napoleon’s banner in hopes of regaining their country’s freedom. The prospect seems instantly to have revived his heart and mended his wounds. But as he soon came to suspect, the legions’ trust in Napoleon was misplaced. Though Bonaparte made use of the Polish legions in many of his campaigns, nothing was done for Poland. This new disappointment went a long way toward breaking Kosciusko’s spirit. He seemed suddenly to grow old. But he steadfastly refused to play any part in Napoleon’s schemes without written guarantees for Poland’s freedom—which, of course, never came.
The great patriot spent his last days in retirement in France and later in Switzerland, occupying himself with gardening and woodworking and corresponding now and then with Jefferson, whose replies were full of warm regard. At the request of the American envoy to France he also composed a treatise on “Manoeuvres for Horse Artillery,” which was adapted for use by the United States War Department during the War of 1812.
Kosciusko died at Soleure on October 15, 1817, at the age of seventy-one. His heart was buried beneath a monument in Soleure and was later transferred to the Polish Museum in Rapperszwil, Switzerland. His body was taken back to Poland and laid to rest in the cathedral at Cracow, where Poland’s kings were buried. Outside the town a great earthen mound was raised in his honor by the men, women, and children of Poland, who brought earth in their barrows and caps and pockets from the Polish battlefields where he had fought. All that was lacking to make his homecoming complete was a shovelful of the earth he had helped to win for America.