Thaddeus Kosciuszko: Military Engineer of the American Revolution, by Francis C. Kajencki, South Polonia Press, $49.50.
This book is as definitive as any written account can be on the military career of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, barring the discovery of new documents about the life of the Polish engineer, and is a valuable addition to any shelf of volumes dealing with the American Revolution. Briefly touching on Kosciuszko’s failed 1794 insurrection in his native land and his earlier battle against Prussians and Russians there, the book can be called a military biography. But as the title suggests, this is a history of Kosciuszko’s part in the American Revolution from his arrival in Philadelphia in 1776 until the war ended in 1783. More than merely recounting actions and campaign assignments, the author gives the reader an appraisal of the Polish officer’s contribution to the victory over Great Britain. And, Kajencki also provides a running commentary on how previous historians have viewed Kosciuszko.
The author first deals with Kosciuszko’s training as an engineer in Europe, depicts his travels to America and his acceptance into the Continental Army, then details his assignment at Fort Ticonderoga in 1777. There, he recommended that General Horatio Gates fortify the dominant terrain, Mount Defiance. Unfortunately for the American cause, his suggestion was not heeded. British General John Burgoyne saw the strength and importance of this promontory, promptly seized it, and forced America’s abandonment of the nearby fort.
Following the description of the Ticonderoga debacle, Kajencki makes a strong and convincing case for the vital role Kosciuszko made three months later at the Battle of Saratoga. This is undoubtedly the Polish exile’s greatest achievement in America. At Bemis Heights Kosciuszko’s advice on fortifying the Continentals’ lines was heeded and American forces occupied an ingenious position that channeled the British into terrain highly unfavorable for their arms and highly favorable to American fortunes.
The book then deals with the complicated defenses at West Point and Kosciuszko’s engineering service in the southern theater of operations as both an engineer and cavalry commander. His service as a combat leader and his work during the last campaign of the War for Independence is also considered.
There are minor problems with the book; for instance, one wishes the author would have put more of his commentary about historians in footnotes or saved all of them for an appendix, but they do not pose any serious obstacles to the presentation of an important personality’s often-overlooked military career. Kajencki has given us a good book that trumps its predecessors.