Prince Jozef Antoni Poniatowski, general, minister of war and army chief, hero of Polish Uprisings, Marshal of France.

Photo of Jozef Poniatowski, general

Born:  May 7, 1763, Vienna, Austria

Died:  October 19. 1813, Weisse Elster River n.Leipzig, Saxony

An opinion. English historian Norman Davies wrote in his "God's Playground...Vol.II,Columbia University Press, 1982, p.305: “Like many of his countrymen, he had wavered long before throwing in his lot with the French. For him, Napoleonic service had demanded a painful change of direction and loyalties. It had involved years of devotion and blood-letting. To have changed his loyalties yet again, as his master the King of Saxony did, was all too worrying for an infinitely weary and honest man. Like the rest of his generation he hoped; he fought; he served; and only found rest in honorable defeat."

Legacy of Prince Jozef He was an inspiration for Polish freedom fighters throughout a number of armed conflicts, but especially during the November Uprising of 1830, since many of its leaders had served under Poniatowski's command during the Napoleonic Wars. The Duchy of Warsaw, which Napoleon created and Poniatowski defended, remained as a residual Polish state to the end of the Partitions period. For over a century following Poniatowski's death the Poles experienced mostly struggle, oppression, and hardship, and the figure of a brilliant aristocrat, warrior and unyielding leader lifted their spirits and added luster to the nation needing a hero. A Polish bomber squadron 304, named after Poniatowski, took part in the defense of the United Kingdom during the Second World War.

Early days. Father- Andrzej Poniatowski- the brother of the last king of Poland Stanislaw August Poniatowski, and a field marshal in the service of Austria. Mother -Theresia von Kinsky, a lady in the court of the Empress Maria Theresa, belonging to the Czech-Austrian aristocratic family. His father died when Józef was 10, Stanislaw August then became his guardian and the two enjoyed a close personal relationship that lasted for the rest of their lives. Maria Theresa was a godmother of Jozef's older sister, who was named Maria Teresa, after the Empress. Jozef was born and raised in Vienna, but also spent time with his mother in Prague and later with his uncle the king in Warsaw. He was tutored in French, and spoke to his mother in that language. He also learned Polish and German. As a child he acquired the nickname "Prince Pepi", the Czech diminutive form of Joseph. He was trained for a military career, but also learned how to play keyboard instruments and had a portable one which he carried with him later even during military campaigns.

War with Turkey. It was because of Stanislaw August's influence that Poniatowski chose to consider himself a Pole. In Vienna, he represented the Polish king at the funeral of Maria Theresa. In 1787 he traveled with him to Kaniov and Kiev, to meet with Catherine the Great. Having chosen a military career, Poniatowski joined the Austrian army where he was commissioned Lieutenant in 1780, in 1786/1788 promoted to Colonel and when Austria declared war against Turkey in 1788, he became an Aide-de-camp to Emperor Joseph II. Poniatowski fought in that war and distinguished himself at the storming of Sabac where he was seriously wounded.

Polish Army service and Defense of the May 3rd Constitution. Summoned by the King- who had made previous arrangements with the Austrian authorities- and the Sejm, Poniatowski emigrated to Poland. In October 1789, together with Tadeusz Kosciuszko and three others, Poniatowski received the rank of Major-General, was appointed commander of a division in Ukraine and devoted himself to rebuilding the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's military. This was taking place during the period of deliberations by the Four-Year Sejm, which ended with the proclamation of the May 3 Constitution in 1791. Poniatowski was an enthusiastic supporter of the reform and a member of the Friends of the Constitution Association. On May 6, 1792 Poniatowski was appointed Lieutenant-General and commander of the Polish army in the Ukraine. There Prince Jozef, aided by Kosciuszko and Wielhorski, displayed great ability. Badly outnumbered and outgunned by the enemy, he turned on the pursuer and won several notable victories. Stanislaw August established then Virtuti Militari order, with which he decorated Poniatowski and Kosciuszko. When the undefeated Polish armies converged on Warsaw, a courier from the capital informed the Commander in Chief that King Stanisław August had acceded to the pro-Russian Targowica Confederation and had pledged the adherence of the Polish Army. All hostilities were therefore to be suspended. After a fruitless protest, Poniatowski and most of the other Polish generals left the army. Poniatowski left Warsaw for Vienna. But the Russian authorities wanted him removed from Poland even further, and the fearful king pressured him to comply, so he left Vienna to travel in Western Europe. In 1792 in a letter to the King, Prince Jozef expressed his opinion that in order to save the country and preserve the great power of Poland he should have already at the outset of this campaign moved the whole country, led the nobility on a horse, armed the towns and given freedom to the peasants.

Kosciuszko Insurrection (1794); private life The King wrote to Jozef in the spring of 1794, urging him to return to Poland and to serve under Kosciuszko, in the uprising which now bears his name. Poniatowski came with Wielhorski again and reported for duty at Kosciuszko's camp near Jedrzejow. He participated in combat in and around Warsaw - as a division commander fought at Blonie and led cavalry in anti-Prussian diversion at Marymont. When during the Prussian siege of the city Mokronowski was sent to Lithuania to replace ailing Wielhorski, Poniatowski was given his post in Warsaw's defense parameter. There he fought valiantly. He took from the Prussians the Góry Szwedzkie region, then lost it after a couple of weeks in a counterattack, for which, despite Kosciuszko's warnings, he didn't properly prepare. In October he led his outnumbered troops in attacks against Prussian entrenchments at the Bzura River. The Insurrection having failed, Poniatowski stayed for a while in Warsaw, his estates were confiscated, but having refused a position in the Russian army and unwilling to comply with the loyalty conditions that the Russian authorities wanted to impose on him, was ordered to leave the Polish capital and in April 1795 moved once more to Vienna.

Duchy of Warsaw; victory in Austro-Polish War (1809) In 1796 died Catherine II of Russia. Her son, Tsar Paul I returned Poniatowski's estates and again tried to hire him into the Russian army. Prince Jozef excused himself claiming being in an extremely poor health. But in 1798 the former king Stanisław August, died in St. Petersburg . Poniatowski left Vienna for his funeral and to arrange for the disposition of the late king's finances. He stayed in St. Petersburg for several months, and then, being on good terms with Tsar Paul, returned to Poland, into his estates in Warsaw and in Jabłonna. Warsaw at that time was under Prussian rule. There until 1806 Poniatowski lived a private life of parties and play, often shocking the public opinion by his and his friends conduct. From 1801 the future Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, was Poniatowski's guest at the Lazienki Palace for a few years. In 1802, beset by legal troubles, Poniatowski made a trip to Berlin, where he established cordial relations with the Prussian royal family. Prince Jozef never married; he had two sons with two of his unmarried partners: Jozef Szczesny Poniatowski with Zelia Sitanska and Karol Jozef Poniatowski with Zofia Czosnowska from the Potocki family. Following Napoleon Bonaparte's victory at the Battle of Jena and the ensuing evacuation by Prussia of her Polish provinces, in November 1806 Poniatowski was asked by the Prussian king Frederick William III to assume the governorship of Warsaw, to which he agreed; he also assumed the command of the city's municipal guard and citizen militia forces organized by local residents. All of this turned out to be a short-lived Polish provisional authority. At the end of 1806 Joachim Murat and his forces entered Warsaw. It took protracted negotiations with Murat (they liked each other and quickly became friends) but before the year was over Poniatowski was declared by Murat to be "chief of the military force" and was leading the military department on behalf of the French authorities. In January, 1807 by the Emperor's decree the Warsaw Governing Commission was created under Malachowski, and Poniatowski became Director of the Department of War and set about organizing the Polish army. In July 1807 the Duchy of Warsaw was created. Poniatowski became Minister of War and Head of Army of Warsaw County, while Napoleon, not yet quite trusting him, left the supreme military command in Davout's hands. Poniatowski became Commander in Chief in March 1809 and as the Minister of War became completely devoted to the creation and development of this new Polish army. The Duchy's army was severely underfunded and most of the military units were kept by Napoleon outside of the country, which is why Prince Jozef had a rather small force at his disposal during the war of 1809. In spring of 1809 Poniatowski led his army against an Austrian invasion under the Archduke Ferdinand Karl Joseph of Austria-Este, in the war regarded by the Austrians as a crucial element of their struggle against Napoleonic France. At the bloody Battle of Raszyn near Warsaw, Polish forces led personally by Poniatowski fought to a standstill an Austrian force twice their number. Afterwards however he decided not to defend Warsaw and withdrew with his units to the east bank of the Vistula River, to the fortified Praga suburb, which the Austrians attacked, but were defeated at Grochowo in April. An Austrian division then crossed the Vistula again but was routed on at Góra. From there he quickly advanced south, taking over large areas of Galicia (southern Poland controlled by Austria). In May Lublin and Sandomierz were taken. On the 20th the Zamosc fortress was overpowered, where 2000 prisoners and 40 cannons were taken, and even further east Lwow was taken on May 27. These developments compelled the Austrians to withdraw from Warsaw - a counteroffensive by their main force resulted in the retaking of Sandomierz on June 18. But Poniatowski in the meantime moved west of the Vistula and on July 5, began from Radom his new southbound offensive aimed at Krakow. He arrived there on July 15, and the Austrians tried to turn the city over to the Russians, Poniatowski, seeing a Russian hussar cavalry unit in attack formation blocking the street leading to the bridge on the Vistula, he rode his raised up horse into them, so that several flipped as they were falling. Most of the liberated lands, with the exception of the Lwow region, became incorporated into the Duchy through the peace treaty of October, 1809. Prince Jozef himself remained in Krakow until the end of December, supervising the provisional Galician government.

Napoleon's Russian campaign In April 1811 Poniatowski went to Paris and worked with Napoleon and his generals on plans for the campaign against Russia. He tried to convince the French leaders that the southern route, through the current day Ukraine would provide the most benefits. Not only was the region warmer, Polish gentry from the Russian partition would join in, and possible Turkish action against Russia could be supported, which was the most advantageous theater for the upcoming war. Napoleon rejected the idea. For the Moscow expedition Poniatowski became commander of the part of the nearly 100,000 strong Polish forces, namely the V Corps of the Grande Armee. The initial period of the offensive, when Poniatowski was placed under the command of Jerome Bonaparte, was wasted, but after Napoleon's brother left Poniatowski was briefly put in charge of Grande Armée's right wing. In August at Smolensk he personally led his corps' assault on the city. In September at Borodino the V Corps was involved in the daylong fight over the Utitza Mound, which was finally taken toward the evening, stormed by the entire corps led by Prince Jozef again. On September 14 the Polish soldiers were the first ones to enter the Russian capital. The Polish corps fought then the battles at Chirikovo in September and at Vinkovo in October, where Poniatowski saved Murat from a complete defeat by Kutuzov's forces. Rear guarding the retreat of the Grande Armee, Poniatowski was badly injured during the Viazma battle in October. He then continued the westbound trip in a carriage with two wounded aides. At the Berezina crossing they barely avoided being captured by the Russians, but finally on December 12 they arrived in Warsaw.

German Campaign (1813); death at Leipzig After the retreat of Napoleon's army, Poniatowski quickly undertook the rebuilding of the Polish army. He remained faithful to Napoleon, even as tsar Alexander I was offering him amnesty and proposed future cooperation. In February the Polish units moved out of Warsaw , eventually reaching Krakow. In May, Prince Jozef and his army left Krakow, to go through Bohemia to Saxony. The total forces with which he joined Napoleon during armistice numbered 22,000. The corps fought major successful battles at Lobau and at Zedtlitz. On October 12 Murat and Poniatowski were surprised by enemy units. Poniatowski got on his horse, broke through and returning with another timely cavalry charge saved the situation. As a reward for his brilliant services, in October during the Battle of Leipzig, Poniatowski was made a Marshal of France and entrusted with the dangerous duty of covering the French Army's retreat. He heroically defended Leipzig, losing half his corps in the attempt, finally falling back slowly upon a bridge over the Weisse Elster River, near Leipzig. In the general confusion, the French blew up the bridge before he could reach it. Contesting every step with the overwhelming forces of his pursuers, Prince Jozef refused to surrender, and covered with wounds plunged into the river. There he died, probably shot by French troops from the opposite bank of the Elster River.

Death His remains were transported to Poland in 1817 and buried in the cathedral on Kraków's Wawel Hill, where he lies beside Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Jan III Sobieski. In 1829 his monument by Bertel Thorvaldsen was placed in Warsaw. It was destroyed during World War II, but its copy is standing before the presidential palace in Warsaw. Poniatowski's cult developed after his death - it was a Polish version of the Napoleon's legend. Among his living relatives is Elena Poniatowska, a famous Mexican journalist.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jozef_Poniatowski" (which in turn incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopędia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press):
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