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Jan Henryk Dąbrowski
Jan Henryk Dąbrowski
Born (1755-08-29)29 August 1755
Died 6 July 1818(1818-07-06) (aged 62)
Place of birth Pierzchów, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Place of death Winna Góra, Grand Duchy of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia
Allegiance Flag of Electoral Saxony.svg Electorate of Saxony (1770–1791)
Herb Rzeczpospolitej Obojga Narodow (Alex K).svg Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1791–1794)
Cisalpine Republic (1796–1803)
Italian Republic
Grand Coat of Arms of Duchy of Warsaw.svg Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1816)
Service/branch Cavalry
Years of service 1770–1816
Rank General of Cavalry
Battles/wars Kościuszko Uprising
War of the Second Coalition
Battle of Trebia
Battle of Friedland
Russian Campaign
Battle of Leipzig
Awards Order of Virtuti Militari[1]
Order of the White Eagle[2]
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour [3]
Order of the Iron Crown[3]
Order of St. Vladimir[4]
Order of St. Anna [4]
Other work Senator of Congress Poland

Jan Henryk Dąbrowski (Polish pronunciation: [ˈjan ˈxɛnrɨk dɔmˈbrɔfskʲi]; also known as Johann Heinrich Dąbrowski (Dombrowski)[5] in German[6] and Jean Henri Dombrowski in French[7] 29 August 1755 – 6 July 1818) was a Polish general and national hero. He initially served in the Saxon Army and joined the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Army in 1792 and was a general in the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794. He was the founder and general of the Polish Legions in Italy serving under Napoleon since 1797, and participated in Napoleonic Wars until 1813. The Polish national anthem, written and first sung by the Polish legionnaires, mentions Dąbrowski and is sometimes known as Dąbrowski's Mazurka.[8]


In Saxony and Poland

Dąbrowski was born to Jan Michał Dąbrowski and Zofia Maria Dąbrowska, née Sophie von Lettow[9] in Pierzchów, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.[8] His date of birth is variously reported as 2 or 29 August 1755.[6] He grew up in Hoyerswerda, Electorate of Saxony, where his father served as a Colonel in the Saxon Army.[10] He joined the Royal Saxon Horse Guards in 1770[11][12] or 1771.[6][13] In his childhood and youth he grew up surrounded by German culture, and signed his name as Johann Heinrich Dąbrowski.[6] He fought in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–1789), during that time his father passed away.[6] Shortly afterward in 1780 he married Gustawa Rackel.[6] He lived in Dresden, and steadily progressed through ranks, becoming a Rittmeister in 1789.[6] He served as Adjutant general of King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony from 1788 to 1791.[14]

Following the appeal of the Polish Four-Year Sejm to all Poles serving abroad to join the Polish army, and not seeing much opportunity to advance in his military career in the now-peaceful Saxony, on 28 June 1792 he joined the Army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with a rank of podpułkownik and on 14 July he was promoted to the rank of vice-brigadier.[6] Joining in the final weeks of the Polish-Russian War of 1792, he did not see combat in it.[6] Unfamiliar with the intricasies of Polish politics, like many of Poniatowski's supporters, he joined the Targowica Confederation in late 1792.[6][15]

Dąbrowski was seen as a cavalry expert, and King Stanisław August Poniatowski was personally interested in obtaining Dąbrowski's services.[6] As a cavalryman educated in a Dresden military school under Count Maurice Bellegarde, a reformer of the Saxon army's cavalry, Dąbrowski was asked to help modernize the Polish cavalry, serving in he ranks of the 1st Greater Poland Cavalry Brygade (1 Wielkpolska Brygada Kawalerii Narodowej).[6] In January 1793, stationed around Gniezno with two units of cavalry, about 200 strong, he briefly engaged the Prussian forces entering Poland in the aftermath of the Second Partition of Poland, and afterward was became a known activist advocating the continuation of military struggle against the occupiers.[6][16]

The Grodno Sejm, held in fall of 1793, nominated him for membership in a military commission; this caused him to be viewed with suspicion by the majority of the dissatisfied military, and he was noted included in the preparations for the upcoming uprising.[17] Thus he was taken by surprise when the Kościuszko Insurrection erupted, and his own brigade mutinied.[17] He declared his support for the insurgents after the libation of Warsaw, and from then on took an active part in the uprising, defending Warsaw and leading an army corps in support of a rising in Greater Poland.[13][17] His courage was commended by Tadeusz Kościuszko himself, the Supreme Commander of the National Armed Forces, who promoted him to the rank of general.[17]

Jan Henryk Dąbrowski in front of the Polish Legions.

In the Napoleonic service

After the fall of the uprising he remained in partitioned Poland for a while, attempting to convince the Prussian authorities that they need Poland as an ally against Austria and Russia.[13] He was unsuccessful, and with the Third Partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe. Dąbrowski's next solution was to convince the French Republic that it should support a Polish cause, and create a Polish military formation.[13] This proved to be more successful, and indeed Dąbrowski is remembered in the history of Poland as the organiser of Polish Legions in Italy during the Napoleonic Wars; an event which gave much hope to the contemporary Poles, and is still remembered in the Polish national anthem, named after Dąbrowski.[8] He began his work in 1796, when he came to Paris and met Napoleon Bonaparte, and on January 7, 1797 he was authorized by the Cisalpine Republic to create Polish legions, which would be part of the army of the newly created Republic of Lombardy.[13][18]

Coat of Arms

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 Trebia (June 19, 1799) as well as other battles and combats of 1799–1801.[18] 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 soldiers and their commanders. They were particularly disappointed by a peace treaty between France and Russia signed in Lunéville, which dashed Polish hopes of Bonaparte freeing Poland.[18][19] Many legionnaires resigned afterward; of the others, thousands perished when the Legions were sent to suppress the Haitian Revolution in 1803.[18]

Dąbrowski, meanwhile, spent the first few years of the new century as a general in the service of the Italian republic.[18] In 1804 he received the Officer cross of Legion of Honour, and the next year, the Italian Order of the Iron Crown.[20] Together with Józef Wybicki he was summoned again by Napoleon in fall of 1806 and tasked with recreating the Polish formation, which Napoleon wanted to use to recapture Greater Poland from Prussia.[21] The ensuing conflict was known as the Greater Poland Uprising, and Dabrowski was the chief leader of Polish insurgent forces in it.[13] Dąbrowski distinguished himself at siege of Tczew, siege of Gdańsk and at Battle of Friedland.[21]

Dąbrowski's order of 1806, introducing a new Order of Battle for the Polish voivodeships

In 1807 the Duchy of Warsaw was established in the recaptured territories, essentially as a satellite of Bonaparte's France. Dąbrowski became disappointed with Napoleon, who offered him monetary rewards, but no serious military or government position.[21] He was also awarded the Virtuti Militari medal that year.[1] Soon, however he set out to defend Poland against an Austrian invasion under the command of Prince Józef Poniatowski in 1809.[21] Joining the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw shortly after the Battle of Raszyn, he took part in the first stages of the offensive on Galicia, and then organized the defense of Greater Poland.[21] In June 1812 Dąbrowski commanded the 17th (Polish) division in the V Corps of the Grande Armée, during Napoleon's invasion of Russia.[13][21] 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 Dąbrowski was wounded, and his leadership and tactics in it, criticized.[2][21]

He commanded more Polish forces at the Battle of Leipzig (1813), and on 28 October he became the commander in chief of the all remaining Polish forces in Napoleon's service, succeeding Antoni Paweł Sułkowski.[2]

Final years

Dąbrowski always associated independent Poland with a Polish Army, and offered his services to the new power, which promised to organize such a formation: Russia.[2] He was one of the generals entrusted by the tsar Alexander of Russia with the reorganization of the Duchy's army into the Army of Congress Poland.[13] In 1815 he received the titles of general of cavalry and senator-voivode of the new Congress Kingdom.[8] He was also awarded the Order of the White Eagle on December 9 that year.[2] Soon afterward he withdrew from active politics.[13] He retired in the following year to his estates in Winna Góra in the Grand Duchy of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia, where he died on 6 June 1818, from a combination of pneumonia and gangrene.[2] He was buried in the church in Winna Góra.[2]

Over the years, Dąbrowski wrote several military treaties, primarily about the Legions, in German, French and Polish.[2]

His name, in the French version "Dombrowsky", is inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.[22]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Tomasz Gąsowski (1998) (in Polish). Wybitni Polacy XIX wieku: leksykon biograficzny. Wydawn. Literackie. p. 96. ISBN 978-83-08-02839-1. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Skałkowski, 1946, p.5
  3. 3.0 3.1 Capefigue, Baptiste H. R. (1842) (in French). L'Europe pendant le consulat et l'empire de Napoléon. Wouters, Raspoet et Co.. p. 241. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 (in French) Biographie des hommes vivants. Paris. 1817. p. 409. 
  5. Rüegg, Walter (2004) (in German). Geschichte der Universität in Europa. C.H. Beck. p. 230. ISBN 3-406-36954-5. </
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 Skałkowski, 1946, p.1
  7. Connelly, Owen (2006). Blundering to Glory. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 172. 
    Pivka, Otto. Napoleon's Polish troops. Osprey. p. 3. ISBN 0-85045-198-1. 
    Leggiere, Michael V. (2002). Napoleon and Berlin, The Franco-Prussian war in North Germany 1813. University of Oklahoma. p. 374. ISBN 0-8061-3399-6. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Sokol, Stanley S.; Mrotek Kissane, Sharon F.; Abramowicz, Alfred L. (1992, pg. 89). The Polish biographical dictionary: profiles of nearly 900 Poles who have made lasting contributions to world civilization. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  9. (German)Der Spiegel, Die Gesellschaft auf -ki
  10. Zeitgenossen: ein biographisches Magazin für d. Geschichte unserer Zeit. Brockhaus. 1830. pp. 5–. 
  11. (in German) Conversations-Lexikon der neuesten Zeit und Literatur. F. A. Brockhaus. 1832. p. 704. 
  12. Bronikowski, Alexander (1827) (in German). Die Geschichte Polens. Dresden. p. 135. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 Jerzy Jan Lerski (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-0-313-26007-0. 
  14. (in German) Allgemeines deutsches Conversations-Lexikon für die Gebildeten eines jeden Standes. Leipzig: Gebr. Reichenbach. 1840. p. 537. 
  15. Gabriel Zych (1964) (in Polish). Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, 1755–1818. Wydawn. Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej. p. 55. 
  16. Gabriel Zych (1964) (in Polish). Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, 1755–1818. Wydawn. Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej. p. 59. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Skałkowski, 1946, p.2
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Skałkowski, 1946, p.3
  19. Jerzy Jan Lerski (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966–1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-313-26007-0. Retrieved 9 May 2012. 
  20. (in Polish) Generał Jan Henryk Dąbrowski (1755–1818): Materiały z międzyuczelnianej sesji naukowej UAM iWAP odbytej w Poznaniu 28 III 1969. Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza. 1970. p. 27. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 21.6 Skałkowski, 1946, p.4
  22. (in French) Antemurale. Institutum. 1972. p. 17. 
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press 
  • Polish Army of the Napoleonic Wars


  • Adam Skałkowski (1939–1946). "Jan Henryk Dąbrowski" (in Polish). Jan Henryk Dąbrowski. V. 

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