When General Gates was restored to command of the northern army, he allowed Kosciuszko to select a site to station the army for what was felt to be a decisive confrontation with the
British. Kosciuszko chose Bemis Heights along the Hudson River, and fortified it with five kilometers of earthenworks. From this vantage point the Colonists defended themselves in what came to be the turning point
battle in the Revolution, the Battle of Saratoga. Six months afterwards, due in large part to the acclamation of General Gates, George Washington assigned Kosciuszko to the fortification of the fortress at West
Point on the Hudson.
West Point was Kosciuszko’s greatest engineering achievement. The fortress itself was a polygonal citadel atop a rock face 60 meters above the river.
Four additional forts were situated around it, three on nearby hills and the fourth on the river bank itself featuring a 60-ton chain with two-foot-long links meant as a barrier against British ships. Seven redoubts
took shape between the forts, and the complex design held 2,500 soldiers. The entire project took two and a half years to complete. Kosciuszko considered it a triumph greater than his victory at Saratoga; he did it
with a work force of eighty-two laborers, three masons, and one stone cutter.
In 1778, West Point served briefly as headquarters for General Washington. For years West Point remained the largest fort in America.
Many stories surround Kosciuszko’s time at West Point. He is supposed to have been given a slave, Agrippa Hull, whom he freed immediately, and to have shared
his rations with some of the captured British troops. Kosciuszko is also supposed to have laid out a garden that still remains. It is also said that Kosciuszko had not drawn one dollar of pay for his engineering
skills, and owned only the one uniform coat that a Philadelphia tailor had sewn for him in 1776.
Kosciuszko went on to fight in the partisan battles of the south as Chief Engineer under General Nathaniel Greene. He orchestrated a series of river crossings as
frontline commander, and several engineering projects during the siege of Fort Ninety-six. On December 14, 1782, Kosciuszko rode at the head of General Greene’s units in triumph into Charleston, where he had
organized a blockade, the last holdout of the war.
It wasn’t until October 1783 that Kosciuszko received the commendations he so richly deserved. Congress promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General and
granted him citizenship; he also was admitted to the Order of Cincinnati, one of only three foreigners cited as outstanding veterans of the Revolution.
After the Battle of Saratoga, Washington wrote a letter to Congress, in which he referred to Kosciuszko as “a gentleman of science and merit” who
very much deserved to be remembered. General Nathanial Greene called his chief engineer “one of the most helpful and congenial companions,” stressing his “perseverance, determination, indefatigable
efforts” as well as his “incomparable modesty,” “From one man we can have but one life,” President Thomas Jefferson wrote about Kosciuszko, “and you gave us the most valuable and
active part of yours, and we are now enjoying and improving its effects. Every sound American, sincere votary of freedom loves and honors you ...”
Jefferson is also credited as saying of Kosciuszko “He was as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”
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