Colonel Koscuiszko’s Northern Campaign

Students of American military history all agree that Thaddeus Koscuiszko did the most to defeat the British Army during the American Revolutionary War. This Polish soldier was just 30 years old when he came to America in August of 1776 to petition Congress for an assignment under General George Washington. Koscuiszko was a skilled military engineer in Poland and had studied the art of warfare at French academies. He could speak French and German and he soon learned to converse in English, although he never wrote it fluently. He was polished in manners, modest in nature, knowledgeable in science, and an amateur artist.
While Congress considered his request for a place in the army, Koscuiszko was pressed into service by the worried Council of Safety in Philadelphia. New York had fallen to the British, Washington was in retreat, and an assault upon Philadelphia was expected both by land and sea. Koscuiszko immediately directed the building of fortifications on Billingsport Island just below the city and the strengthening of the defenses on the New Jersey shore at Fort Mercer. On October 18, 1776, Congress voted him a commission as Colonel of Engineers in the Continental Army. On Christmas Eve, Washington defeated the Hessians at Trenton and an attack on Philadelphia was averted.
General Horatio Gates was the commandant in Philadelphia and was transferred to the Northern Army Headquarters in Albany, New York. He took his favorite staff officers, including Koscuiszko, who was then a friend of the entire Gates family. From Albany Koscuiszko was sent to Fort Ticonderoga where his defense plan was rejected by General Arthur St. Clair and as a result the Fort fell to the British. The British army continued to march southward along the Hudson River but failed in its attempt to capture Albany due to the breastworks and fortifications planned by Koscuiszko at Saratoga, (now called Schuylerville). Historians have called the battle at Saratoga as one of the world’s most decisive battles. It changed the course of the American Revolution and brought France and Spain to the aid of the Colonies.

Monument at Saratoga reads:
In Memory of the Noble Son of Poland
Erected by his Compatriots AD 1936

From Saratoga Koscuiszko was sent by Gen. Washington to find a location further south on the Hudson River to build fortifications to stop the British invasions from Canada. The young engineer chose a spot now called West Point. For the next 28 months he was in charge of planning and building hilltop forts, redoubts, gun emplacements, breastworks, and troop barracks. West Point became “The Gibraltar of America” and the British never undertook to capture it. Some say that West Point was Koscuiszko’s greatest achievement because he saved lives on both sides by preventing a battle.

The first monument erected at West Point honored Koscuiszko.

In the summer of 1780 with his work at West Point coming to an end, Koscuiszko ask Gen. Washington to be transferred to the light infantry. Reluctantly Washington assigned him to the Southern Army. About the time Koscuiszko was leaving West Point, Benedict Arnold was taking over command there. The Polish engineer was on his way south when Arnold’s treacherous plot to betray the fort to the British was discovered.
If you look carefully at the statues in Peterson Park, you will notice that Colonel Koscuiszko is not wearing spurs on his boots. The reason may be explained by the following notice posted at West Point:

Lost yesterday, reconnoitering with his Excellency, General Washington, a spur with treble chains on the side, and a single one underfoot, all silver, except the tongue of the buckle and the rowel. Whoever has found, or shall find it, and will bring it to Colonel Koscuiszko or at headquarters, shall have ten dollars reward.”