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Tadeusz Kościuszko was a Polish general, revolutionary, military engineer and statesman who was a major figure during the last years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the birth of the Polish Republic.
Born in 1746 to a Lithuanian-Ruthenian family of the minor gentry, he enrolled in the Corps of Cadets at what is now the University of Warsaw in 1765. By 1768 he had attained the rank of captain, in which capacity he fought on the side of the King during the War of the Bar Confederation. However, when his brother Józef joined the side of the rebels, Tadeusz chose to leave Poland. Granted a royal scholarship, he journeyed to Paris where he studied painting and architecture.
Kościuszko returned to Poland in 1774 after the First Partition; however, finding that there was no place for him there, he emigrated again the following year. In June 1776, together with several other foreign officers, he sailed for North America to join the colonial rebellion there, where he proved to be an expert in constructing fortifications and fieldworks.
After the defeat of the rebellion in 1778, Kościuszko was pardoned by the British government and offered a pension and a commission in the army. He refused, but nevertheless remained in America for several years learning from the rebel’s mistakes. He eventually returned to Poland in 1784, and this time was commissioned a major-general in the Polish army and assigned to be the second-in-command of Prince Józef Poniatowski.
Kościuszko was one of the primary Polish commanders during the War for the Constitution of 1791, during which he won every battle he fought. He was deeply disappointed when King Stanisław August nevertheless surrendered for political reasons, and left Poland one final time, hoping to gather support from other European countries. In April 1794, with tacit Austrian support, he launched an uprising in Lwow and quickly gathered a volunteer army of thousands which he used to liberate the Ruthenian lands.
In 1795, under the new constitution, he was elected one of the two members of the Consular College representing Lithuania and was selected to lead a retaliatory campaign against Russia. He reached as far as Tver and Moscow before inferior numbers forced him to retreat, but he managed to leave Russia with most of his forces intact and was able to retain the city of Smolensk…