In 1815, diplomats from all over Europe gathered in Vienna at a famous Congress to decide what to do with the ruins of Napoleon's Empire. "The Polish Question" dominated discussions at the Congress. The Tsar wanted all of the historic Kingdom of Poland to be brought under his rule, but this was unacceptable to Prussia, Austria, and especially Britain. The final compromise established the divisions of partition which were to last (with some minor changes) until the regaining of Polish independence. The area around Poznan was returned to Prussia. The rest of the former Grand Duchy of Warsaw, called "the Congress Kingdom" or "the Kingdom of Poland", was given to the Russian Tsar. Austria retained the lands which it had seized in the First Partition, while Krakow was made into a "free city".

In the beginning, the Congress Kingdom enjoyed limited autonomy under tsar Alexander I rule. It was granted a constitution, which allowed for separate army and self-government. For a while, there was hope that the tsar would allow some form of association with the Congress Kingdom of the Polish lands beyond the Bug (the river which marked Poland's eastern frontier). This hope died, however, when Tsar Nicholas I, the "gendarme of Europe," acceeded the throne. Russian rule became increasingly heavy-handed and on November 29, 1830, an uprising erupted, sparked by the Polish cadets. The uprising engulfed the Congress Kingdom and its finely trained army came over, almost in its entirety, to the rebels. In spite of a promising start, however, delaying the abolition of serfdom and serious mishandling of the military operations bungled the opportunity. The victorious Russians then began a campaign of bloody retribution, launching a period of vicious Russification that devastated Polish life in the Russian part of Poland.


The First Night of the Uprising

Described by Joseph Hordynski, Major of the Late Tenth Regiment of Lithuanian Lancers

It is undeniable that the history of our nation abounds in heroic acts and glorious passages. Need we instance the times of Boleslaw, Casimir, Jagelo, Augustus of Warna, and Sobieski; or the deeds of our renowned generals Czarnecki, Chodkiewicz, Tarnowski, Sapieha, Kosciusko, and Poniatowski?

Yet, in our whole history, nothing transcends this last revolution; and indeed few more memorable events have ever occurred. Its plan was based on the purest motives, and this constitutes its peculiar character.

Those true sons of Poland, Wysocki and Schlegel, had no other design than to regenerate public morals and national character, which had already begun to deteriorate under Russian influence; though, perhaps, there may have mingled with these another impulse – that of vengeance for the ignominy to which we were subjected. These feelings were shared by the whole nation – certainly a rare instance in history. Inspired by the example of the brave, even the wavering joined in upholding the good cause to support which the sword was drawn. It was this unanimity which emboldened us, small as our numbers were, to meet that colossal power dreaded by all Europe. We were not animated to this unequal struggle by any vain desire of conquest, but by a resolution to shake off a yoke so disgraceful, and by the wish to preserve our civilisation, and to extend it even to Russia. In drawing the sword , every Pole had in view not only the freedom of his own country, but that of his Sarmatian brethren also.

The Poles believed that Russia still remembered those martyrs of liberty, Pestel, Bestuzew, Morawiew, Kachowski, and Releiew, who suffered an ignominious death, and more than five hundred others who were sent in chains to Siberia. We believed they would bear in mind, that, in 1824, they themselves summoned us to fight, side by side, with them against despotism. Their words were still in our memory – “Poles, help us in our holy cause! Unite your hearts with ours! Are we not brethren?” Unworthy nation – soothed by the momentary blandishments of the autocrat, who scattered his decorations with a lavish hand, they forgot their own past sufferings and the future that awaits them. They suffered themselves to be led against those who were in arms for the liberty of both nations.

At the very time when the funeral rites of those who had died in battle, Russians as well as Poles, were being celebrated in Warsaw and all the provinces, they burned our villages, and murdered our fathers and brothers. Russians! You have covered yourself with eternal shame, in the eyes of the whole world. Even the nations you consider your friends and allies condemn you!


The patriots assembled early in the morning of the 29th November, to renew their oaths and ask the blessing of the Almighty on their great undertaking. The moment approached. Seven in the evening was the hour appointed for the commencement of the revolution. The signal agreed upon was, that a wooden house should be set on fire in Szulec street, near the Vistula. The patriots were scattered over the city, ready to stir up the people on the appearance of the signal. Most of them were young men and students. Some hundred and twenty students, who were to make the beginning, were assembled in the southern part of Warsaw. All was ready. At the stroke of seven, as soon as the flame of the house was seen reflected on the sky, many brave students, and some officers, rode through the streets of that part of the city called The Old Town, shouting “Poles! brethren! the hour of vengeance has struck! The time to revenge the tortures and cruelties of fifteen years is come! Down with tyrants! To arms, brethren; to arms! Our country forever!”

The excitement spread through this part of the city with incredible rapidity. The citizens flocked together from all quarters shouting “Down with the tyrants! Poland forever!” At the same time a hundred and twenty students left their barracks (which is called the Hotel of the Cadets, and is situated in the royal gardens of Lazienki) under their gallant leaders, Wysocki and Schlegel, and marched to the quarters of the Russian cavalry, cuirasseurs, hulans and hussars.

It was resolved to take immediate possession of all the chief gates. This made the departure of the Russian troops very difficult and bloody, as the barracks were surrounded by a wide and deep moat, over which there were very few bridges. On their arrival, the cadets found the soldiers in the utmost confusion. Some were saddling their horses, some were leading them out, and others were occupied in securing the magazines, etc. In short, panic and disorder pervaded officers and men; each sought his own safety only.

Our young heroes took advantage of this confusion, and after firing a few rounds, rushed with a ‘hurrah’ through the gates. This charge sufficed: a hundred and twenty of these young Poles, after having killed forty or fifty men with ball and bayonet, dispersed some eighteen hundred Russian cavalry. Cuirasseurs, hulans and hussars mingled together, joined in the cry of terror, and began to seek concealment in garrets, stables, cellars, etc. A great number were drowned in attempting to cross the canal in order to escape into the adjoining gardens. As the barracks were closely connected with wooden buildings filled with hay, straw, and other combustible articles, not a man would have escaped had they been fired. The young Poles refrained from this, in mercy. The Russians might all have been made prisoners; for so great was their panic that they were not ashamed to beg for quarter on their knees. But these advantages were, for the time being, neglected. The cadets abandoned the attack, and hastened into the city, where there presence was more necessary.

While their comrades were attacking the barracks, some ten or twelve students traversed the gardens towards the palace of the Grand Duke (called the Belvidere) in order to secure his person (1). Some of them guarded the passages on the side of the gardens, while others penetrated to the tyrant’s apartment. But he had escaped through a secret door.

Having failed to secure the person of the Grand Duke, this party of cadets left his apartments without in the least disturbing the repose of his lady. As they reached the foot of the stairs they met Lubowicki, the vice-president of the city, coming to the Grand Duke for instructions. As soon as he saw them, he began to cry for aid, but the next moment fell on his knees and begged for his life. They took him with them, intending to extract from him all the information he was able to give. In the court-yard they met the Russian General, Gendre (2), aid-de-camp of the Grand Duke, with some ten or twelve armed men. They resolutely attacked him. Gendre fell under their bayonets, and his followers fled. The party meeting with no further obstacles, returned to their friends, whom they found at the Sobieski bridge.

The company of cadets, after having finished their attack upon the barracks of the Russian cavalry, marched along the high road which traverses the Park, over the Sobieski Bridge, towards the main avenue between the terraces of the hospital Ujasdow on one side, and those of the Botanical Garden on the other. After having arrived at this bridge, they heard the noise of horses in front, as of cavalry advancing. It was in fact a company of Russian cuirasseurs, who were on guard in this part of the park, and who were now hastening to save the barracks. Immediately a plan was formed to receive them. The cadets, forming in a line, concealed themselves in the Park near the street. The cuirasseurs came up; they were permitted to advance, and were then received with a brisk fire. The heavy cavalry, who could not turn in this narrow road, suffered severely. Sixty bodies were found on the spot. The rest fled in the greatest disorder. From this bridge, that handful of brave young men passed the street of Wieyska, and, after arriving at the Radziwil barracks, they met a squadron of Russian hussars returning from a patrol. At the same time they heard the pursuing Russian cavalry, who had gained time to mount at their barracks. This was a critical moment, but it was met with resolution. One half threw themselves into the ditch in order to receive the hussars; and the others formed a platoon, and with hurrahs and the shout of “Poland forever!” discharged their pieces and attacked the cuirasseurs in their rear, at the point of the bayonet. The Russians were thrown into disorder, and fled with the greatest precipitation, leaving many dead behind them.

The cadets, not having lost a single man in all these skirmishes, arrived at the part of the city called Nowy-Swiat, (or the New World,) and the Trzy Zlote Krzyze, (The Three Golden Crosses.) Here they found two companies of Polish light infantry, and with them the two Polish generals, Stanislaus Potocki and Trembicki, who were giving commands for restoring order by force, and for arresting the assembled inhabitants. The company of cadets arrived, and hailed the light infantry with the following words:- “Brothers! Are you here to shed the blood of your brethren? Have you forgotten the Russian tyranny? Come to our embrace, and hand to hand let us attack the tyrants. Poland forever!”

This address was enough. They disobeyed the commands of their unworthy generals, and joined the cadets and the populace. When the two generals had the madness to reproach the soldiers, some of the cadets went to them and told them in a few words the state of affairs, and on their knees and with tears entreated them not to forsake the cause of their country. Command of the army was offered to Stanislaus Potocki. At the same time they were both warned of the fatal consequences of their refusal. It was of no avail.

These infatuated men could not see the justice of the cause, and began to insult the students. Upon this the cadets left them and they fell victims to the indignation of the populace. (4) In this place some gendarmes who undertook to disperse the citizens, were killed. After the union with the two companies of light infantry, it was decided they should both march to the street of Szulec, on the left bank of the Vistula, endeavor there to assemble the citizens, and establish a degree of order, and after that take possession of the bridge, for the purpose of maintaining the necessary communications between Praga and Warsaw during the night, and to defend it to the last against any attack of the enemy.

The cadets marched directly into the city through the Nowy-Swiat, singing patriotic songs and shouting “Poland forever!” Everywhere the citizens answered their shouts with the greatest enthusiasm, and joined the ranks of those brave young youths. Both old and young men, and even women, left their dwellings in order to increase the numbers of the liberators of their country. In their passage through that street this company made prisoners of many Russian generals, officers, etc. who were on their flight. After advancing as far as the palace of the Viceroy they met the Polish general Hauke, and colonel; Mieciszewski. These worthless men, accompanied by some gendarmes, were on their way to the grand Duke in the Belvidere. Some cadets stepped in their way, and exhorted them to dismount and surrender themselves. Instead of answering, general Hauke drew a pistol and wounded one of them, which act cost him and his companion their lives.(5)

In the same manner general Siemiontkowski with some gendarmes and soldiers, endeavoured to disperse and arrest the citizens assembled in the Saxon-platz. He likewise was a Russian instrument, and was hated by the nation.

Whilst this company of cadets was engaged in the south part of the city, the 4th regiment, a battalion of which had mounted guard, were active in another quarter. This regiment revolted as soon as the signals were given. The battalion on guard beat the alarm-drum at every guard-house, and the two other battalions formed for the attack of the Russian infantry in the Sapieha barracks. The shouts of the soldiers and citizens advancing to the attack mingled with the noise of the drums on every side. A great number of Russian general officers and spies were taken in their flight, in the street of the little theatre, and the street of Napoleon.

As soon as the numbers assembled would admit of it, divisions were detached to liberate the prisoners, especially those in the Franciscan and Carmelite prisons. These prisons, always guarded by Russian troops, were stormed. The Russian soldiers were driven in, and a massacre commenced in the corridors, where a great number of them fell by the bayonet, together with many police officers and turnkeys. The doors were broken down – and an indescribable scene took place, when the victims, already sentenced, perhaps, to death, or reserved for tortures, were set at liberty. With tears in their eyes, they fell into the arms of their deliverers. Here, a father found a son – there, a son a father. Many of the emaciated captives could only creep to meet the embraces of their brethren. But what was most shocking, was the appearance of four ladies who had been incarcerated for having resisted the brutal advances of certain Russian generals. They were reduced to mere skeletons. There was not one of the spectators who did not shudder and weep at the sight, and swear to avenge them. A hundred and seventy students , and from forty to fifty older persons, Polish soldiers and citizens, all innocent victims of the system of espionage, were rescued from these two prisons.

The above mentioned battalions of the 4th and the battalion of sappers marched to attack the Russian infantry in trhe barracks of Alexander and Stanislaus. On their arrival there, they found some companies under arms, and summoned them to surrender. Instead of complying, they began to open fire, and our soldiers fell instantly upon them with the “hurrah.” They were dispersed in a moment, and many officers and soldiers were made prisoners. So panic struck were many of the officers of the Russian guard that they did not hesitate to creep head-foremost into the cellars, whence they were dragged out by the legs. The Russians fled from the barracks and the city in the utmost disorder, and took refuge beyond the Powouzki barrier.

After all these successes, the northern, eastern. and western parts of the city were occupied, at about noon, by divisions of patriot soldiers and citizens.

A small part of the south side of the city only was now in possession of the enemy’s cavalry, who had at last left their barracks. A few houses opposite the Lottery Buildings were set on fire, as a signal for assembling. Strong patrols were sent to the western part of the city, and secured all the public treasures and the bank. One of these parties, composed of sappers, met the Russian colonel, Sass(6), in his flight. As he did not stop at their challenge, he was shot.

When the city had been nearly freed of the Russians, great multitudes hastened to the arsenal for arms and ammunition. Here they found the Polish General Blummer, who was rash enough to resist. He ordered his soldiers to fire on the people, but they refused to obey, and joined their brethren. This general was slain, - a just punishment for his murderous intentions. All the apartments were immediately opened, and more than 80,000 muskets, pistols, sabres, and carbines were obtained. They were distributed with admirable good order.

The people, being now armed, were arrayed in divisions, under different commanders, and sent to various parts of the city. Parties were appointed to patrol the streets and arrest all spies (7) and Russian officers who might attempt to fly. They arrested upward of three hundred. On e of these patrols went to the office of the secretary of spies, Marcot, to sieze his person and papers. This man had hidden himself in the cellar, with some of his satellites, and fired upon the patrol. The consequence was that Marcot and his people were massacred.

Towards two in the morning, the quiet of the city was restored. Most of the patriots assembled in the Ulica Dluga, (or Long Street,) to consult on the measures to be adopted on the following day, and the manner in which the nation should be addressed by the patriotic party. They called to memory the cruelties of the Russian government, and urged the necessity of a revolution to prevent the decay of all moral and national feeling. They implored the people to aid in this holy cause, yet at the same time besought them never to violate the dictates of humanity. “Dear brethren,” they said, “let no one have a right to accuse us of cruelty. May the sanctity of our cause never be polluted by barbarous passions. Having a single end in view, national freedom, and justice, may we prove lions in battle, mild and indulgent to defenceless foes and repentant apostates. Brethren , let unity, love and friendship be ours! Let us forget private rancor and selfish interest! Children of one mother, our dear Poland – let us save her from ruin!”

These addresses were received by the people with the most fervent enthusiasm, and with cries of Poland forever!” They swore to fight for her while a drop flowed in their hearts, and never to forsake the field of valor or the path of virtue. The assembled multitude then knelt down before the Almighty, to thank him for a deliverance accomplished with so little bloodshed, and to implore a continuation of his mercies. It was a scene which no description can equal. In the depth of the night the immense crowds of people kneeling, their figures illuminated by the glare of the fires lighted in the streets, praying to God their deliverer, presented a sight to have touched even tyrants, could they have witnessed it.

When prayers were over, plans were adopted for the defence of the city. Some of the barriers were barricaded, and fortified with cannon. Officers were sent to Praga with detachments to reinforce the garrison at the bridge. Wagons were also sent to Praga for ammunition.

As the detachments approached the bridge, they perceived that their way was obstructed by a body of Russian cavalry. This cavalry were not aware of the presence of the two companies of light infantry who had been sent thither by the patriots. As the cavalry advanced upon the bridge the light infantry gave them a volley and charged. At the same time the detachments fell on from the Border Street, and compelled them to retire with severe loss. Some companies formed by the populace, had already taken possession of Praga, and all was quiet. Many wagon loads of cartridges, balls, and barrels of powder, were taken from the magazine to Warsaw before morning.

These are the details of the first night of our revolution. The order which prevailed in all these tumults and during the fight, was truly admirable. The foreigners then in Warsaw declared that they could not praise highly enough the behavior of the troops and populace in the very height of a revolution. The utmost forbearance was evinced towards persons and properties. No individual was slain or abused without provocation, nor was any house or store entered without the consent of the owner. From the open windows of many houses even ladies witnessed our deeds, and waved their handkerchiefs, without fear of danger or insult. They were quiet and delighted spectators of the crowds, who, after expelling the Russians, moved through the streets in perfect order, shouting songs of joy. These were moments in which the heart of every good patriot rejoiced, and traitors alone hid their heads.

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