Polish History- The Napoleonic Age




Even before the revolution, France held a special appeal to the Poles. For centuries Poland was engaged in a long distance love affair with France and in this case distance did make the heart grow fonder. The relationship was only consummated once, in the short-lived and bitter experience of the first elected king, Henri Valios. There were extended flirtations, such as when the French princess Louise Marie married Wladyslaw IV and then his brother John Casimir, bringing with her an extensive entourage of Parisians to the court at Warsaw. One of them, Sobieski's French wife, Marysienka, helped steer Poland in a pro-French direction and Louis XIV even offered the famous hetman the baton of a marshall of France. In the 18th century, France went to war to defend the election of their partisan Stanislaw Leszcynski. After his deposition the French offered him asylum and the Dukedom of Lorraine where the ousted king provided a direct link to Poland with the French Enlightenment. The French Revolution was seen as a kindred, if excessive, spirit during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's last attempt at liberation. The French seemed to offer aid to oppressed nations such as Poland with its slogan of "liberty, equality, and fraternity". Through all these interactions French support was more apparent than real, often more of a ruse to further French international policy than a genuine concern about the well-being of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, it should be noted that the motives of the French were of less concern than their actions to the Americans, who used France's hatred of Great Britain to found a nation based on principles diametrically opposed to the old regime.


The "citizens" of Paris generally welcomed the Poles, who were seen as fellow revolutionary soldiers fighting monarchic reaction. The French war effort in 1793-95 benefited from the Polish crisis, having helped distract Russia and Prussia during Republican France's formative years. In recognition of this service Kosciusko was made an honorary citizen of France. In any case, Poles fleeing the partitioned lands had few options better then France. In 1798, after spending two years in the United States, the most famous émigré Kosciusko made his way to Breville, near Paris. In exchange for an oath of loyalty to Czar Paul I, the hero of two continents was released in 1796 along with approximately twenty thousand Polish political prisoners, many of whom migrated to France.[1]


In Paris the Poles succeeded in resurrecting not the Polish nation but their unfortunate propensity to split into rival factions. One group of emigrants formed the "Agency" which pursued moderately liberal goals by diplomatic means. Another group formed the "Deputation" which advocated armed revolt and conspiracy at home. The Deputation believed that as long as the nation survived, defined to include all Polish peoples and not just the szlachta elite, political independence was inevitable. Selective freedom was no longer an option; only the unified action of all classes could expel the invaders.


The activity of both groups was largely limited to propaganda, although the Deputation did manage to inspire a small revolutionary organization in Prussian held Warsaw.[2] Like later Polish governments in exile, the rival groups both claimed to represent the Polish nation and exhibit profound doctrinaire differences that made reconstruction all the more difficult.


If the partitions of Poland disrupted the balance-of-power in Eastern Europe, the rise of revolutionary France was even more threatening to the established order throughout Western Civilization as it sought to de-legitimize the accepted political framework. The political maxims of the people's revolution with its dangerous concept of elective representation, "proven" so disastrous in Poland, were anathema to the absolutists who ruled by divine right, but as long as the radical philosophy was quarantined in France or in North America and theoretical in nature they felt relatively safe in their own countries. However, the moral claims of the revolution, in a somewhat altered form, were soon translated into an advancing reality by a man who lent his name to the age.[3]


The Poles in France came into contact with a young military commander whose meteoric rise altered the course of Western Civilization. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), born to an Italian noble family of meager means on the island of Corsica, was completely defeated and exiled by age forty-five, but in the intervening decades he nearly conquered a continent, and in the process became an Emperor who placed his friends and relatives on the thrones of Europe.[4] No less an authority than the Duke of Wellington, when asked who was the greatest general of the day, responded, "In this age, in any age, Napoleon".[5]


At age nine, Napoleon was sent to a military school in France. Just before entering the Brienne-le-Chateau Academy, he learned to speak French, but the man most historically associated with France was never able to mask his heavy Italian accent. The boy excelled at academics and at age fifteen was admitted to the elite Ecole Royale Militaire in Paris, completing the rigorous two-year course of study in one year where he was judged to have "a thorough knowledge of mathematics and geography".[6] At sixteen the freshly minted second lieutenant began what was the most accomplished military career in history. Interestingly, Napoleon requested a naval assignment but was sent to the La Fere artillery regiment instead; had he served in the sub-par French navy he most likely would have remained obscure.


Napoleon went on to use his artillery expertise to capture most of Europe, starting with the streets of Paris in 1795 with a "wiff of grapeshot". He introduced the concept of the professional conscript army and reconfigured military organizations into a form largely valid today. Although his over forty battlefield victories, usually against numerically superior foes, were eclipsed by the final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, his most lasting legacy may be the Napoleonic Code which was adopted throughout Europe and helped spur, thanks to its property rights ascertains, the bourgeois ascendancy that lead to the triumph of capitalism.[7]


But in 1796 the twenty-six year old Brigadier-General Napoleon Bonaparte was one of several rising young stars in the French Republic. In March he took command of the French army in Italy and started planning an invasion to defeat the Papal States and oust their Austrian allies. Despite the fact that the campaign was billed as one of national liberation for the Italian people, Napoleon soon discovered that the Italians, fearful of replacing one tyrant for another, would not fight enthusiastically under the French banner.


But France's plans in Europe were in many ways Poland's fight. The three pillars of the "old regime" on continental Europe directly challenged by the French Revolution were none other than the same countries that partitioned Poland: Russia, Austria, and Prussia.[8] Recognizing this motivation and encouraged by "The Agency" which believed that only a regular military force could liberate Poland, Napoleon summoned a former Polish officer named Jan Dabrowski to Paris and proposed forming a Polish army-in-exile under French command. Dabrowski, who already was organizing armed resistance in the former Commonwealth, was asked to join French forces opposing a coalition that included Austria and Prussia, two partitioners whose defeat might lead to the liberation of the parts of Poland under their control.


Dabrowski was trained in the Saxon army but was recalled to Poland by the "Quadrennial Sejm" in 1791 to form a Polish cavalry. He fought the Russians in both the 1792 and 1794 uprisings, advancing to the rank of general thanks to the personal recommendation of Tadeusz Kosciusko. Both Russia and Prussia recognized his obvious talent and offered him commissions after the final partition, but Dabrowski choose exile to servitude in what was then Poland.


On October 11, 1796, Dabrowski, with Napoleon's assistance, received approval from the French Directory to form the Polish Legions. Recruitment of frustrated Poles was not difficult and by the spring of 1797 almost six thousand men answered the call. Many of the new recruits were Poles from Galicia who were conscripted into the Austrian army but either deserted or were captured by the French.


Since French law prohibited the presence of foreign troops on French soil, the Polish Legions were sent to the far reaches of the growing Empire, initially in Italy but later as distant as the Caribbean. Napoleon used Polish patriotism for his own ends; the cause of Polish liberation was never a direct objective of the Legions. The Polish Legion in Italy was technically a part of the army of the newly created Republic of Lombardy, a semi-independent province of the budding French Empire. Napoleon was concerned that if the Polish Legions were directly attached to French forces future negotiations with partitioning partners would needlessly be compromised. The technicality was also useful should the implied promise of Polish liberation need alteration.[9]


To demonstrate independence and nationalistic intent, Dabrowski insisted that Polish soldiers be outfitted in traditional Polish uniforms; however, as a concession to his hosts he agreed to wear epaulettes with Lombardy colors and French tri-colored cockades. The new Polish formation, following the French example, addressed each other as brother and bore the inscription, written in Italian, "free men are brothers" on their uniforms.[10] Unusual for the time, the egalitarian Poles allowed no corporal punishment in their ranks. The Legions were commanded by Polish officers and retained Polish military rank, however, the French decided where and when they fought.


The first assignment for the Polish Legions was in Italy. The Poles were under the impression that after liberating Italy they would march through Hungary into Galicia and eventually the Polish heartland. [11] Napoleon even promised, verbally, to someday lead French troops into Russia to force the Czar to grant independence to the lands of the former Commonwealth.[12] The cult of Napoleon the liberator began.


The Poles were further motivated by the "Anthem of the Polish Legions in Italy," written in 1797 by Polish General Josef Wybicki (1747-1822). Some of the verses were inspired by Napoleon, who had recently told his Polish aid-de-camp that, "a nation that has been crushed by its neighbors cannot be restored but by sword in hand".[13] Other lyrics alluded to past glory and predicted the resurrection of the Polish State. Sung to the tune of the traditional Polish mazurka, the song was to become the Polish National Anthem and proved particularly popular during the 1830 and 1863 uprisings and during Pilsudski's coup in 1926.

Poland is not yet lost, 

As long as we live,

What the foe by force has seized,

Sword in hand we'll gain.


March! March, Dabrowski!

March from Italy to Poland!

Under your command

We shall reach our land.


Cross the Vistula and Warta

And Poles we shall be;

We've been shown by Bonaparte

Ways to victory.


                            As Czarniecki Poznan town regains,[14]

Fighting with the Swede,

To free our fatherland from chains,

We shall return by sea.


Father, in tears,

says to his Basia:

"Just listen, it seems that our people

are beating the drums."


German, Moscovite won't withstand

When we take our backswords and

The watchwords of us all

Unity and Fatherland becomes.


We will in unison proclaim:

Enough of this bondage!

We have our scythes from Raclawice

And Kosciusko is with us, God willing.[15]


Poles were instrumental in much of Napoleon's success, fighting with distinction during the French capture of Rome in May of 1798. In Rome, Dabrowski discovered the Turkish standard captured at the Siege of Vienna that Sobieski had sent to the Pope along with the saber the great King used in the battle. Thereafter, the flag always accompanied the Polish Legions while the saber was sent to the man deemed Sobieski's worthy successor-Kosciusko.[16] After declaring a new Roman Republic, Napoleon's army captured Pope Pius VI, who protested the execution of Louis XVI and refused to relinquish his temporal authority as ruler of the Papal States. Many were distressed when the Vicar of Christ died in captivity in 1799, but the very Catholic Poles must have cringed when Napoleon used the embalmed body of the Pope as a political bargaining chip during the negotiation of the Concordat of 1801. The agreement between Napoleon and the Papacy restored the Catholic Church in France and returned much of its former properties confiscated during the revolution; however, the Church was henceforth essentially a department of state, under Napoleon's and not the Pope's rule. Satisfied with the arrangement, Napoleon shipped the mummified Pope back to Rome for a decent burial in 1802.


By 1799 three Polish Legions were fighting for Napoleon throughout Europe, including a Danubian Legion on the German front. The Polish Legions served as the only tangible representative of their enslaved nation and on numerous occasions clashed with their partitioners, such as the Austrians in Bavaria or the Russians at Trebbia, Novi, Adige, and Mantua. Napoleon was impressed with the martial ability of the Polish troops, commenting that, "these Poles fight like devils".[17] Poles were rewarded for their valor by placement in the spearhead of Napoleon's attacks, where they suffered unusually high casualties.


When Kosciusko returned to Paris in 1798 after a brief stay in America, the legionnaires hoped their spiritual leader would assume command. After all, the Anthem of the Polish Legions explicitly asked for his leadership. Although Kosciusko professed a hatred of kings he insisted the Polish troops, who were largely comprised of peasants and burghers, be educated in a republican spirit in keeping with the goals of the French Revolution, as he never fully trusted Napoleon, whom he believed hijacked the revolution for his personal aggrandizement. "Do not think that Bonaparte will restore Poland", Kosciusko is quoted as saying. "He thinks only of himself. He hates every great nationality, and still more the spirit of independence. He is a tyrant whose only aim is to satisfy his own ambitions".[18] Kosciusko refused an official role in the Polish Legions, doubting that Napoleon was truly interested in Polish liberation and suspecting the Poles were only replacing one despot with another.[19]


Kosciusko's suspicions seemed confirmed when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Luneville in 1801 which ended hostilities with the Austrians. The treaty made no mention of the Polish question. The efforts of the twenty-five to thirty thousand Poles who served in the Legions, many of whom died in battle, appeared in vain. Perhaps worse, a greater number of Poles forcibly were conscripted into the armies of the partitioning powers during the time, with correspondingly higher numbers of casualties. As in World War I, Poles served as cannon fodder for the opposing sides in a European conflagration. Few nations in the last two hundred years have seen more military action than the Poles, yet due to the peculiarities of its situation Poland received little benefit for its actions.


After Luneville, the Legions were disbanded and many of their members regulated to police duties in Italy as an auxiliary corps attached to the short lived Kingdom of Etruria. Poles continued to serve in French military forces but no longer as specific Polish units. Despite its short history the Polish legions of 1797-1801 had lasting effects. The Legions demonstrated that Poles could and would offer armed resistance to the partitioning powers. The republic ideals practiced in the Legions served as a school for democratic virtues while the veterans themselves formed the nucleus of the future army of the Duchy of Warsaw.[20] Napoleon still had great plans for his Polish troops, little which had anything to do with Polish national liberation.


At the beginning of the 19th century the colonization of North America was far from complete. Despite the upstart American's success in the Revolutionary War, most of the continent and the rich sugar islands of the Caribbean were very much in play, largely contested between England and France. Although Great Britain controlled many of the islands and the North American province of Canada, France claimed the vast "Louisiana Territory", including the key port of New Orleans, and the French West Indies, which included the lucrative sugar-rich colony of San Domingo or Saint Dominque, present-day Haiti. However, in 1800 a slave named Toussaint Louveture led a successful uprising against his French masters on the island. Louveture proclaimed himself governor and, while still claiming allegiance to France, abolished slavery.

San Domingo was the lynchpin in Napoleon's New World aspirations; he could not tolerate an independent black state in the middle of his future Empire. In 1802 Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, along with thirty thousand troops, to retake the island and reinstitute slavery. After the expected success, Napoleon planned to transfer most of the troops to Louisiana to establish a permanent presence on the North American continent. From New Orleans, the French could control commerce in the American interior and construct a base from which to strike their most potent enemy, England. In addition, the interior of the continent could be used to grow food for a French Empire in the West Indies.

The French expeditionary force sent to San Domingo included German and Swiss allies and over five thousand Poles from the Polish Legions, now organized as "demi-bragades", who must have wondered how this distant outpost could possibly help their national cause. The Poles signed on to fight for liberty, but now found themselves as mere tools of colonial repression. With good reason many Poles did not understand how the Hatian slave's desire for freedom differed from their own cause.

The French-Polish forces stormed the island in January of 1802 and despite determined resistance from the former slaves, defeated the Haitian forces and captured Louveture, who was promised fair treatment. The French, not feeling obligated to honor their word to a slave, immediately reneged on their promise, slapped Louveture in chains, and shipped him to France, where the following year he died of exposure, unattended, in a freezing dudgeon.

The rough treatment of Louveture reignited a revolt throughout the French West Indies, but ultimately the dream of French conquest in the New World was destroyed by one of the most brutal opponents Napoleon ever faced, an insect. By the summer of 1802 many of the French troops, including their commander Leclerc, were dying from yellow fever, the same disease that thwarted French attempts to build the Panama Canal later in the century. Ubiquitous mosquitoes transmitted the fever, sometimes called the "black vomit" because of its hideous symptom, to the European troops who were defenseless against the acute virile disease. The French were forced to abandon the islands and return to France, leaving behind an independent Haiti and its lost opportunities.

At the time yellow fever was almost as feared as the plaque. In 1793 a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia killed ten percent of the population and caused the great war heroes George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to flee what was then the nation's capital. In Haiti, yellow fever killed most of the French expedition, far more than combat deaths. Of the 5280 Poles sent to the islands less than seven hundred returned to Europe. Some of the Poles who did not return joined the revolution on the islands, achieving for San Domingo what they failed to accomplish in Poland, but most died of the fever, casualties of a questionable cause.[21]

Napoleon's plans in North America completely unraveled thanks to the mosquito. Without San Domingo and troops sent to New Orleans, the North American project no longer made sense. Napoleon abandoned the idea of a New World Empire and decided to salvage what he could by selling his indefensible positions in North America to the Americans. Representatives of the United States, who were frustrated in their negotiations with the wily French minister Talleyrand, suddenly found the French surprisingly compliant, willing to sell the entire territory for a mere $15,000,000. Making the most of a bad situation Napoleon used the money to fund his planned war with England.

In 1803 the Americans, who fancied themselves shrewd negotiators and not merely fortunate bystanders, purchased 827,000 square miles of land, an area more than four times the size of France, for a scant four cents an acre. The new land eventually formed all or part of fifteen states and helped form a new and unexpected Empire. Despite the dubious constitutionality of the acquisition, Jefferson, the vaunted states rights advocate, pushed through one of the greatest federalist accomplishments of the age. The wisdom of the acquisition was in some doubt as most of the territory was uncharted. Jefferson, hoping to find a northwest passage that would open trade to the Far East, sent an expedition led by Lewis and Clarke to inventory the new riches. The results were disappointing as the explorers found relatively barren territory obstructed by virtually impenetrable mountain ranges. If the Americans were not aware of the worth of their new acquisition, Napoleon was, commenting that "the (Louisiana Purchase) forever assures the power of the United States, and I have given England a rival, who, sooner or later, will humble her pride".[22]

After the dissolution of the Polish Legions and during Napoleon's temporary peace with the partitioning powers, the Poles turned their attention, and hopes, to the Czar of Russia. Many Poles believed that a Russo-Polish reconciliation, underpinned by Slavonic solidarity, could be facilitated by a new Czar who condemned the partitions and advocated liberal policies.[23]

Alexander I (1777-1825) succeeded his eccentric father Paul I in 1801. Paul was the son of Catherine the Great but his father's identity was a matter of some speculation, particularly since the candidates were so numerous. If Paul, like his contemporary counterpart in Great Britain George III, was not mad, he certainly gave a good impression. His proclivity for tantrums and manic foreign policy directives had Russia aligned with and opposing a host of foreign powers at a dizzying pace, but after less than five years on the throne, the Czar, like Peter III, was murdered in his bedroom by several former drunken officers.  

Although it is unlikely that Alexander was in on the murder of his father, the rumor of an assassination attempt was an open secret. It was also well-known Catherine intended to have Alexander succeed her as she held her mercurial son in open contempt. Catherine took Alexander and his brother Constantine at birth, regarding her grandchildren as state property. It was assumed that one day Alexander would rule Russia while Constantine, named for the great 4th century Emperor, would rule over a restored Byzantine Empire after Russia wrestled Constaniople from the Turks.[24] Catherine did not lack ambition. Paul and his wife were permitted to visit their children infrequently, and only by appointment. The Empress even provided the heir apparent with his own palace and court, both grander than that of his father's. When Catherine died suddenly in 1796 while on the throne, she suffered a stroke while sitting on the commode, Paul's first act was to search frantically for her testament and have it destroyed; its contents were never known. Interestingly the scramble for power inspired Paul to be first and only Russian ruler to establish an effective law of succession, but the new edict did not prevent his own assassination.[25]

Alexander was destined to be one of the most significant figures in the 19th century, and had he reconciled his intentions with his actions might have been the greatest. The new Czar was the most liberal leader Imperial Russia ever knew whose attempt at a great social and political experiment in Europe was as admirable as it was chimerical.[26] His attempts to modernize Russia and project the Empire on to the European stage are reminiscent of the efforts of Peter the Great.

In order to provide a broad, liberal education Grandmother Catherine arranged for young Alexander to be tutored by the Swiss republican philosopher Frederic-Cesar de La Harpe, who later was a member of the Directory that ruled Revolutionary France. Despite her autocratic reign Catherine must have envisioned a time when Russia was ready for a more enlightened rule and was grooming her grandson to fill that role. The Grand Duke was sent on the grand tour of Europe, where Alexander was exposed to European culture, history, and politics. Alexander's philosophical connection with Great Britain was particularly strong; later he was named the godfather of future Queen Victoria who was christened Alexandrina Victoria in his honor. However, the policies of the Enlightenment were often in direct opposition to Russian principles of rule, and resulted in an almost schizophrenic reign that never quite reconciled the idealism of the west with the realism of the east.

When the new Czar assumed the throne his well known liberalism was welcomed by the lower classes. Rumors of the abolition of serfdom and increased freedoms generated great expectations not only in Russia but in her vassal states, such as Poland. One of the more obvious manifestations of this idealism was when Alexander appointed his liberal Polish friend, Adam Czartoryski (1770-1861), as foreign minister.

In many ways the political odd couple were kindred souls. The Polish Prince was a member of "the Family" who was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Russian Ambassador Nokolia Repnin; turn about being fair play, Czartoryski was later rumored to have been the lover of Alexander's wife. As a youth Czartoryski also was taken on the grand tour of Europe where he studied constitutional law and Western philosophy, becoming an unabashed admirer of the English Wigs. After the final partition Adam and his brother Constantine, who fought for the Polish cause during the uprisings, were sent to Russia as virtual prisoners, held as hostages to assure the good behavior of their influential family in Poland.[27] The brothers were conscripted into the Russian military but served with such distinction that Catherine the Great restored some of their Polish estates and elevated them to "gentlemen-in-waiting" at the Russian court. Adam Czartoryski met Grand Duke Alexander at a formal ball where the two immediately formed a friendship. Together the idealistic youths headed a "Committee for Public Salvation" that planned the transformation of Russia into a constitutional monarchy, not unlike the one outlined by the Polish May 3rd Constitution.[28]

By 1803 the Czar so admired the Polish Prince that he appointed Czartoryski curator of the Vilnius (Wilno) University, the pinnacle of Polish language secondary schools in the Russian ex-Polish gubenii and, in fact, the largest university in the Russian Empire.[29] In addition, to attending to his educational responsibilities, the ambitious Pole began to dream of remaking of the map of Europe. Czartoryski believed that an educated elite, ruling under the principles of the May 3rd Constitution and backed by the military might of a modernized Russian Empire, could achieve social progress, religious toleration, and optimal government. The Czar was seen as a social crusader who would establish a new and just world order.[30]

Alexander was taken by the grandiose plans of his young friend and raised him to the rank of de facto foreign minister in 1804. Poland was given considerable leeway under the administration in St. Petersburg, and Polish culture seemed to blossom, acting as a beacon of hope to the more oppressive environment in Austrian and Prussian Poland.[31] In fact, Russian rule was far from oppressive. Thanks to a relatively inefficient bureaucracy, the lands of the former Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth retained much of their prior social order and some local self-government. Polish schools were unmolested and the Lithuanian legal system functioned much as it had done since the 16th century. Polish grain now was exported through Russia's new Black Sea port of Odessa, opening up a lucrative new market for szlachta landowners. In contrast, Prussian education was increasingly German-language only, while in Austria the amorphous Polish nobility were now divided into a titled hierarchy in an attempt to divide the upper class.[32]

Czartoryski was in a unique position; a Pole sent to Russia as a semi-hostage, disliked by the conservative elements in the Imperial court, widely rumored romantically involved with the consort of the Czar, now was a prominent member of the government most responsible for the demise of his homeland.[33] It remained to be seen how he satisfied the needs of both Russia and Poland.

Immediately idealism collided with the real politics of European affairs, producing disastrous results. In March of 1804 an eighteen year old relatively obscure aristocrat with a long name and short life, Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Conde, duc d'Enghien, was abducted by the French secret police from his residence in Baden. The French claimed that they had uncovered a plot to assassinate Napoleon sponsored by exiled Bourbons. Napoleon charged the young Duke with conspiracy to overthrow the French government, acquisitions he knew were false. Perhaps Napoleon wished to eliminate a Bourbon claimant to the throne, or perhaps he simply intended to offend the exiled Bourbon family in such an egregious manner as to make reconciliation with the prior regime inconceivable.[34] In any case the young man was executed after a show trial in France. The murder shocked and outraged the aristocrats of Europe. The always practical French diplomat Talleyrand called the execution "more than a crime, a mistake". The murder of the Duke is discussed near the beginning of Tolstoy's great novel War and Peace, set in 1805.

Napoleon used the "crisis" to justify the recreation of a hereditary monarchy claiming that a Bourbon restoration was impossible once the Bonaparte Dynasty became constitutional, an assumption that proved false. On December 2, 1804, Napoleon, unlike Charlemagne, crowned himself emperor, taking the imperial regalia from the hands of the seated Pope.

Czartoryski reacted to the young Duke's death with righteous indignation, using the incident to abruptly terminate the fragile peace between Russia and France. The Russian foreign minister helped organize an anti-French coalition, which he hoped would be used to realize his new world order. Reminiscent of Frederick William II's proposed "Prussian System", Czatoryski's complex plan involved major territorial realignments that required the cooperation of a multitude of competing interests. In short, Austria, Prussia, and Russia were to divide Central Europe between them, buffered by an autonomous Polish State in personal union with Russia. Under the scheme Russia territory expanded at the expense of Austria and Prussia who were expected to relinquish their share of the Polish partitions to the Czar, hardly a reasonable assumption.

The plan envisioned a unification of West German and Italian states and even provided for an international body to coordinate cooperation between nations.[35] The United Kingdom was given free reign outside of continental Europe but was expected to maintain a power equilibrium and establish justice in the world with its complimentary power Russia. When the impossibly complex proposals were presented to the courts of Europe, the reaction was decidedly unfavorable.[36] Embarrassed by the apparent naivety of the scheme, Alexander retreated to more traditional policies, particularly after military defeats made cooperation with Austria and Prussia more urgent. A discouraged Czartoryski resigned in 1807; however, he remained a personal friend of the Czar for the rest of his life.

The Czar's timing of severing ties to France was not particularly good. Russia joined Austria and Great Britain in time for the so-called Third Coalition in 1805.[37] The third time did not prove a charm. Napoleon, flush with American cash, was contemplating the invasion of England but when he learned of the new coalition he turned his attention to the continent. By the time Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet at Trafalgar on October 21, 1805, Napoleon had already abandoned his naval plans and redirected his army, originally planned as an invasion force, to attack Austria. In a sense, Trafalgar merely reconfirmed the wisdom of a decision Napoleon already had made, however, the elimination of French naval power significantly impacted the outcome of European land wars.

Unable to challenge Britain at sea and essentially confined to the European mainland, Napoleon called for a Europe-wide boycott of England and her allies. Although the sanctions weakened the British economy, the so-called "Continental System" proved an even greater hardship to many of Napoleon's allies. When Portugal refused to comply with the system and Spain did not invade her neighbor to enforce the boycott, France began the ill-fated Peninsular War, tying up many valuable troops in an untenable quagmire. Although France won most of the set-piece battles, particularly those that Napoleon himself led, resistance fighters took to the hills and harassed the French occupational army. The term guerrilla war, or "little war", was first used in reference to Napoleon's struggles on the Iberian Peninsula. The French could defeat the Spanish State, but not the Spanish Nation, which was assisted by British troops under the command of the Duke of Wellington. The "Spanish Ulcer" bedeviled the French, diverting much needed manpower which included over twenty thousand Poles, until her last troops were driven from the peninsula in1814.[38]

On December 2, 1805, just a few weeks after Trafalgar, Napoleon effectively destroyed the Third Coalition with a masterpiece battlefield performance that ranks as one of the most impressive tactical triumphs in history. At the Battle of Austerlitz, in what is now the Czech Republic, the outnumbered Napoleon defeated a joint Russian-Austrian army personally led by Czar Alexander I, inflicting casualties at a rate of almost fifteen to one. Napoleon considered Austerlitz his greatest victory and the battle fundamentally altered the nature of European politics for a decade. Alexander is supposed to have said in regards to Napoleon's military expertise, "we are babies in the hand of a giant".[39]

Austria was forced to sue for peace. While Russian forces beat a hasty retreat, France formed a coalition of Germanic states into the Confederation of the Rhine which served as a buffer state throughout the Napoleonic Era and caused the formal dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. If there was a downside to Austerlitz it was the totality of victory. Like Charles XII's victory over Peter the Great at the Battle of Narva, the lopsided success instilled a false sense of invincibility that led to future defeat. Hitler relearned this lesson after the dramatic early success of Operation Barbarossa in 1941.

Within months of their humiliating defeat, another coalition was organized to oppose Napoleon, who seemed poised to conquer the continent. Although Austria was eliminated, Russia, Prussia, Saxony, Sweden, and the United Kingdom combined for the Fourth Coalition. Napoleon, seeking allies, in 1806 summoned Dabrowski from Italy, where he was serving as a division general, and asked him to organize new Polish military units for the upcoming campaigns. On September 20, 1806, orders were issued to create a new French division from deserters of the Prussian army, who lost almost one-seventh of its manpower as a result. In an effort to coerce Poles to fight with him, Napoleon commented, "I want to see whether the Poles deserve to be a nation".[40] Despite the taunt, Napoleon made no binding promises about Polish liberation. Like all politicians Napoleon wanted to make his grandiose proclamations as meaningless as possible. Although he sought Polish support he did not want permanent linkage with Poland as he feared the association might unite all three partitioning partners against France.[41]

Many Poles volunteered to serve in the new units; however, the response was decidedly less enthusiastic than in 1796 due to lingering distrust from the Haitian fiasco. Napoleon even circulated an endorsement of the campaign supposedly issued by Kosciusko, but when the Polish hero denied the authenticity of the claim, the propaganda tactic backfired.[42]

In spite of the lack of political guarantees, Polish units were with Napoleon when he crushed the Prussian Army at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt, fought in Germany on October 14, 1806. The Prussians foolishly declared war against France, partly out of resistance to Napoleon's anti-British Continental System which adversely affected the German merchant class, before her coalition partners were in a position to assist in the campaign. Despite being outnumbered, as was the norm, Napoleon launched a lightning assault that in nineteen days eliminated Prussian from the Fourth Coalition. At Auestedt a single French corps defeated the bulk of the once proud Prussian Army. Two weeks later Napoleon entered Berlin unopposed. As the French soldiers stopped to gawk at the tomb of Frederick the Great, Napoleon insisted they remove their hats in the presence of the military master whose campaigns he emulated, saying, "If he was alive we wouldn't be here today".[43]

The once invincible Prussian army was systematically destroyed within a few months of declaring war. Prussia eliminated, Napoleon now turned his attention to an isolated Russia. As the French approached Polish soil, recruitment into Dabrowski's forces dramatically increased. Posan was liberated by French forces in November and welcomed by enthusiastic crowds singing the march of the legions.[44] Polish patriotism was infectious, and soon spread to many parts of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland). With French assistance, the Poles accomplished their only successful post-partition insurrection until the Pilsudski era.

Napoleon entered Warsaw on December 19, 1806, to the approval of delirious Polish crowds. The display clearly impressed Napoleon, who exclaimed, "it is hard to conceive the strength of the national movement in this country".[45] The collapse of the Hohenzollern state inspired a widespread national uprising in the Habsburg's Polish territories, causing great alarm among the Austrian authorities.[46]

Polish support for the French was far from universal. Memories of Haiti, the suspicious lack of political guarantees, recognition of the relatively generous Russian policies, fear by the gentry of the radical slogans of the French Revolution, and the proximity of a Czarist army tempered the enthusiasm. In fact, when French Marshal Murat entered Warsaw a few weeks ahead of Napoleon, the Polish Prince Ponaitowski, who was appointed governor of Warsaw by King Frederick William III, greeted him in his Prussian dress uniform, indicating that the French were not entirely welcome.[47]

Napoleon was able to assuage many of the Polish concerns when in January 1807, the "Liberator" established a temporary Polish governing commission, thought the first step in national liberation, and created a Polish honor guard that served as his personal troops. Soon Dabrowski had over thirty thousand Polish soldiers under his command.

The French army, teeming with enthusiastic Polish troops, advanced to East Prussia and the Russian frontier, deep into what was once Poland. After six months of inconclusive fighting in which the Russians for the most part avoided battle, Napoleon forced a confrontation at Friedland, a Russian city just north of former Poland. The Russian and French armies were roughly equal in size, which meant that the Czar stood no chance. Napoleon was victorious once again and a fourth coalition of numerically superior foes was humbled.

On July 7, 1807, the French Emperor and the Russian Czar met on a barge on Lithuanian's Neman River to discuss terms of peace. Napoleon never believed he could conquer the immense Russian Empire; he only sought an accommodation that allowed him to dominate Western and Central Europe. At the deliberations that led to the Treaty of Tilsit, Russia and France essentially agreed to divide Europe between them, a new partition between spheres of influence. Russia used the peace in the west to launch an invasion of the Grand Duchy of Finland, which was finally ceded by the Swedes in1809. Russia also vigorously pursued a war with Turkey, started a few years earlier, which ended with the annexation of Bessarabia in 1812.[48] She later added the Caucaus, including Georgia, Stalin's homeland of Armenia, and modern Azerbaydzan, to her eastern conquests.[49]

Napoleon is credited with the creation of a new Polish political unit, however, the act was not as magnanimous as it later appeared. At first the French Emperor attempted to trade his Polish conquests to Russia for territorial concessions in Central Europe, including Silesia which his brother was to rule. The Czar refused the position for now, although he assumed the title under his own terms within a decade.[50]

Russian reluctance did not prevent Napoleon from creating a semi-autonomous Polish state. Although Napoleon knew that a reconstructed Poland, in any form, could be an impediment to future cooperation with Austria, Russia, and Prussia, he was indebted to the Poles and could hardly avoid granting at least some of their wishes. Of course, a French vassal state in Eastern Europe also provided a nice buffer to Czarist aggression.

Carefully avoiding the inflammatory word "Poland", the Duchy of Warsaw was created out of Prussia's share in the second and third partitions, some speculate as more of a way to cripple Prussia than aid Poland.[51] Danzig was made a free city, actually under French military control, but to placate the Czar the district of Bialystok in northeast Poland was ceded to Russia. As part of the agreement Russia was forced to abide with Napoleon's Continental System.[52] Napoleon convinced his ally, King Frederick of Saxony, to accept the crown of the newly created Dukedom of Warsaw, a similar position to one he refused in 1791. Frederick proved to be much like his lackluster ancestors, an impotent figurehead who only bothered to visit the Duchy four times in six years of uninspiring rule. Although the Poles were disappointed in the small scale of the Duchy, it was a start. The appearance of the Saxony King on the ducal throne of a Polish province seemed to portend the reemergence of the May 3rd Constitution and the Polish State.

Napoleon rejected a modified constitution constructed by a learned body of Poles which included members of the Quadrennial Sejm, who had spent months in its preparation, and instead instituted his own version. In fairness, the Constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw certainly met reasonable expectations. Remarkably, Napoleon dictated the whole complex document without notes within an hour.[53] One of Napoleon's least recognized but most potent powers was his ability to do effective administrative work. Not only was he phenomenal at it, but he actually seemed to enjoy it, singing, badly according to observers, long into the night while his tired subordinates struggled to keep up with the indefatigable bureaucrat.[54]

The "Constitution of the Duchy" modified the imperial French constitution to conform to Polish traditions of government, with a few notable exceptions. Essentially eliminating the ancient system of "estates", all were made equal before the law and slavery was abolished, although serfdom and the superiority of the nobility tacitly were retained. The Code Napoleon with its controversial introduction of civil marriage and divorce was adopted, but the Sejm and Senate were reestablished as significant legislative bodies with traditional Polish procedural rules. Freedom of worship, an independent judiciary, open court proceedings, and a hierarchy of courts were also reintroduced. The traditional provincial dietines (seymiki) and much of the prior elective principles were reinstated.[55] However, the Duchy was not nearly as provincial as the old Commonwealth as Napoleon demanded a uniformity in government and centralization that was lacking in the Noble Republic. Exclusivism was eradicated by state administration.[56]

Perhaps the most significant contribution by Napoleon to Polish nation building was, for the first time in Poland's history, the creation of an efficient modern bureaucracy.[57] Importantly, all offices in the French-style administrative system were reserved for Poles except for the Duke, who hailed from the dynasty of choice by the late 18th century Polish reformers.

The army of the Duchy was under the command of dashing Polish Prince Joseph Poniatowski (1763-1813), the nephew of the former King who fought heroically during the uprisings in the 1790's. Napoleon appointed Poniatowski Minister of War on October 7, 1807, and Commander-in Chief of the army on March 21, 1809. The selection was a bit of a surprise. Dabrowski had headed the French-allied Polish forces for the last decade and led his troops into Warsaw while Poniatowski passively resisted French occupation before committing himself to Napoleon. But Poniatowski was a member of the aristocracy, Dabrowski was not. Napoleon needed a member of the gentry in the position to win over the hesitant upper class and convince other European powers that the new Poland was not a Jacobin satellite.[58] Poniatowski proved a loyal and capable ally and the suburb army of the Duchy of Warsaw served a powerful component of the French presence in East Central Europe.

Poland seemed on its way to statehood, having recovered all of its lost territory from two of the three partitioners with Napoleon's help. Under the protection of France, Poland was invited into a united European organism, a proto-federation, which did not occur again until Pilsudski's time.[59] But France's efforts to create the Duchy of Warsaw were not entirely altruistic. Napoleon planned to use the Duchy as a threat to cow Russia and her partners into accepting French dominance, always careful to keep the option open to either expand or contract the nascent Polish State as needed. The Duchy of Warsaw was economically hobbled by forced compliance with the Continental System, which adversely affected the Polish grain trade. In addition, the Poles were expected to supply and fund a standing army of sixty thousand men, many of whom were sent to the quagmire in the Peninsula.[60] All Polish men between the ages of twenty and twenty-eight were immediately drafted into the army for a mandatory six-year term.[61] Although the Duchy of Warsaw was an autonomous Polish state, it was always subject to the will of Napoleon. France controlled the Duchy's budget, where real power lay, and had to approve any changes in the laws. Napoleon also mandated that two-thirds of the Duchy's budget be devoted to the army, ruining any reasonable chance for economic revival.[62]

By the beginning of 1808 Napoleon Bonaparte was at the summit of a triumphal career that seemed poised to eclipse any prior human accomplishment. Already the thirty-seven year old Corsican had built an empire greater than that of either Caesar or Charlemagne; Hitler never equaled Napoleon's success.[63] Continental Europe lay prostrate at his feet, the Emperors of Russia and Austria were his subservient allies, all military opposition was humbled by combat, and at his command three of his brothers sat on thrones. Only the English, with their annoying dominance of the sea, offered meaningful resistance to his will.[64] Poland, it seems, had hitched itself to an unbeatable star.

The wisdom of the Polish alliance seemed confirmed when Austria, who meanwhile formed the Fifth Coalition in partnership with Great Britain and several small Italian states, attacked the Duchy in April of 1809. The Habsburgs resented the existence of a Polish State, and were determined to eliminate it before France sent military aid. Poniatowski with a much smaller force available to counter the thirty thousand man Austrian Army surged into Warsaw despite severe losses inflicted by the tactically retreating Poles. However, the costly and manpower-consuming occupation of the capital city worked to the Poles advantage. With the Austrians in Warsaw, Poniatowski circled around their rear and marched into Galicia, where he liberated the former Polish province in the name of Napoleon.[65] Both Krakow and Lwow were returned to the Polish fold. Meanwhile several Polish Corps led by Dabrowski, who gracefully accepted a lesser command under Poniatowski, managed to extract the Austrians from Warsaw and defeat them at Thorn on May 14, 1809, eventually chasing the hapless Habsburgs across the frontier.[66] For the first time since before the partitions, a Polish army under Polish command defeated an invading force. In fact the Austrian Campaign of 1809 was the only successful military campaign by Polish forces in all of the 18th and 19th centuries. Poniatowski's success helped sustain Polish patriotism during the long drought between Sobieski's 1683 victory during the First Republic and Pilsudski's 1920 victory during the Second Republic.

Austrian Emperor Ferdinand, fearful of an advancing French Army, concentrated forces not tied up in the Polish Campaign near Vienna, where they were decisively defeated by Napoleon at the Battle of Wagram on July 6, 1809. Once again the Austrians were forced to accept Napoleon's terms and make significant territorial concessions, partially as a consequence of Poland's successful resistance to the Hapsburg attack. An uninspired Russia fought with France during the brief conflict but clearly her heart was not in it, the Czar did not wish to see a humiliated Austria or an expanded France. In fact, Russian troops in Galicia interfered with Polish military operations and briefly attempted to restore Austrian authority.

As a result of the war the Habsburgs were forced to cede the Illyrian provinces and the Republic of Ragusa to the French. The administration of Marshal Marmont in the latter encouraged the future national movement of the Croats and Slovenes that led to the cultural community of Southern Slavs, a complicating factor in the First World War.

Polish territory was enlarged was by the addition of approximately half of Austria's share of the partitions to the Duchy of Warsaw, including the cities of Krakow and Lublin. Although Napoleon did not want to antagonize the Czar, who was clearly anxious over the growing Polish state, the presence of Poniatowski's troops in Galicia made Polish claims hard to deny. For appearances sake, Napoleon parceled off the circles of Tarnopol and Zbazaz to Russia, and even allowed Austria partial title to the valuable salt mines of Wieliczka, but most of the booty went to his faithful Polish allies.[67]

The Duchy was still small by historical Polish standards and processed no access to the sea, comprised of only one-fifth of the former Commonwealth and containing only thirty percent of the population. However, the Duchy of Warsaw was the heart of historic Poland, containing the ecclesiastical center of Gniezno and the two capital cities of Warsaw and Krakow.[68] A little more than a decade after the name "Poland" was stricken from the historical record, only one piece in the restoration puzzle of the of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth remained. The Poles were convinced that total liberation was just one campaign away. Even the Ukrainians pinned their nationalistic hopes on the great liberator Napoleon, whom they hoped would advance to the southern regions of the Russian Empire.[69]

Rather than provoke his nominal ally the Czar, Napoleon preferred to consolidate his European Empire with the Poles as his hopeful allies. Desire is always a greater motivator than fulfillment. But in 1810 Czar Alexander I was so alarmed by the rise of Polish nationalism that he asked Napoleon to promise that Poland never would be restored.[70] Whatever his intentions or preferences, Napoleon needed Polish support in Eastern Europe and could not afford to destroy the illusion of impending liberation. The two Emperors were unable to draft a mutually satisfactory statement about the issue, which led to a rift between the partners. An exasperated Alexander bemoaned, "the world is not large enough to come to an understanding on the affairs of Poland, if it is a question of its restoration".[71]

Alexander briefly tried to woo the Poles away from France by offering political and territorial concessions, but by now Polish liberation was firmly linked to a Napoleonic alliance. When Czartoryski approached Poniatowski about Alexander's suggestion that the May 3rd Constitution be revived in a Russian allied Duchy of Warsaw, Poniatowski not only rejected the scheme but informed Napoleon of the offer.[72] The Czar next attempted a highly conditional restoration of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to prevent the reconstitution of the Commonwealth, but his transparent scheme was rejected out of hand.[73]

           By 1812 Russia was violating the Continental System and appeared openly preparing for war, having massed troops along the Polish border. Much of the Russian activity was prudent, as the "system" was economically ruinous and there was ample evidence that the restless French emperor always believed that one more glorious military adventure was always necessary. In any case, the Alexander's policies gave Napoleon, who was frustrated by the slow pace in the peninsula, an excuse to launch another campaign. On June 24, 1812, the Grande Armee commenced an invasion of the Russian heartland.


          Napoleon identified the Polish question as one of the main reasons for his campaign into Russia, calling the conflict his "Second Polish Campaign", partly as a recruitment ploy. Although Napoleon was vague as always about his post-war obligations to Poland, his spokesman, the Duke of Bassano, was widely quoted as saying, "a complete restoration of Poland was one of the possible ways of terminating the conflict".[74] The French were hesitant to declare the final disposition of land in advance of the Russian Campaign, partly because they did not want to alienate their reluctant allies, Austria and Prussia, who joined the coalition at the point of a French bayonet.


The Poles, eager to avenge a century of humiliation and convinced that success in Russia meant the revival of the Polish state, volunteered in droves for the 1812 campaign. Napoleon even unearthed the Polish tradition of confederation, vaguely calling for an all-Polish movement of former szlachta to rally to the cause. The Confederation, headed by Czartoryski's aged father who was a co-founder of the National Educational Commission in 1773, went further than the Emperor preferred, declaring that "the Kingdom of Poland is restored and the Polish nation reunited in one body".[75] Kosciusko was asked to join, but still distrustful of Napoleon and honor bound by his oath to Paul I, he refused. Despite the fact that Napoleon did not explicitly promise to establish a new Polish Kingdom, over 100,000 out of the 600,000 soldiers in the invading Grande Armee were Poles. Poles were dispersed among several army corps, however, Poniatowski commanded the Fifth Army Corps composed of approximately one-third of the Polish soldiers in the campaign.[76]


In retrospect, the situation was somewhat surreal. As Norman Davies observed, "in return for his Polish uniform, the citizen was taxed with Prussian thoroughness, treated with Russian indifference, and was expected to lay down his life for the French Emperor on the orders of a German King".[77]


Although enthusiasm for the campaign was high, many Poles questioned Napoleon's strategy. Poniatowski urged the Emperor to invade Russia through a more southerly route in the Ukraine (possibly because he believed this territory might be returned to Poland), where the weather was warmer, supplies more plentiful, potential Turkish support more proximal, and the support of the local population more likely. But Napoleon, never yet defeated, brushed aside the suggestions and even threatened Poniatowski with court marshal if he persisted in his negatism.


As the French and their allies poured across the Russian borders, Alexander I proclaimed a Patriotic War to defend the motherland.[78] Bravado aside, the Russians were reluctant to meet the French Army in battle and began a relentless retreat deep into Russia, leaving behind nothing but "scorched earth" that made foraging for food and shelter difficult for the invaders. Although for the first time since the 17th century Polish troops captured the city of Smolensk, the Russian strategy was effective. Before the French-led invasion force engaged the Russians in a major battle, they lost over half their men to disease, starvation, desertion, and attrition caused by the numerous skirmishes.


The Russians finally made a stand at the fortified village of Borodino, just 125 kilometers west of Moscow. The ensuing battle was the single most bloody one-day confrontation in European history to date, not eclipsed until the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On September 7, 1812, between seventy thousand and one hundred thousand men were killed in the ten-hour battle. The majority of the dead were Russian, who were easily replaced from the nearby population. The French "won" the battle, but suffered losses they could not afford, including forty-eight Generals killed on the field. Tolstoy in War and Peace described the Battle of Borodino as "a continuous slaughter which could be of no avail either to the French or the Russians".[79]


The defeated Russians retreated once again, leaving the path to Moscow undefended. After their pyrrhic victory, Napoleon and his Polish allies entered Moscow unopposed on September 12th, but on orders from the Czar much of the city was already burnt to the ground to deny the French sustenance. The 1812 capture of Moscow was the third such occurrence in Polish history, the last during the Russian "time of trouble" on the eve of the Romanov Dynasty. Napoleon assumed that the loss of Moscow would force the Czar to negotiate, however, the Russians appeared to attach no significance to its capture. Without food and adequate shelter, Napoleon was forced to retreat to France. He left Moscow on October 19th; the first snow fell two weeks later. Six hundred miles deep into enemy territory, without food and supplies, facing the bitter Russian winter and marauding peasants, Napoleon was no longer the master of the situation.


Ironically it was not the coldness of the Russian winter that caused the greatest disaster for Napoleon, but its relative warmth. In late November Napoleon planned to cross the frozen Berezina River, in present day Belarus, and escape to Poland. However, the river uncharacteristically was thawed, trapping the French against the advancing Czarist army. The Russian force now dwarfed the remnants of the Grande Armee, but thanks to the improbable construction of a bridge under combat conditions many of the French forces escaped, but not without terrible losses. Many of those killed were pathetic stragglers scavenging for food. To this day "Berezina" is synonymous with disaster to the French.


Of the over half million men that marched into Russia, less than forty thousand returned. Despite the debacle the Poles acquitted themselves well, and at least had the satisfaction of returning from Russia with all their standards and artillery pieces intact, the only segment of the French army to do so. Polish troops retreated with Napoleon, leaving the Duchy of Warsaw unprotected. Russian troops entered Warsaw in February of 1813. The Prussians and Austrians quickly renounced their alliance with France and rushed to invade helpless Poland. Although several isolated forts held out for almost a year, the Polish corpse, briefly exhumed by Napoleon, was reburied by her enemies.


Emboldened by Napoleon's troubles in Russia, his enemies formed the "Sixth Coalition". This time all of the big four powers, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the United Kingdom, aligned against beleaguered France. To the surprise of the coalition, Napoleon quickly organized a new army and took to the offensive. Contrary to popular belief the Russian Campaign was not the end of Napoleon's great military achievements. In fact, given his available resources, Napoleon's campaigns immediately after the Russian retreat were probably his most brilliant. Russia and Prussia lost over forty thousand men in the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen in May of 1813, causing the allies to ask for an armistice. But the spring of 1813 proved to be Napoleon's last successful campaign.


After a brief hiatus in which both sides regrouped, Napoleon, despite being outnumbered almost two to one and leading largely inexperienced troops, handed the coalition a nasty defeat at Dresden in August. Austria, Prussia, and Russia were able to fend off the French days later at Kulm, but again with disproportional casualties. But the mathematics of the situation worked steadily against Napoleon. The wheels came off the Napoleon band wagon in October of 1813 at the Battle of the Nations. At Leipzig, in Saxony, over 300,000 coalition troops, with a like number rapidly closing in, confronted a French-led army about half their size. Perhaps worse, at a crucial moment the Saxons and other Germans abruptly switched sides and fought for the coalition. Napoleon was defeated, suffering great losses. Never again would a French force venture beyond the Rhine. Countries in Central Europe liberated by France, such as Poland, now were under the influence of a Russian-led coalition with decidedly less republican tendencies.


Among the casualties at Leipzig was the Polish hero Joseph Poniatowski, who was handed the baton of a French Marshal only the day before the battle, the only non-Frenchman to receive the honor. The Polish Prince recognized the futility of the French position but refused generous offers from the Czar to switch sides. Poniatowski could not save Poland's statehood but he could her honor. Poniatowski was killed covering the French retreat, drowned attempting to swim across the Elster River after the French prematurely destroyed the bridge to allow their escape, but his heroics were not forgotten. Like Poland itself, he remained loyal to the cause, losing his life but saving his soul. Even his foes respected his honor and bravery. Czar Alexander ordered Poniatowski's body retrieved and returned to Poland, where he was laid to rest in Wawel Cathedral after an elaborate funeral in Warsaw that included full military honors.


Polish valor was not lost on the ebbing Emperor, who told the Polish officers accompanying his retreat, "You have ever acted faithfully to me; you would not abandon me without informing me. You are free to go home, if you please. Two or three thousand men the less, brave as you are, will make no difference in my affairs".[80] Characteristically, the Poles choose to stay with Napoleon to the bitter end.


Pressed by a vastly superior coalition army coming from the east and a British force moving from the southwest, Napoleon retreated to Paris. On March 19, 1814, the Russians took the French capital and staged a triumphal parade through the streets personally led by Alexander I.[81] On the advice of his Marshals, who considered the situation hopeless, Napoleon abdicated on April 6, 1814. The victorious allies banished the former Emperor to the small island of Elba twenty kilometers off the coast of Italy, where it was assumed the Emperor could never return.


Although Poland's involvement with France ended in disaster, the Napoleonic Wars have a significant and enduring place in the hearts of Polish nationalists. It may be true that Poles remained under the spell of the Napoleonic legend more so than the French.[82] After being absent for more than a century from the European battlefield, with the exception of disorganized uprisings from largely irregular forces, the Poles proved their martial mettle against the best armies of the day. Not since Sobieski had Poles earned a place of honor in the international pecking order. Despite a sometimes questionable cause, the Polish Legions fought valiantly everywhere Napoleon sent them. Polish troops were the first French-affiliated troops to enter Russian territory during the 1812 Campaign and were the last to leave, and arguably fought the most ferociously in between. The Chevaux-Legers, Polish Light Cavalry, on at least one occasion saved Napoleon's life from marauding Cossacks and Polish troops covered the retreats at Borodino and Leipzig, saving countless French lives. In Russia, French troops were ordered to borrow the capes and caps of the Polish lancers while on guard duty, since the Cossacks rightly feared attacking Polish soldiers. With shades of the Hussaria, the charge of the Chevaux-Legers at Somosierra, Spain, in 1808 is a legend in its own right. At the cost of eighty-three dead, a squadron of 125 Poles routed nine thousand entrenched infantry and four fortified artillery batteries in seven minutes, leading to the capture of Madrid.[83] The charge at Somosierra was to the Poles as the Charge of the Light Brigade was to the British, except in the Polish case the action was more successful. These exploits and more provided sustenance during Poland's time in bondage. In addition, the Duchy of Warsaw, although not a true Polish state whose brief existence was marred by almost continual warfare, was viewed as the beginning of the reversal of the partitions, in which the Polish population was reintroduced to the military tradition, patriotism, and the benefits of liberal government.[84]

Napoleon certainly appreciated the martial ability and loyalty of the Polish soldier.[85] In exile at the island of Elba half of the symbolic guard he was allowed to retain was Polish.


In victory Alexander was surprisingly magnanimous to the Poles, perhaps honoring Napoleon's request to allow clemency for the Poles. The Czar praised the Polish troops for their "honorable service" and offered to establish a Romanov Dynasty under Russian protection for the former Duchy of Warsaw.[86] After a general amnesty was declared, Polish soldiers even were allowed to march back to "Poland" with the Russian army, and were at liberty to remain in the Czar's forces or return home.[87] The knowledge that Russia itself and many of the recent coalition partners had at various times aligned with Napoleon may have helped give the Czar his pacific perspective.


The Czar declared his intent to establish an autonomous, constitutional Polish state and even intimated of one-day expanding Polish territory to the 1772 borders. Kosciusko, who honored his commitment to Russia by not taking up arms against her as a condition of his 1796 release, offered his serves to Alexander to facilitate the project.[88] The Czar sent a gracious letter back saying:

with the help of the Almighty, I trust to realize the regeneration of the brave and respectable nation to which you belong...and its welfare has always occupied my thoughts. How satisfactory it would be to me, general, to see you my helpmate in the accomplishments of these salutary labors!"[89]


Of course, the Czar's generosity was not necessarily disadvantageous to Russia. A restored Poland, under Alexander's scepter and closely bound to Russia, greatly increased the power of his growing Empire and provided a secure base in Central Europe.


The Duchy of Warsaw lived under a provisional regime administered by Russia for the next two years while the victors in the Napoleonic War decided her fate, but in the meantime Alexander tolerated the existence of the Senate, local courts, and even a mildly empowered Central Committee comprised of Poles.[90] Niceties aside, the Russian occupational army left no doubt who was in charge.



[1] Italy, Saxony, and America were other preferred destinations for displaced Poles


[2] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 27.

[3] Henry A. Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22, (Boston, MA.: Houghton Mifflin Co., n.d.), 4.


[4] The famous Napoleon Bonaparte was not the first Corsican with that name, as he was named for his older brother who died in 1765. Corsica became a French procession only one year before the second Napoleon's birth, sold to France by the Republic of Genoa. In 1797 General Napoleon's armies invaded and occupied the Republic of Genoa, whose lands eventually were annexed by the French Republic in 1805


[5] Need source for this quote.


[6] Need source for phrase.

[7] The right to private property is perhaps one of the most understated catalysts in human history. Property ties a person to a place and provides a natural incentive to protect and improve the object. Private property, guaranteed by the sanctity of contracts, has been called the motor of human action. Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 28. This perplexing verity was observered by Polish political writer Karol Libelt (1807-1875), who wrote in 1842, "the natural condition of the social existence of man on earth is property. On the moon or on the planets, if we could get to them, man would put down his claim for ownership". Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 84.


[8] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 24.

[9] Ibid., 29.


[10] Ibid.


[11] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 260.


[12] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 28.


[13] Fletcher, History of Poland, 279.


[14] Famous Polish hetman during the "Deluge"


[15] Need a source for this.


[16] Fletcher, History of Poland, 285.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, II, 217.


[19] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 30.

[20] Ibid., 30-31.

[21] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, II, 13. Descendants of Poles who joined the slave revolt still live in Hati where they are known as "negres blancs". Polish Pope John Paul II visited Hati in 1983 in part to acknowledge its role in Polish history and the struggle for freedom in general. History of Poland, 135 Which of 3 books?


[22] Need source for quote.


[23] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 114.

[24] The Imperial Autocrat, 1-3. Need book information


[25] Peter the Great's policy of empowering each ruler to name a successor failed immediately when he neglected to name his own choice. Hingley, Russia: A Concise History, 17.


[26] But of course by today's standards all the Czars, including Alexander I, were despots. The term "liberal," or liberality as it was termed then, is relative in both time and space. Just as 19th century liberalism has many attributes of 21st century of arch conservatism, contemporary America's "conservative" agenda was seen as hyper-liberal in Putin's Russia. Liberalism, as it was understood by people in the early 19th century is perhaps best summed up by Stanlslaw Wegrzecki when he commented "I would like us to enjoy liberty without frivolity, to worship Religion without fanaticism, to be.... [26] Of course by today's standards all the Czars, including Alexander I, were despots. The term "liberal," or liberality as it was termed then, is relative in both time and space. Just as 19th century liberalism has many of the attributes of 21st century arch conservatism, contemporary America's "conservative" agenda was seen as hyper-liberal in Putin's Russia. Liberalism, as it was understood by people in the early 19th century is perhaps best summed up by Stanlslaw Wegrzecki when he commented, "I would like us to enjoy liberty without frivolity, to worship Religion without fanaticism, to be.... politically equal without debauchery, ruled by a monarch but without despotism, to follow laws without slavery." Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 37-38.


[27] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 260.


[28] Ibid.


[29] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 114.

[30] Ibid.


[31] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 34.


[32] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 111.


[33] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 34.


[34] History of the World, 589. Need book information

[35] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 35.


[36] Halecki, Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe, 285.

[37] The First Coalition (1792-1797) and the Second Coalition (1799-1802), prior combinations of European powers intent on the elimination or containment of Revolutionary France, were defeated by the French with the help of a few key allies, such as the Polish Legions.


[38] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 115.


[39] Need source for short quote.

[40] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 261.


[41] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 36.


[42] Fletcher, History of Poland, 288.

[43] Source for quote.


[44] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 37.


[45] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 261.


[46] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 115.

[47] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 38.


[48] Halecki, Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe, 286.


[49] Hingley, Russia: A Concise History, 101.


[50] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 41.


[51] Ibid.


[52] Halecki, Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe, 286.


[53] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 116.

[54] His propensity to approve every detail of his vast Empire left a wealth of documents signed by Napoleon, readily available for today's collectors to purchase for as little as $1500.


[55] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 44-46.


[56] Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 22.


[57] Ibid., 20.

[58] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 39.


[59] Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 21.


[60] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 261-263.


[61] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, II, 220.

[62] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 49.


[63] Leggiere, The Fall of Napoleon Need book information AND pg #


[64] Talleyrand, 162. Need book information


[65] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 52-53.


[66] Fletcher, History of Poland, 293.

[67] Ibid.


[68] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 117.


[69] Halecki, Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe, 287.

[70] Ibid.


[71] Need source for quote.


[72] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 55.


[73] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 120.


[74] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 57.


[75] Need book source of quote.


[76] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 57-58.


[77] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, II, 220.


[78] Stalin borrowed the phrase and term in the World War II struggle on the Eastern Front between the Germans and the Russians, calling it the "Great Patriotic War".


[79] Unless you paraphrase, you need to cite source.

[80] Fletcher, History of Poland, 301.


[81] Hingley, Russia: A Concise History, 109.


[82] Halecki, Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe, 288.


[83] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 262-263.


[84] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 63.


[85] Napoleon also appreciated Polish women. His torrid affair with the beautiful Polish Countess Marie Walewski resulted in a child, Alexandre Walewski, who became a prominent French politician and diplomat.


[86] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 60.


[87] Fletcher, History of Poland, 303.


[88] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 120.


[89] Fletcher, History of Poland, 302.


[90] Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1794-1918, 61.