Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Prominent Poles

Jan Henryk Dabrowski (coat of arms Dabrowski), general, Polish national hero; a mason.

Portrait of Henryk Dabrowski, national hero

Born: August 2, 1755, Pierzchowiec (today: Pierzchow), Poland

Died: June 6, 1818, Winna Gora, Congress Poland, Russian Empire

Summary. General Dabrowski was in general unappreciated by his contemporaries. He was called "a German","a condottiere", "Bernard form Weimar.". Contemporary historians however value him as rugged, full of energy and self-sacrifice, a patriot, restorer of Polish military and a first class general with enormous leading and organizational talent. During the formation of the Polish Legions, the present Polish national anthem (see link at the bottom) was created. The "Anthem of the Polish Legions in Italy", written to the tune of a mazurka between 15 and 21 July 1797, was very popular with the legionnaires. It was penned by Jozef Wybicki, a close friend of Dabrowski. Dabrowski befriended the Tsar Paul I, son of Catherine the Great. Pauli I, known for freeing Tadeusz Kosciuszko, was murdered by members of Russian gentry.

Early days. Father, Jan Michal Dabrowski, colonel of the Saxon army. Mother, Sophie Marie von Lettow was from a polonized German-Scottish family. The family left Poland in 1766. In 1770 he started serving in the Saxon army.

Military career. In 1779 Dabrowski took part in the Bavarian War of Succession. In 1780 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the Saxon Electoral Guard in Dresden. In 1791 the Polish Four-Year Sejm recalled all Poles serving abroad to the Polish army and Dąbrowski returned to Poland. Dabrowski-supposedly ill-informed- swore allegiance to the treacherous Targowica Confederation. His later actions however proved his dedication to the cause of Polish independence. As a cavalryman educated in a Dresden military school he was asked to reform the Polish cavalry. Under Jozef Poniatowski, he took part in the campaign of 1792 against the Russians. He took an active part in the Kosciuszko Insurrection of 1794, defending Warsaw and leading an army corps in support of a rising in Greater Poland. His courage was commended by Tadeusz Kos;ciuszko, the Supreme Commander of the National Armed Forces, who promoted him to the rank of general. Not only Kosciuszko appreciated him; after the collapse of the uprising, he was offered commissions in the Russian and Prussian armies, but chose to fight for Poland. Dabrowski is remembered in the history of Poland as the organizer of Polish Legions in Italy during the Napoleonic Wars. He began his work in 1796, when he was summoned to Paris by Napoleon Bonaparte, and was authorized in 1797 by the Cisalpine Republic to create Polish legions, which would be part of the army of the newly created Republic of Lombardy. At that time Poland already disappeared from the map of Europe, partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria but Polish military formations gave the country a chance to re-enter international affairs with support of France in the Polish independence efforts. Thus, the creation of a Polish army in Italy, at a time when the Italians refused to fight under the French banner, was beneficial to both the French and the Poles. The legions were to consist of Polish exiles. Dabrowski managed to preserve the traditional Polish uniforms, national insignia and the Polish officer corps. Dąbrowski's Manifesto addressed to Poles, and published in Italian, French and German periodicals, elicited a great response from the Polish emigre community. Soon Milan, the capital of Lombardy, began to fill up with scores of volunteers in spite of the penalties enforced by the partitioning powers. The volunteers included patriotic emigres as well as Polish prisoners released from the Austrian army. Within a short time, the Polish general gathered seven thousand potential troops, whom he turned into a disciplined army. Dąbrowski's Polish soldiers fought at Napoleon's side from May 1797 until the beginning of 1803. As a commander of his legion he played an important part in the war in Italy, entered Rome in May 1798, and distinguished himself greatly at the Battle of Trebbia (1799) as well as other battles and combats of 1799-1801. However, the legions were never able to reach Poland and did not liberate the country, as Dąbrowski had dreamed. Napoleon did, however, notice the growing dissatisfaction of his brave soldiers and their commanders. At that time he joined the free masons. The Poles were particularly disappointed by a peace treaty between France and Russia signed in Luneville, which dashed Polish hopes of Bonaparte freeing Poland. Instead, fearing rebellion, he decided to disperse the Legions. A particularly harmful move was the decision to send six thousand men to Haiti in 1803 to crush a local rebellion. Only three hundred legionnaires returned. After the Legions were disbanded and the Treaty of Amiens was passed, Dabrowski wanted to create a Polish formation, which Napoleon wanted to use to recapture Greater Poland from Prussia. Polish volunteers again turned up, albeit with much less enthusiasm. Though he distinguished himself at Gdansk and at Frydland, even Dabrowski himself became disillusioned when he was prevented from fighting against the partitioning powers in the remaining Polish territories. In 1807 the Duchy of Warsaw was established in the recaptured territories, essentially as a satellite of Bonaparte's France. Disappointed with Bonaparte, Dabrowski settled near Poznan, where he had received an estate. Soon, however he set out to fight Austria under the command of Prince Jozef Poniatowski in 1808. In 1808 he was decorated with Comandor Cross of the Virtuti Militari Order. After the Battle of Raszyn, the Polish army entered Galicia and on 15 July captured Cracow. In June 1812 Dabrowski commanded a Polish division in the Grande Armee, joining Napoleon on his Moscow expedition. However, by October the Franco-Russian war was over and the French forces, decimated by a severe winter, had to retreat. Their defeat was completed by a battle lost during the crossing of the River Berezina, in which Dabrowski was wounded. He fought under Marshal Auguste Marmont at the Battle of Leipzig (1813), but in the following year returned to Poland, unable to continue the fight any further. He was one of the generals entrusted by the tsar with the reorganization of the Polish army, and was named in 1815 general of cavalry and senator palatine of the new Congress Kingdom, and awarded the Order of the White Eagle. He retired in the following year to his estates in Winna Gora, where he died in 1818. The urn with his heart is kept in the Crypt of the meritorious inhabitants of Great Poland in the St.Wojciech church in Poznan. He wrote several military historical works in Polish: his memoirs and in 1794 Wyprawa do Wielkopolski. Dabrowski had two sons: Jan Michal and Bronislaw.

This article uses, among others, material from the Wikipedia article "Jan Henryk Dabrowski" licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. :

with additions and modifications from:
Polska (in Polish)

Polish national anthem:

Polish National Anthem (text and music in the article by Maja Trochimczyk)

Return to home page:
Prominent Poles