Battle of Ostrołęka, 1831

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1. The state of international affairs before the outbreak of the November Uprising

When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold – this catchphrase, attributed to Prince Metternich, Austria’s Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, describes the mechanism behind many of XIXth-century revolutions, commonly attributed to the current state of affairs over the Seine. A crisis in France as a rule proved to be the first one of a long series of events that brought upon revolt and unrest in other countries of the continent. With that in mind, we should not be surprised by the old aristocrat’s aversion towards the land he thought to be the birthplace of the revolutionary disease, spreading across the Old World and frequently causing trouble in Austria itself. Such were things in 1830, too.

The French July Revolution (27-29. VII 1830) overthrew Charles X, supported by aristocratic and royalist groups, and established the rule of the bourgeois’ favorite – Louis Philip, the Prince of Orleans. The rich middle-class preferred a weak king to an unsteady republican system that could not guarantee the safety of their life and belongings. What happened in Paris became the impulse that sparked the Belgian Revolution in August of the same year. The rebels wanted to secede from the Kingdom of Netherlands, an artificial creation that originated at the Congress of Vienna. On 24th November the National Congress in Brussels dethroned “forevermore” William I of Netherlands and whole House of Orange-Nassau. As the older son of the king was also brother-in-law to the Tsar Nicholas I, the act indirectly affected the prestige of Russia and the tsar himself.

Successful revolutions in both France and Belgium caused a surge in activity of radical organizations across Europe, including Austria and Prussia, two of the powers that partook in partitions of Poland (between 1772 and 1795), erasing that country thereby from the political map of the world. Alarmed by the course of events, the reactionary forces tried to regain the initiative. Whilst Austria and Prussia, in serious difficulties because of their own problems, could make some concessions for the sake of stability, the Russia stood adamantly against the new system. Tsar Nicholas I wanted to restore order in Europe – with a barrel of a gun, if necessary. It would not be the first time when Russian army granted its “brotherly help” to troubled monarchs. There was a quite remarkable precedent already: after all, the main force ousting the usurper, the self-proclaimed Emperor, from the throne of France, only 15 years earlier was composed of the Russian troops.

On 17. X 1830 Polish and Russian armies were issued ordinances concerning wartime readiness. Four days later Prince Ksawery Drucki-Lubecki, Minister of Treasury of the Kingdom of Poland (a Russian satellite state, created after the Congress of Vienna from the Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw) received orders from Saint-Petersburg to prepare the country’s finances for war. Both armies were planned to reach warfare readiness on 22nd of December. It was clear that the Polish army was going to take part in action against Belgians alongside its Russian counterpart. In such event, it would also constitute a major part of the interventionist forces. The tsar planned to use the Belgian question as a reason to get Polish army out of the Kingdom, to replace it with Russian troops and then abolish its autonomy, doing away with Poland once and for all. The Army would face the end of its Kingdom, too, incorporated seamlessly into structures of the Russian military. At least that’s what Polish plotters believed.

Such plans had been made before. In 1823 Tsar Alexander I planned to create a special Army of Observation, located on western fringes of his empire – that is mainly in the Kingdom of Poland. It was to be used in Spain and support Ferdinand VII against local constitutionalists and, without any doubt, it was planned to make the Poles a part of it. Other concepts envisioned using Polish army in a war with the Ottoman Empire.

Preparations for use of Polish military abroad, along with the general situation in the Kingdom of Poland (violations of the Constitution, censorship, repressions against the opposition) and discovery of the Cadet Conspiracy by the police became the main factors in the start of the Uprising, planned for 29th November 1830. Unlike most western revolutions of the time, it remained focused on the struggle for independence. The social structure was not to be altered. It was not an antifeudal revolt, although leftist and centrist groups tried to steer it in that direction, pressing certain key issues (affranchisement of the peasantry, the abolition of serfdom).

2. The Uprising

After the decision of conspirators, the situation developed swiftly. On the night of November 29/30, supported by the people of Warsaw, the insurgents seized control over the city. Taking the Arsenal and arming the civilians with its stock proved crucial to the final victory over the Russian garrison. At the same time, the attack on the Belvedere, the seat of Grand Duke Constantine, whom conspirators wanted captured or dead, failed to achieve either goal. Not enough was done to win Constantine’s troops over for the revolutionary cause. The same could be said for the General Rosen’s corps, used against Poles in the initial stage of the war. The ethnic composition of both forces made such attempts more than plausible. Moreover, the Grand Duke and his troops were allowed to leave the Kingdom unharmed in any way. What strongly influenced the fate of the revolt was the decision to leave the administration to “the fathers of the nation”– members of the previous government, mostly ill-disposed towards the very idea of uprising.

In the ranks of the insurgents, including the command, two general trends can be seen – one, drifting towards an open clash with Russia and reaching the independence by force, and the other, based on a belief that only a compromise with the tsar can safeguard both a reconciliation and the lasting autonomy. The dethronisation of Nicolas I and the House of Romanov, declared by Polish parliament on 25th of January 1831, may be seen as an important victory of the “war hawks” faction. Unfortunately, the parliament failed to solve the question of the affranchisement of peasantry, which ultimately limited the scope of the Uprising, as it failed to achieve proper momentum outside of the nobility.

At the moment of outbreak, the Army of Kingdom of Poland consisted of about 30 000 soldiers. Moreover, a mobilisation started with recommissioning 9 000 of ex-soldiers into the ranks in December. The overall call to arms brought 160 to 190 thousands of people throughout the war, which – combined with the regular army – shows an impressive war effort of the insurgents. Over 8 000 of cavalry was mustered until February, constituting new regiments, named after cities or regions of origin, ex. 1st Augustów Cavalry Regiment, 1st Lublin Cavalry Regiment, 1st and 2nd Masurian Regiment, 1st and 2nd Cracow Cavalry Regiment.

Many Polish officers and soldiers had extensive military experience, earned in service in the armies of Emperor Napoleon and Duchy of Warsaw. In the early phase of the Kingdom’s existence cavalry instructors often originated from the ranks of the 1st Polish Light Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard and the Vistula Uhlan Regiment. The situation was similar in other branches of the military, as careers of Polish generals generally reached their peaks in the time when the “God of War” still ruled the battlefield. The Polish forces, excellently drilled under Grand Duke Constantine, who justly boasted with it, would prove to be a demanding enemy for the Russians. Military production began. Casting artillery pieces proved to be most demanding as Russian authorities had ensured underdevelopment of this branch of industry in the Kingdom. Because of that, production of such pieces on a larger scale was not possible before the summer of 1831.

In the meantime the Russian troops drew closer to Warsaw. Field Marshal Ivan Dybitsh, commander-in-chief of the army sent to quell the rebellion, opted for a swift action, planning to finish the assigned task before spring, even if it meant conducting intense operations in winter. Despite superiority in numbers, the Russian army failed to break the Poles, who valiantly shielded their capital in the battle of Grochów (25th of February 1831). Therefore they did not manage to repeat Suvorov’s success, who (during the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794) had conducted the massacre of Praga to intimidate the insurgents. Furthermore, the Polish spring offensive brought a streak of victories (Wawer and Dębe Wielkie – 31st of March 1831), the most notable one being the battle of Iganie (10th of April 1831). Still, the offensive fell short of its goal, which was taking the Russian depot in Siedlce.

Although the hope for pacts and international developments that could benefit the Polish cause was still strong, it was also more and more evident that the tsar’s clemency is not to be expected. The Polish commander-in-chief (appointed to this post after the battle of Grochów), General Skrzynecki, urged to do so by both the government and the public opinion, was forced to take an aggressive stance. The plan of the offensive was conceived by General Ignacy Prądzyński on the basis of a previous one, provided by General Wojciech Chrzanowski. The Poles were to attack the Russian Imperial Guard (an elite force of approximately 20 000 soldiers) stationed in Łomża region and crush it, damaging Russian credibility in Europe and, hopefully, forcing Nicolas I to reconsider the Polish proposals.

3. Expedition against the Imperial Guard

In the evening of 12th of May, the Polish Army, stationed near Kostrzyń for the last few days, broke away from the main Russian force, commanded by Dybitsh himself, and marched towards Warsaw, then arcing and passing it from the east, while going towards Serock, and then towards Łomża. 1st Cavalry Corps and 4th Infantry Division, led by General Umiński, stayed behind for few days to feign presence of the whole army, thus successfully fooling the Russians. On the 14th of May the Polish forces concentrated in Serock in full combat strength of 44 000 soldiers and 108 guns. After a forced march, abounding with minor skirmishes, it closed in on the positions of the Guard on the 17th May. At the same time, its detachment under General Łubieński, screening it from the south, captured the bridges on the Bug river, preventing Dybitsh from reinforcing the endangered Guard.

The Russian Imperial Guard found itself not only surprised, but also caught in an unfavourable position, lacking a proper line of retreat and hampered by extensive supply train. One of the main reasons for the success of Polish offensive was the elite status of the Guard formations. Its commanders were certain that the Polish forces in the area consisted of partisans and insignificant groups of regulars. To retreat facing such a foe would besmirch not only them but the Guard itself! It took them a significant amount of time to realise that they were facing main Polish army. Until then, they rather looked for ways to lead into an ambush and crush the opposing force, not to cover their own retreat.

The 17th of May could have proved a turning and decisive point in the Uprising. The Poles numbered 28 000 soldiers and 80 guns (not including the detachments screening the whole operation, among others the Łubieński’s group) against 24 000 Russians with 72 artillery pieces (data as estimated by N. Kasparek, other historians tend to indicate a higher disparity of forces) and no sufficient line of retreat. Yet, in the evening, when Gen. Prądzyński approached Skrzynecki with orders concerning the following day’s attack plan, they were not signed, despite Prądzyński’s insistence. The drama coined by Polish commander-in-chief and his quartermaster general on the night from 17th to 18th May in the headquarters in Księżopol indeed proved decisive for the history of the war. Furthermore, it expressly foretold not only its fate, but also unveiled the very mechanism behind the Polish loss. Because there are different kinds of defeat – those, where the defeated dared to aim for glory and fell short of the goal, and those, where they could not dare to use the very assets they had. Our defeat of 1831 would sadly fit into the second category. (W. Tokarz) Despite the flow of time and new research, this opinion of highly regarded Polish historian remains unchallenged.

Prądzyński, having returned from the positions of the vanguard, demanded an assault on the Guard on the following day. He even had a plan of such operation already prepared. Circumventing the Russian left wing, he could cut the enemy off from Białystok and push towards Łomża, further from Dybitsh and into a dangerous narrow at Piątnica. To achieve it, the Polish army would assemble on the road from Pyski to Głęboż Wielki at night, proceed to Głęboż, and from there turn to the north, and go along the road Głęboż Mały – Duchny – Śniadów, and assault Śniadów at dawn. This way, it could bypass first echelons of the Guard, stationed at Ruż, and attack the enemy rear. (W. Tokarz) Instead, the Poles spent the 18th of May forcing weak Russian force under General Osten-Sacken, temporarily lodged in at Ostrołęka, out of the town. A small enemy formation on the Polish rear threw General Skrzynecki, seriously concerned with his lines of communication, into confusion. He sent against it the whole General Antoni Giełgud’s 2nd Infantry Division and gen. Henryk Dembiński’s detachment. Before both forces coordinated their actions, the Russians fell back.

The Imperial Guard’s command spent the 18th of May near Śniadów, preparing for a decisive battle, but now it was beginning to understand its grave situation. First of all, much of its supply train was sent to the rear, to give the rest of the force more operational mobility. As of 2.00 PM on the 19th of May, the Guard was in position and an energetic action on Polish behalf could still force unfavourable battle upon the Russian elite force. For this day Prądzyński had also prepared orders of assault – this time by three coordinated groups. Considering the shortcomings of Polish command, this could prove no small task. As command over the crucial force would have to be bestowed upon the inert Gen. Giełgud, commander of 2nd Infantry Division, Prądzyński wanted to oversee it personally. Alas, that plan – offensive at its core, reasonable and feasible – would also not be acted upon. When Prądzyński brought orders for examination, Skrzynecki signed them at first, revoked the decision a moment later and postponed it until tomorrow after a short and fierce discussion, which he concluded angrily showing quartermaster his way out. (W. Tokarz) One of the memorists recalled that his soldiers spent the day baking potatoes in bonfire instead of fighting. At the same time the Guard, having securely relieved itself from the burden of its supply train, began retreat towards Białystok.

At the first glance, Skrzynecki’s actions during this period are hard to understand. Many evoke his indecisiveness and fear of responsibility. It seems that his plan was to conduct the war without the conclusive battle. He wanted to become a Polish Fabius Cunctator, even describing himself as one to his staff. He tried to avoid the fate of Tadeusz Kościuszko, who played all-in at Maciejowice (14th of October 1794) and lost, not only being captured himself, but also considerably accelerating the demise of the uprising that he started. New research (N. Kasparek) indicates that initially (the night of 17th/18th of May) the situation was complicated. Polish staff lacked sufficient reconnaissance. There was no word from Gen. Tomasz Łubieński, screening the main force from the south. The Polish superiority in numbers was also not as big as we used to think, and Skrzynecki diminished it further, sending the group of General Dezydery Chłapowski (among others including elite 1st Uhlan Regiment) to harass the enemy line of communication. Still, all this does not justify Skrzynecki’s conduct – especially in the evening of 18th and throughout the 19th of May, when he had best chances to land the decisive blow.

On the 20th Skrzynecki pursued the retreating Guard, much too late to obtain any results. He got carried away in this pursuit and went as far as Tykocin, with no gain at all. Meanwhile, Field Marshal Dybitsh, having received alarming dispatches from Grand Duke Michael, the commander of the Russian Imperial Guard, undertook forced march with all forces he could muster to reinforce the endangered troops. This manoeuvre threatened the Polish rear, so Skrzynecki withdrew from his position to Ostrołęka. He did not want to move too far, as the army’s morale would surely diminish the very moment it found itself in retreat. 24th of May Dybitsh finally established tactical contact with the Guard. Known for his usual leisurely conduct of operations, field marshal made an important decision. He ordered forced march towards Pyski, in pursuit of the Poles on the following day, the 25th of May. Since early morning Russians have marched for 21 hours and their respective groups travelled for 43 to 53 kilometres. The army became considerably stretched in that march and only part of it could participate in the following day’s clash. The Russians attacked on the march. Dybitsh’s decision created the element of surprise that threw his enemy off-balance and stripped him out of the margin of error, leaving him in unforeseeable circumstances. (W. Tokarz)

4. The Battle of Ostrołęka (May 26, 1831)

The Polish positions before the battle were as follows: the rear guard under General Łubieński was stationed on the eastern bank of Narew (approx. 3.5 km east of Ostrołęka), on the line from Rzekuń to Goworki (through Czarnowiec and Ławy). It consisted of the 2nd Cavalry Corps and the 5th Infantry Division. An elite brigade of General Ludwik Bogusławski (4th Line Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion of 8th Line Infantry Regiment), with the 1st Battalion of Active Veterans Regiment and 2 sections (4 guns) detached from the 4th Light Horse Battery under Captain Jabłonowski were attached to Łubieński’s group. Bogusławski placed his forces in Ostrołęka and north of it, tasked with controlling the town and the bridges. The rest of the army remained on the western bank. Its commander did not expect battle. Cavalry unsaddled their horses and many soldiers used this operational break to wash themselves and bathe in Narew. Even worse, on the early morning of 26th May a reserve artillery park was sent to Różan, which led to ammunition shortage later that day.

The battle ensued on the 26th of May 1831, around 9 AM, when Łubieński’s group clashed with Bistrom’s vanguard near Rzekuń. Having gained intelligence on both the situation and the enemy forces, Łubieński started falling back towards Ostrołęka, despite the fact that the headquarters had ordered him to defend his position for “as long as possible”. Łubieński’s decision was completely sound, as the Russian superiority in numbers was more than enough to push away and break his troops. The withdrawal, calm and orderly, lasted until 11 AM. Skrzynecki approached Łubieński’s men at the bridgehead, sorely discontented with their commander’s decision and ordered Bogusławski to defend Ostrołęka.

It is a good place to indicate a few features of the terrain surrounding the town, as they were to become crucial factors in the coming events. It lies in a bend of Narew concaved towards the east, where the riverbank was significantly higher than on the western side. This seriously hindered any attempt of town defense from the Polish positions. Additionally, the western bank formed a natural bridgehead, partially shielded by hills, covering it from enemy artillery’s fire. It also facilitated support for the troops which crossed the bridges by friendly artillery that perfectly flanked their positions whilst remaining on the other bank.

Some older works claim that the Polish chief of staff, the afore-mentioned General Prądzyński, noticed those features and, having assessed the situation in the morning, planned to lure Russians into an ambush on the western bank. Combined attacks of cavalry and infantry, supported by artillery fire, were to crush all Russian forces daring to cross the river, or at least inflict heavy losses on them. However, new research (N. Kasparek) indicate that Prądzyński’s “ambush plan” never existed in the first place. Even if he pondered such an idea, he did not share it with anyone. Most probably Prądzyński coined this inspiring idea after the battle and it is only in his captivating memoirs that it appears. In that way it has reached us, never having any chance of materializing at the time of the battle. The whole course of the battle indicates that the opponents acted chaotically, lacking deeper understanding of circumstances.

When the battle raged on the eastern bank, the other side of Narew was rather peaceful. Polish HQ had no idea that enemy is so close. Divisions were placed in the following order: General Małachowski’s 3rd Infantry Division in the north, on the edge of the forest, General Rybiński’s 1st Infantry Division in the centre and General Kamieński’s 5th Infantry Division south of it. The cavalry remained behind the Omulew river, near the village of Drążewo. Łubieński’s group (5th Inf. Division, 2nd Cav. Corps) was sent away to rest after the morning clashes.

In the meantime Russian artillery reached Ostrołęka and the assault began. The meager forces under Bogusławski stood no chance against the Russians. Some of his soldiers lost their lives and several hundreds were taken prisoner. Only a part of his troops was able to flee, in dramatic circumstances, through the bridges, to the other bank. A group of the 4th Infantry Regiment soldiers, barricaded in the brick building of the Bernardine Monastery, managed to offer prolonged resistance. During the fight, a fire erupted in northeastern part of the town and subsequently spread to the rest of the settlement. Russians blamed Poles, Poles blamed Russian artillery. Town blazed until late evening, despite efforts of the 1st Jaeger Regiment, who attempted to quell the flames. About noon, soon after taking Ostrołęka, Gen. Toll (Russian chief of staff) and Gen. Gerbel (artillery commander of the Grenadier Corps) started placing artillery (mainly from the 3rd Infantry Division and the 3rd Grenadier Division) on the eastern, higher bank of Narew, both north and south of town, forming two Grand Batteries. To take advantage of it, General Grabbe ordered the Astrakhanian Grenadier Regiment to take the bridge and two Polish guns on its other end. Cavaliers of St. George volunteered to lead the column and the regiment, led by the second battalion, ran onto the bridge. (A. Puzyrewski)

After the Astrakhanian Grenadiers, the Suvorov’s Grenadier Regiment and two squadrons of the Guard Uhlans with a horse cannon soon followed (although these squadrons and the horse cannon were withdrawn soon after). The Astrakhanian Grenadiers fought to death and even had to surrender one of the captured pieces of ordnance. Although they were pushed against the river, their spirit did not falter. Poles, on their part, fought with such ferociousness that they did not spot grenadiers from Suvorov’s Regiment until Martynov yelled: “Children, stab them!”. Then both our regiments took offensive measures and pushed the enemy onto his own battery. One of the taken pieces remained in hands of the Astrakhanian Grenadiers. (A. Puzyrewski) The Polish troops standing near the bridge were driven off. Soon, in spite of bridges being damaged, subsequent Russian units started to cross the river.

Shaken by those events, Gen. Skrzynecki started acting impulsively, determined to drive Russians away and destroy the bridges as quickly as he could. He ordered Mjr. Turski’s 3rd Heavy Artillery Company to abandon its excellent position on the hilltops and close on the bridges. In consequence it suffered losses from the Russian artillery’s fire and had to withdraw soon after. This was followed by a chaotic attack of separate Polish battalions and regiments. First blood was drawn from 8th Line Infantry Regiment’s 1st and 3rd battalions. In ensuing confusion Mjr. Neymanowski’s 5th Heavy Artillery Company and Cpt. Lewandowski’s 4th Light Foot Artillery Company left the battlefield.

Seeing more units of Russian Grenadiers cross the river, Skrzynecki issued a hasty attack order to the 3rd and 1st Infantry Divisions. It was only partially executed, as some of the battalions weren’t prepared for action yet. Attacks were uncoordinated. First, the 3rd Division rushed towards the enemy lines – or at least the part that could, did. Bogusławski’s brigade, bled out in Ostrołęka, was in such a miserable condition that it could do nothing and had to be withdrawn to the rear.

On 1.00 PM sharp, after the 3rd Division has been repelled, the 1st Infantry Division, with remnants of the 3rd Division in reserve, commenced the attack of its own – better coordinated and supported by divisional artillery (1st Light Foot Company under Cpt. Łapiński). Polish battalions have reached the lane and waited in suspense, leaning their guns against road embankment. Proximity of the forces caused mutual taunts and provocations. “Begone, Muscovites!” – cried Poles, ours responded with stones, sand and so on. Eventually, Polish battalions climbed onto the lane and threw themselves against the Grenadiers with a yell. Having met with heavy fire, their ranks mixed but did not stop – on the contrary, poured over our formations and started dreadful melee fight. (A. Puzyrewski) The assault pushed Russians towards the bridges, but the pursuing infantry was stopped by artillery crossfire from the other bank. An enemy counterattack finally broke Polish advance. After repealing the attack of the 1st Infantry Division about 2 PM, Russian forces moved forward and their skirmishers started probing positions of the Polish artillery.

Seeing the futility of this infantry attack, Skrzynecki planned a cavalry charge between 2 PM and 3 PM, despite the fact that the terrain on the western bank was unsuitable for it. It was strewn with numerous marshy streaks and streams. The former, whilst not a major obstacle for infantry, were completely unfordable for riders, as diaries from the period agree. The Polish horsemen had to circumvent them under fire – with disastrous consequences. Allegedly, only the 5th and the elite 2nd Uhlan Regiments managed to reach and charge enemy positions. General Ludwik Kicki, a brigade commander in Gen. Skarżyński’s Reserve Cavalry Corps, one of most brilliant commanders of the Polish cavalry, died in this attack.

About 4.00 PM Russians, having repaired the deteriorated bridges by continuous and persistent work of Colonel Obrutchev’s 6th Sapper Battalion, crossed the river with additional forces. At this hour, the 2nd Grenadier Division and four battalions of the Guard, with Prince Shakhovskoy, reached Ostrołęka. The Poles soon faced seventeen battalions and before 6 PM – as many as twenty five (but Dybitsh did not decide to have them all engaged at once). Russians started their advance around 5 PM and it was not successful, partially because of heavy artillery fire. Having left the range of their guns, the Russian columns entered the firing zone of Polish ordnance. At this moment Poles launched the biggest and the most skillfully executed attack of the day with the forces of Muchowski’s brigade (1st Infantry Division) and Krasicki’s brigade (5th Infantry Division), partially flanking the enemy. Bayonets drew blood where forces clashed. The Russians, to support withdrawing nine battalions, sent in eleven more, but to no avail. They retreated, closer to the bridges with every step. A hope of victory reappeared – at least until the Poles approached the bridges and once again landed in artillery crossfire. One of the most gifted generals, Henryk Kamieński, the commander of the 5th Infantry Division was struck by a cannonball. Both Krasicki’s and Muchowski’s troops sustained heavy losses and were exhausted by the fight, so they had to fall back. The Russians held the bridgehead once more.

Around 7 PM, when Dybitsh and Toll crossed the bridge personally, it was quickly deemed to be the prelude to the Russian cavalry charge, as that force had not yet taken part in the battle. Skrzynecki ordered the commander of the 4th Light Horse Battery (Lt. Col. Bem) to move forward and fire at the Russian infantry standing by the bridge. Despite the lack of reserves – resulting in overall softness of their line, Poles advanced boldly. The lone battery rushed with an unparalleled courage and approached fresh arrivals – the battalions from 3rd Infantry Division, showering them with grapeshot fire. Both the Old and the New Ingermanland Regiment retreated hastily – the first one in particular – and the bridge filled with refugees. The danger was great, the example could spread further, but cold blood and courage of the commanders stopped the soldiers. Young officer, Adlerberg, sword in hand, barred the escape route until Martinov, Berg and later Bistrom arrived and brought back the order into the ranks. (A. Puzyrewski) Russian artillery initially watched it from the other bank, puzzled senseless, but later started shooting and forced Bem to retreat with losses. The charge of Bem’s Light Horse Artillery concluded the battle commendably and became its best known episode. Dybitsh, astonished by the last Polish actions, came to a conclusion that he still faced a sound and orderly force, ready to fight despite the weakness of its commander-in-chief.

The Polish losses numbered 194 officers and 6224 soldiers and NCO’s killed, wounded or captured, whilst the Russians counted respectively 172 and 5696. An inconclusive statistic, with similar losses on both sides. The fighting ended, but it was morale loss and disorder plaguing Polish army after the battle that proved decisive. During the later parts of the contest, many infantrymen left their units and fled to nearby forests. If Prądzyński is to be believed, the Polish officers managed to rally only 1.5 to 2 thousands of infantry after twilight. Skrzynecki spent the last phase of the battle masking this with bold actions of both the artillery and the cavalry or persistently attacking the Russian skirmishers who dared approach the Polish positions. Mobility and keeping up appearances had to suffice for all else. (W. Tokarz) After several days most marauders returned to the ranks (on 29th Prądzyński estimated Polish infantry at 15 000 men).

Curiously, Russians initially did not feel to be the victor, either. The ferocity of the Polish attack made Dybitsh withdraw some of his forces from the western bank under the cover of darkness. On the next day, he did not pursue the Poles very resolutely (however partially because of logistic difficulties). Normally, both sides would declare victory, excused by this or that factor. In this case, both sides perceived the battle as lost. This conclusion is drawn both by N. Kasparek and W. Tokarz. One could see some moral victory, won with the blood of the Polish troops, even if the battle as a whole is thought to be a Polish defeat. As Napoleon once said: At war, all is opinion, an impression about the enemy, impression about own soldiers. After the battle, the difference between victor and loser is not great. It’s opinion, that increases it to a vast extent (quoted after H. Cammon). These words suit the Battle of Ostrołęka well. The victor is the side who feels as one. The Russians needed several days to feel so.

Bibliography (almost all in Polish)
C. Bloch, Generał Ignacy Prądzyński 1792-1850, Warszawa 1974
H. Camon, Wojna napoleońska. Systemy operacyjne: teoria i technika, Oświęcim 2012
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Schlacht bei Ostrołęka Den 26. Mai 1831, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin 2000
Zur Schlacht von Ostrolenka am 26ten Mai 1831, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin 2000

First published in Polish in June 2006. Since that, it was changed and modified several times until August 2015. The current, revised version of translation (published in July 2023) is final. The shortened version of the article (two first chapters were abbreviated) was used as a historical commentary to the historical board game “Ostrołęka 26 maja 1831” (by Instytut Wydawniczy Erica).

Discussion about the article on the FORUM STRATEGIE

Author: Ryszard Kita
Translation: Marek Jurko
Correction: Brendan Clark, Mateusz Wilk
Translation revision: Michał Zimnicki

Published on February 22, 2018

Poprawiony: niedziela, 30 lipca 2023 11:37