Kosciuszk-who?

Twin Bridges.jpg

The "Twin Bridges" are actually the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge

We can't tell you how many times we've crossed The Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge on the Northway and wondered, "Who was this Kosciuszko guy? And why did they name the twin bridges after him?"

Also, we could never quite figure out how to pronounce his name, which is why we -- and almost everyone else -- refer to them as "The Twin Bridges."

Well, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one-time Albany resident Alex Storozynski has just answered all of our questions about Kosciuszko in his new book The Peasant Prince.

He took a few minutes out of his weekend to give us the inside scoop on Kosciuszko who, it turns out, was a pretty impressive guy: an engineer, an abolitionist and, oh yeah, the guy responsible for the plan that helped change the course of the Revolutionary War.

A few details and an early map of his battle plans after the jump.

And we also find out how to pronounce "Kosciuszko."

Peasant Prince.jpgWho was Thaddeus Kosciuszko?

After attending military schools in Warsaw and Paris, Thaddeus Kosciuszko tried to elope with a daughter of one of the richest men in Poland. But he was caught, and the angry father wanted to prosecute him for kidnapping.

Kosciuszko was a staunch advocate for freedom for all, so he sailed to America. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1776 and Benjamin Franklin put him in charge of building forts. He did such a good job that Congress enlisted him as a Colonel of Engineers.

It soon became obvious to Gen. Horatio Gates and George Washington that Kosciuszko was the best engineer in the Continental Army.

Kosciuszko rescued the Americans after the British surrounded them at Fort Ticonderoga. Kosciuszko warned the Americans at Fort Ticonderoga that they need to put cannons on top of Sugar Loaf Hill. They ignored him, but when the British came down from Canada, they put cannons on that hill and starting firing directly into the fort, making the Continental Army sitting ducks. During the retreat south, Kosciuszko was put in charge of covering the rear. He took 1,000 men and rerouted streams, and chopped down trees to cover roads so that the British army's supply wagons could not follow them. As a result, it took the British army 20 days to travel 22 miles, giving the Americans a chance to escape.

Kosciuszko then turned the tide on the British Army by coming up with an ironclad plan for victory at the Battle of Saratoga. Kosciuszko drafted the plan for the Battle of Saratoga and chose Bemis Heights as the spot for the Americans to make their stand. Officers that took part in the battle, Gen. Horatio Gates, Colonels James Wilkinson, Morgan Lewis and Udney Hay all gave Kosciuszko credit for coming up with the battle plan.

Washington had Kosciuszko design the blueprints for West Point, an impenetrable fortress. Benedict Arnold tried to sell Kosciuszko plan's for West Point to the British.

Battle Plans Saratoga a.jpg (early map of Kosciuszko's plan for the battle of Saratoga.)

Kosciuszko was also an early abolitionist. After the war he became close friends with Thomas Jefferson. He gave Jefferson $17,000 and asked him to use the money to buy slaves and free them. Jefferson took Kosciuszko's money but refused to carry out the deal.

In Poland, Kosciuszko started a revolution to free the peasant serfs enslaved by feudalism, and to win more rights for the Jews. Kosciuszko also spoke up for the rights of Native Americans and all people who were disenfranchised. In Paris, the French Revolutionaries honored him with the title "Citizen Kosciuszko." Jefferson called him, "as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known," and poets such as Byron, Keats and Campbell immortalized Kosciuszko, whose motto was, "For your freedom and ours."

Why do we have a bridge named after him?

Kosciuszko was stationed in Albany for part of the Revolution and he stationed troops on Van Schaick's Island (near Cohoes and Waterford), which offered the rebels a place to regroup after they fled from the British at Fort Ticonderoga. He put up batteries that commanded the pass along the Mohawk River while also providing the rebels a barrier from any attack. Kosciuszko was a crucial part of the Continental Army in the Hudson River valley.

If he was such an important part of U.S. history, and local history, why don't people know more about him?

Because he was a humble warrior who never sought the limelight. And he had an unpronounceable name. [Editors: even George Washington apparently couldn't get TK's name correct.]

Yeah, ummm about that name -- how do you pronounce it ?

Kuzz-(Choosh)-Ko

This interview was conducted via email and lightly edited for length.

Twin Bridges photo: Nicholas Hepler

Comments

Another tidbit - Kosciuszko's apartment in Philadelphia (on 3rd and Pine Streets) is the smallest property currently administered by the National Park Service.

By contrast, there's a Mount Kosciuszko, which is the tallest mountain in continental Australia.

For a humble general, he sure got around.

This is why AOA rocks!

There is a Kosciuszko bridge on the BQE (I think it's the BQE), as well. I learned to pronounce his name listening to NYC traffic reports growing up in the Tri-State area.

Here's a good NPR story about Kosciuszko and his apartment, which is a national park.

"A Brief History: The Smallest National Park Site"
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92035186

There are some strange mounds of earth on Peebles Island that a sign there alleges are Kosciuszko's work.

We were just up at the Saratoga Battlefield on Father's Day and learned about TK while we were there.

If you're remotely interested in history, the battlefield is such a great place to visit. Beautiful scenery and I just get chills knowing I'm standing on the same ground as Horatio Gates, Benedict Arnold and so many others (like TK) who helped change the course of the Revolution.

I echo Roon's sentiments. I used to go to the Battlefield all the time as a child with my father, who's a historical nut. In addition to all the the little nuggets you come across (such as the statue of Benedict Arnold's boot, which also deserves its own entry), it's a beautiful area to walk through.

I also love the bit about Jefferson taking Thaddeus's $17,000 and stiffing him on the deal to free slaves. More light shed on what a pretentious, untrustworthy scoundrel that guy could be despite all the great things he accomplished.

Kosciuszko is now my favorite area figure. Previously it'd been Ernie Taitro. Sorry, Ernie!

This interview was conducted via email and lightly edited for length.
With a historical scholar? I find that hard to believe! ;)

I grew up hearing people refer to it as the Dolly Parton Bridge. Because, well, you know.

I always pronounce it like Ralph Kramden did on The Honeymooners:
"Kas-ke-as-ko" - and you've got to snarl it out of the side of your mouth.

Apparently Mrs. Misanthrope and I grew up surrounded by the same level of maturity.

I concur with Lucy and Mrs. Misanthrope.

Right, Kas-TIOUsh-ka

There's also a great new children's book about Kosciuszko called Twice a Hero. It's actually about Kosciuszko and fellow countryman Casimir Pulaski, a Polish count recruited by Ben Franklin to join the fight against the British during the American Revolution. This book (from--apparently--a series called Polish American Heroes of the American Revolution) recounts both men's profound effects on the American Revolution and why they are heroes even though they never fired a gun. Pulaski taught colonists how to become cavalry soldiers and Kosciuszko, of course, used his skills as an engineer to fortify Saratoga. Amazing stuff! It's a picture book with a companion cd, I'd say ages 8 or 9 and up. We have it at the Little Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza!

I've been saying it wrong all these years and nobody ever told me.

At least I can't screw up Twin Bridges... or can I?

I always thought it was "Kahz-key-ooze-ko" (similar to Eric but more oooze) -- turns out I've been saying it wrong since I was a little kid. Whoops!!

Hey, to get even more tangential, Sufjan Stevens has a song called Casimir Pulaski Day on his Illinoise album. Casimir Pulaski Day is a real holiday in Illinois, on the first monday of March. The song is really depressing.

The strange thing is, I always thought the guy's name was pronounced "Kozzy-Osko" because of the title of the song "Kosciuszko" by Midnight Oil. It was on their album "Red Sails in the Sunset," which had this stunning cover art of what downtown Sydney would look like after an atomic bomb hit it. "Older than Kosciuszko / Darwin down to Alice Springs," and then I can't remember the rest of the lyrics. Old age, you know... once you hit 45 it's all down hill.

I always took great joy in pronouncing the bridge, "Kahz-key-ooze-ko" or "Kas-ke-as-ko". Although incorrect, I always loved blurting out those hard "k"s as the traffic began flowing freely after the long sits on the Northway. It was a purging of intestinal grief, giving me at least some hope that I might get to work on time.

Now pronouncing the soft "choosh" just doesn't give the same relief.

@B's right-- Pulaski Day is a real holiday in Illinois, especially in Chicago and Cook County. We used to get it off from school. One year (and ONLY one) my schoolboard decided not to take it off, and you wouldn't believe the uproar. It was as if they knew who Pulaski was.

Those strange mounds of earth on Peebles Island are breastworks...

"In the days leading up to the battle [of Saratoga], 5,000 continental soldiers were garrisoned around the [Van Schaick] mansion. At this same time, Colonel Thaddeus Kosciusko constructed the breastworks located on adjacent Peebles Island."
http://www.vanschaickmansion.org/

Col. Udney Hay is my 6th great grandfather and quite an interesting character himself. I've been learning about him as I've recently discovered my genealogy (as a result of finding and meeting my birth mother) and his association with Kosciuszko. Fascinating times back then. Amazing men. Thanks for the tight little history lesson about a hero of Independence who should not be forgotten.

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it is actually....ko shchew shko.....and say it very fast! you'll get it...it is not really hard...it only looks that way...

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