Kosciuszko Uprising

From Academic Kids

The Kościuszko Uprising took place in Poland in 1794. It was a failed attempt at freeing Poland from Russian influence after the Second Partition of Poland and the creation of Confederation of Targowica.



The first partition of Poland and the War in the defence of constitution resulted in serious weakening of the reformist movement in Poland, supporting the May Constitution. However, after the second partition of Poland the ruling partisans of Imperial Russia united in the Confederation of Targowica were also weakened. The people supporting Russia as the main guarantor of the golden freedoms after the second partition were seen as traitors of their country rather than heroes and opposition to their rule gained much support, both within the gentry and the burghers.

To suppress the opposition, the governments of Prussia and Russia agreed to demobilise 50% of the Polish Army and draft the remaining Polish soldiers into their own armies. On March 12, 1794, General Antoni Madaliński, the commander of 1st Greater Polish National Cavalry Brigade (1 500 men) decided to disobey the orders of demobilisation and moved his troops from Ostrołęka to Kraków. This sparked a general outbreak of anti-Russian riots throughout the country. Russian garrison of Kraków was ordered to leave the city and defeat the revolted Polish unit. This left the city completely undefended.


On March 24, 1794 in Kraków General Tadeusz Kościuszko, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War pronounced the general uprising and assumed the powers of the commander in chief of the entire Polish Army, becoming the de facto dictator of Poland. He also vowed to

use the powers not to oppress any person, but to defend the entirety of the borders of Poland, regain the independence of the nation and to strenghten the universal freedom.

In order to strenghten the Polish forces, Kościuszko issued an act of mobilisation, requiring that every 5 houses in Lesser Poland delegate at least one able male soldier equipped with carbine, pike or an axe. Kościuszko's staff estimated that by mobilising all able males between 18 and 40 years of age the army of the uprising will soon reach the number of 10 000. The difficulties with providing enough armament for the mobilised troops made Kościuszko form large units composed of people armoured with scythes.

Missing image
"Battle of Racławice", Jan Matejko, oil on canvas, 1888, National Museum in Kraków. 4th April 1794

To destroy the, still weak, opposition, the Russian tsar ordered the corps of Major General Fiodor Denisov to attack Kraków. On April 4 both armies met near the village of Racławice. In what became known as the Battle of Racławice Kościuszko's forces defeated the numerically and technically supperior opponent. After a bloody battle the Russian forces withdrew from the battlefield. Kościuszko's forces were too weak to start a successful pursuit and wipe the Russian forces out of Lesser Poland. Although the strategical importance of the victory was close to none, the news of the victory spread fast and soon other parts of Poland joined the ranks of the revolutionaries. By early April the Polish forces cencentrated in the lands of Lublin and Volhynia, ready to be sent to Russia, joined the ranks of Kościuszko's forces. On April 17 Jan Kiliński started an armed uprising against the Russian garrison of Warsaw and after two days of heavy city fights managed to completely rout the Russian forces in the area. Similar uprising was started by Jakub Jasiński in Wilno on April 22 and soon other cities and towns followed.

On May 7, 1794, Kościuszko issued an act that became known as the "Połaniec Universal Call", in which he partially abolished the serfdom in Poland, granted civil liberty to all peasants and provided them with state help against the abuses by szlachta. Although the new law never fully came into being and was boycotted by much of the szlachta, it also attracted many peasants to the ranks of the revolutionists. It was the first time in Polish history when the peasants were officially regarded as part of the nation, the word being previously equal to szlachta.

Despite the promise of reforms and quick recruitment of new forces, the strategiczal situation of the Polish forces was still critical. On May 10 the forces of Prussia crossed the Polish borders and joined the Russian armies operating in northern Poland. On June 6 Kościuszko was defeated in the Battle of Szczekociny by a joint Russo-Prussian forces and on June 8 General Józef Zajączek was defeated in the Battle of Chełm. Polish forces withdrew towards Warsaw and started to fortify the city. On June 15 the Prussian army captured Kraków unopposed, but the Russian forces were defeated in a series of skirmishes near Warsaw and the defenders managed to finish the fortification efforts. Although it was besieged by Russo-Prussian forces on July 22, the siege was unsuccessful. On August 20 an uprising in Greater Poland started and the Prussians were forced to withdraw their forces from Warsaw. The siege was lifted soon afterwards, on September 5. Russian forces commanded by Ivan Fersen were withdrawn towards Pilica River.

Although the opposition in Lithuania was crushed by Russian forces (Wilno was besieged and capitulated on August 12), the uprising in Greater Poland achieved some success. A Polish corps under Jan Henryk Dąbrowski captured Bydgoszcz (October 2) and entered Pomerania almost unopposed. Thanks to the mobility of his forces, General Dąbrowski evaded being encircled by a much less mobile Prussian army and disrupted the Prussian lines, forcing the Prussians to withdraw most of their forces from central Poland.

Meanwhile, the Russians equipped a new corps commanded by General Aleksandr Suvorov and ordered it to join up with the corps under Ivan Fersen near Warsaw. After the battles of Krupczyce (September 17) and Terespol (September 19), the new army started its march towards the Polish capital. To prevent both Russian armies from joining up, Kościuszko mobilised his forces in Warsaw and on October 10 started the Battle of Maciejowice. Despite Kościuszko's plans, both Russian units entered the combat simultaneously and the enemy achieved victory. Kościuszko himself was wounded in the battle and was captured by the Russians who sent him to Petersburg.

The new commander of the uprising, Tomasz Wawrzecki, was not able to control the spreading internal struggles for power and ultimately became only the commander of weakened military forces, while the political power was held by General Józef Zajączek, who in turn had to struggle with both the leftist liberal Jacobites and the rightist and monarchical gentry.

On September 4 the joint Russian forces started an all-out assault on Praga, the right-bank suburb of Warsaw. After 4 hours long hand-to-hand struggle, the 24 000 men strong Russian forces broke through the Polish defences and started to loot and burn the borough. In what became known as the Massacre of Praga whole district was completely destroyed and approximately 20 000 of its inhabitants were murdered. To spare Warsaw the fate of its eastern suburb, Wawrzecki decided to withdraw his remaining forces southwards and on November 5 Warsaw was captured.

On November 16 near Radoszyce Wawrzecki surrendered. This marked an end of the uprising. The power of Poland was broken and the following year the third partition of Poland happened, after which Austria, Russia and Prussia annexed the remainder of the country.


The effect of the Kościuszko Uprising was a complete disaster for Poland. The country ceased to exist for 123 years and all of its institutions were gradually banned by the partitioning powers. However, the uprising also marked the start of modern political thought in Poland and Central Europe. The Kościuszko's Universal of Połaniec and the radical leftist Jacobites started the Polish leftist movement. Many prominent Polish politicians who were active during the uprising became the backbone of Polish politics, both home and abroad, in 19th century.

Also, Prussia had much of its forces tied up in Poland and could not field enough forces to suppress the French Revolution, which added to its success.

See also

pl:Insurekcja kościuszkowska


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