The New-England Magazine, Volume 3
From July to December Inclusive, Boston, 1832
Edited by Joseph Tinker Buckingham, Edwin Buckingham, Samuel Gridley Howe, John Osborne Sargent, Park Benjamin
History of the late Polish Revolution, and the Events of the Campaign. By Joseph Hordyński, Major of the late Tenth Regiment of Lithuanian Lancers.
We believe that there is no American who did not take a deep interest in the late glorious, though unsuccessful, struggle of the Poles for freedom. Their cause was the cause of mankind; their revolt might be considered an operation of that system which our own fathers set in motion, and their chivalrous character was an irresistible claim upon our sympathies. Every one wished them success; every one desired to see the effects of Muscovite tyranny circumscribed. The book before us, if it be a true record of facts, as we doubt not it is, proves that our esteem for the Poles and our abhorrence of despotism were equally well founded.
The History of the late Polish Revolution, cannot be said to be well written, as far as mere style is concerned. There are, however, many allowances to be made for this defect. The author and his editor were obliged to communicate with each other in a language foreign to both. The original Polish manuscript was first translated by the author into French, with which he was not perfectly acquainted, and was then rendered into English by several different persons, one of whom was a foreigner. The author could not read his work in its new dress, and there were other circumstances, not attributable to the editor, which prevented him from correcting what was amiss. These facts being considered, it is not wonderful that the work contains many slips in grammar and verbal errors. These, however, do not hinder it from being in a very high degree instructive and interesting. Till now, we have had no continuous account of the Polish revolution, or any means of accounting for its failure. This book supplies the deficiency. The author was an eyewitness of, and an actor in, what he describes. He shows, indeed, a laudable partiality for his compatriots, and a strong dislike of the Russians; but we are satisfied, that what he sets down as fact, may be confidently received as such. His manner of relating events is bold, spirited and concise. There is no amplification, no waste of words in his book, and we are sure that no one will ever yawn over it.
According to Major Hordynski, the oppression which the Poles endeavored to throw off, was dreadful beyond any thing we have ever imagined. A brutal savage, bore unlimited sway over Poland. All offices under him were filled by Russians, or such Poles as merited the abhorrence of their countrymen. Such officers of the Polish army as were displeasing to the Grand Duke, were treated with extraordinary severity, and many escaped from the tyrant by suicide. The privates, who had hitherto been governed by the sense of honor, were now directed in their motions by the knout, like the slave-born Russians. The liberty of the press was abolished, and a terrible system of espionage substituted in its stead. There were nine hundred spies in Warsaw alone. The citizens were arrested on the bare word of a vile spy, and condemned without trial or hearing. No expense or pains were spared to corrupt the nation. The fountains of moral and social life were poisoned, or choked up. No man dared to speak freely to his most intimate friend, for Russian gold had made it dangerous to have a friend. Foreigners were employed as informers, and even women, who were accounted ladies, were bribed to report the words and deeds of their nearest and dearest friends. The worthiest sons of Poland were daily cast into dungeons on the slightest pretences, and, will it be believed?—married women were incarcerated for repelling the criminal advances of Russian Generals. The most ruinous monopolies were granted to individual favorites, and the whole land groaned under a general system of extortion. Such was the tyranny which the Poles at last rose to resist.
Great as their wrongs were, the Poles showed a moderation of which there is no other example in history. They not only spared the Grand Duke’s life, but suffered him to depart, though they might easily have made prisoners of him and his army. They gave quarter to the Russian troops who opposed them in arms. Two only of the Polish officers who proved faithless to their country, fell by the popular indignation. Persons and property were religiously respected. No individual was molested unnecessarily, nor was any private house or shop forcibly entered. Ladies sat at the windows by which the insurgent troops were marching without fear or danger. What makes this forbearance more remarkable, is, that the whole populace seem to have been excited to a degree of enthusiasm, which could not have admitted of increase. They fell upon very superior bodies of Russian regulars with their bayonets, without the smallest hesitation. Clergymen, women and children, took up arms. After the first successes, the multitude kneeled down in the street, as one man, and swore to liberate Poland or die. In about twelve hours they had entirely cleared the capital of the Russian army. But, let the author himself relate an instance of this enthusiasm. The persons here mentioned, were two of the Grand Duke’s Polish officers, who had persuaded their troops not to take part in the insurrectionary movement.
Early on the third of December, when the Grand Duke had resolved to depart, he visited these troops in person, and declared before them that he left Warsaw only to avoid useless bloodshed, and that order would soon be restored. He requested them to go with him, as they were regiments of guards, in whom the emperor had peculiar confidence. ” Soldiers,” he said, ” will you go with us ; or stay and unite with those who have proved faithless to their sovereign?” With one voice the whole corps exclaimed, ” We will remain—we will join our brethren and fight for the liberty of our country. We are sorry that we could not do so from the beginning, but we were deceived.”
The people who had assembled to gaze at these unfortunate men, with unfavorable and unjust feelings toward them, were disarmed of their resentment at the very sight of them, and rushed into their embraces. They were surrounded by the multitude, and taken, with joyful acclamations to the Place of the Bank. But though the people forgave the soldiers, their indignation remained unabated against their generals, and the greatest efforts of the leading patriots were required to save Krasiński and Kurnatowski from their rage. It was dreadful to behold these generals riding with downcast looks, not daring to look on those whom they had intended to betray. Death would certainly have been preferable to thus meeting the curses of a justly incensed people. Mothers held up their children, and, pointing at the two generals, exclaimed, ” See the traitors !” Arriving at the Bank, the people demanded that Krasiński and Kurnatowski should give their reasons for having acted as they had done; and as the wretched men could say nothing in their own defence, a general cry arose of “Death to the traitors!” Nothing but the love of the people for Chłopicki and Szembek, who interceded, could have hindered them from carrying their wishes into immediate execution. Several excited individuals made their way toward the culprits with pistols in their hands, and, after aiming at them, fired their weapons into the air, crying, “You are unworthy of a shot from a Polish hand. Live—to be everlastingly tortured by your consciences!” The unfortunate men entreated that they might be permitted to serve in the ranks, as privates. They were immediately deprived of their commissions, and from that time they lived in quiet and retirement during the war. History will show how they will behave in future.
The first act of the Polish patriots, after they had expelled the enemy, was extremely injudicious. It was, indeed, necessary in a time of such emergency, to elect a dictator, but they chose a person wholly unqualified to wield the supreme power. The eventual effect of this error, ought to be a lesson to all who suppose that military talents alone qualify a man for civil office, or think that the chief magistracy should be made the reward of military services. The Poles chose for their dictator, General Chłopicki, a good and brave man, but who proved incompetent to conduct the revolution wisely. It was undoubtedly his best policy to have speedily organized an army, and to have sent a division into Lithuania, which was ripe for revolt. He did neither. His organization of the army was so ineffective and dilatory, that the people took the affair into their own hands, and filled the ranks by voluntary enrolments. Thus much valuable time was lost, and many important advantages were relinquished. Major Hordyński relates these errors, and explains their consequences in the most satisfactory manner. At last, Chłopicki was deprived of his office, and Prince Radziwiłł took command of the army. As it was now too late to assume the offensive, as the dictator should have done, and as the Polish army was too small to defend the whole frontier, it was resolved to concentrate, and by a retreat, fighting, to draw the enemy to the vicinity of Warsaw. There it was resolved to stake the fortune of Poland on a decisive battle.
The Polish force amounted to 45,000 men and 96 pieces of cannon. Marshal Diebitsch took the field against the army with 200,000 men and 300 pieces. We need not here follow Major Hordyński into minute accounts of the almost superhuman efforts of the Poles. Let it suffice that “from the 10th of February to the 2nd of March, thirteen sanguinary battles were fought with the enemy, besides twice that number of small skirmishes, in which that enemy was uniformly defeated, and a full third part of his forces annihilated.”
The great battle of Grochów near Warsaw, was the most extraordinary, if we consider the numbers engaged in relation to the result, that ever was fought. A hundred and sixty-eight thousand men and 280 pieces of artillery constituted the Russian force. The Polish army consisted of 43,400 men and 96 pieces, and was commanded by Radziwiłł, Chłopicki and Skrzynecki. The Russians sustained a complete defeat.
Thus was the object of the campaign accomplished. The command of the army now devolved on John Skrzynecki, a name which needs not the addition of a title. If mere mortal man could have remedied the errors of Chłopicki and saved Poland, this truly great captain would have done it. He immediately began to act upon his general plan, which was to destroy the Russian division in detail, and for a while his success equalled the expectations of Poland, sanguine as these were. He also sent a division into Lithuania, to which our author was attached.
The first defeat which the Poles sustained was owing to the neglect of Gen. Sierawski, to obey Skrzynecki’s orders. The second was more disastrous. The terror of the Russians, “The Cannon Provider”, in a word, the veteran Dwernicki here committed his first and last military error, and lost himself and his whole division. Nevertheless, the main army continued to be successful, and drove the Russian Imperial Guard out of the kingdom. Major Hordyński considers his general’s operations at this stage of the revolution, as unequaled in the annals of warfare, save by Napoleon’s brilliant campaigns in Italy. — Skrzynecki then returned to defend Warsaw against the main Russian army under Diebitsch, defeating that general on his way, at Ostrołęka, in a most obstinate and sanguinary battle.
Shortly after, a very alarming conspiracy was discovered in the capital. Its object was to liberate and arm the Russian prisoners, of whom there were a host in Warsaw. Several distinguished officers, who had been considered true patriots, were implicated in this treason, the effect of which was that the people lost heart, and were no longer willing to trust any one, not even the commander in chief. When, therefore, tidings arrived that, owing to the misconduct, perhaps treason, of its generals, the army of Lithuania had been lost, their exasperation was beyond all bounds. They bitterly reproached the generalissimo for having placed that army in such hands; and, to appease them, a council of war was ordered to investigate his past conduct, and to pass judgement upon his plans for the future. The result of this proceeding was, that the council published an address to the people proclaiming their entire confidence in Skrzynecki.
Major Hordyński thinks that the operations of Skrzynecki after this period were not the most judicious. At any rate, the commander in chief was deprived of his command. Just then, when the main body of the Polish army was absent under its new commander, in order to attack a detached Russian division, the main Russian army appeared before Warsaw, which fell, after a bloody defence.
Such is the outline of Major Hordyński’s book, which is just what it pretends to be, and nothing else. It contains more information on the affairs of Poland than we have evei been able to gain from all other sources, collectively. The major has also given us several very spirited sketches of distinguished public characters, and a suecinct account of Lithuania. We have read this History of the late Polish Revolution with breathless interest, and great satisfaction ; for we are now sure, that ere long Poland will make another and a successful effort to throw off the Muscovite yoke. Such a people cannot long be slaves, and, moreover, God is on their side. We most confidently recommend the book to all and several.