Battle of Praga
The Battle of Praga or the Second Battle of Warsaw of 1794 was a Russian assault on Praga, the easternmost suburb of Warsaw, during the Kościuszko Uprising in 1794. It was followed by a massacre (known as the Massacre of Praga[a]) of the civilian population of Praga.
Eve of the battleEdit
After the Battle of Maciejowice General Tadeusz Kościuszko was captured by the Russians.:210 The internal struggle for power in Warsaw and the demoralisation of the city's population prevented General Józef Zajączek from finishing the fortifications surrounding the city both from the east and from the west. At the same time, the Russians were making their way towards the city.
The Russian forces consisted of two battle-hardened corps under Generals Aleksandr Suvorov and Ivan Fersen. Suvorov took part in the recent Russo-Turkish war, then in the heavy fighting in Polesie and finally in the Battle of Maciejowice. Fersen fought for several months in Poland but was also joined by fresh reinforcements sent from Russia. Each of them had approximately 11,000 men.
The Polish forces consisted of a variety of troops. Apart from the rallied remnants of the Kościuszko's army defeated in the Battle of Maciejowice, it also included a large number of untrained militia from Warsaw, Praga and Vilna, a 500-man Jewish regiment of Berek Joselewicz as well as a number of scythemen and civilians. The forces were organised in three separate lines, each covering a different part of Praga. The central area was commanded directly by General Józef Zajączek, the northern area was commanded by Jakub Jasiński and the southern by Władysław Jabłonowski. Altogether, the Polish commander had 30,000 men and 104 cannons. Suvorov came to the walls of Praga with 16,000 troops and 86 cannons.
The Russian forces reached the outskirts of Warsaw on 3 November 1794. Immediately upon arrival, they started an artillery barrage of the Polish defences. This made the Polish commander think that the opposing forces were preparing for a long siege. However, Suvorov's plan assumed a fast and concentrated assault on the Polish defences rather than a bloody and lengthy siege.
At 3 o'clock in the morning of November 4, the Russian troops silently reached the positions just outside the outer rim of Polish field fortifications and two hours later started an all-out assault. The Polish defenders were completely surprised and soon the Polish lines were broken into several isolated pockets of resistance, bombarded by the Russians with canister shots with a devastating effect. General Zajączek was slightly wounded and retreated from his post, leaving the remainder of his forces without command. This made the Poles retreat towards the centre of Praga and then towards Vistula.
The heavy fighting lasted for four hours and resulted in a complete defeat of the Polish forces. Joselewicz survived, being severely wounded, but almost all of his command was annihilated; Jasiński was killed fighting bravely on the front line. Only a small part managed to evade encirclement and retreated to the other side of the river across a bridge; hundreds of soldiers and civilians fell from a bridge and drowned in the process.
Like in his previous battles, when he had ordered his men to spare non-combatants and the evacuation of townspeople, Suvorov issued an order on 3 November 1794 that included special instructions regarding the treatment of enemy civilians, "Do not enter houses; spare any enemy asking for quarter; do not kill unarmed men; do not make war on women; do not touch youngsters". However, after the battle spread to the streets and the insurgents hid in civilian houses, vowing to fight to the last man, the Russian troops engaged in massive violence against the civilian population, defying the orders given by Suvorov prior to the battle. William Neville Gardiner, the British ambassador in Warsaw at that time, described the murder of civilians as a "hideous, unnecessary barbarism".
Russian military memoirists and historians of the 18th–19th centuries, such as Faddey Bulgarin, Denis Davydov and Platon Zhukovich, believed the Russian troops slaughtered thousands of Polish civilians to avenge the massacre of over two thousand unarmed Russian soldiers occupying Warsaw by armed Polish mobs during the Warsaw Uprising of 1794, when 2,265 men, of Russian military servicemen stationed in Warsaw were massacred by armed Polish mobs, who played a major role in the attack, and soldiers and cut with spikes and axes. Historian Norman Davies described as "an orgy of killing" of isolated Russian patrols and the execution of Polish pro-Russian activists. Zhukovich marked his relation of the events of the Warsaw Uprising with descriptions of unarmed Russian soldiers being slaughtered in an Orthodox church during the Eucharist. In the memoirs of Faddey Bulgarin, Russian General Ivan von Klügen, who took part in the Battle of Praga, described the massacre in the following terms: “We were being shot at from the windows of houses and the roofs, and our soldiers were breaking into the houses and killing all who happened to get in the way… In every living being our embittered soldiers saw the murderer of our men during the uprising in Warsaw… It cost a lot of effort for the Russian officers to save these poor people from the revenge of our soldiers… At four o'clock the terrible revenge for the slaughter of our men in Warsaw was complete!” Denis Davydov wrote, “During the assault on Praga the rage of our troops, who were burning with revenge for the treacherous slaughter of our comrades by the Poles, reached extreme limits”.
Over the course of the assault, Russian field artillery was supporting the infantry by firing cannon balls and bombs at the parts of the city held by the rebels, causing much damage, as pointed out in the report of Suvorov. The latter noted, "The streets and squares of Praga was strewn with dead bodies, blood was flowing in streams." The wooden houses of Praga caught fire, leading to the massive explosion of a powder magazine.
The exact death toll of that day and the ratio of combatants to non-combatants killed varies in different sources. It is estimated that either 9,000 rebels and 7,000 civilians or up to 20,000 rebels and civilians died, of which thousands drowned while trying to cross the Vistula. In his report, Suvorov estimated the number of dead insurgents and civilians at 13,340, adding that more than 3,000 drowned in the Vistula while trying to retreat, whereas 12,860 were captured, of which 10,000 were later released. Similar figures appear in the writings of Major General Lev Engelgardt, who served under Suvorov: 13,000 killed, 2,000 drowned, 14,680 were captured, of which 8,000 were released the next day. The practice of releasing Polish prisoners of war by Suvorov in large numbers is confirmed by a letter of State Secretary Dmitry Troschinsky to Count Alexander Vorontsov on 24 November 1794, "Count Suvorov has rendered great services by taking Warsaw, but is unbearably annoying with his inconsistent orders there. All Poles in general, not excluding the main rioters, are being released by him to their homes". The fact that despite the violent battle thousands of Poles were taken alive by the Russians and released soon afterwards is also evident in other documents, such as the report sent by Suvorov to Count Pyotr Rumyantsev on 7 November, regarding the fate of some of the captives, "Polish Praga prisoners with 3 generals, staff and ober-officers, up to 500, and lower ranks, up to 4,000, as well as the artillery that got in our hands, 101 guns, today will be sent to Varkovic at Kiev. Out of the captured insurgents and defending townspeople, more than 6,000 have been released, and also the Prussians who were in captivity, 313, and 63 Austrians, which were sent to their commands". 500 captured Polish staff and ober-officers were released by Suvorov en route to Kiev, as is confirmed by the autobiography of Major General Sergey I. Mosolov, who escorted them in 1794. It was thought that unruly Cossack troops were partly to blame for the uncontrolled destruction in the city. Some Russian historians claim that Suvorov tried to stop the massacre by ordering the destruction of the bridge to Warsaw over the Vistula river  with the purpose of preventing the spread of violence to Warsaw, while others believe that by doing this he wanted to prevent Polish troops stationing on the left bank from attacking his forces. Other historians dispute this. The massacre of Praga dented Suvorov and the Russian army's reputation throughout Europe.
After the battleEdit
After the battle, the commanders of Warsaw and a large part of its inhabitants became demoralised. To spare Warsaw the fate of its eastern suburb, General Tomasz Wawrzecki decided to withdraw his remaining forces southwards and on 5 November Warsaw was captured by the Russians with little or no opposition. It is said that after the battle General Aleksandr Suvorov sent a report to Catherine the Great consisting of only the following words, Hooray! Warsaw is ours! The Empress of Russia replied equally briefly, Bravo, Fieldmarshal. Catherine, promoting him to Field Marshal for this victory. As in Praga, Suvorov soon released most of his Polish captives, numbering 25,469, which caused a critical remark from the Russian State Secretary, and in his report to Catherine II recommended not to levy a contribution on the Polish capital. To prevent any further excesses, his troops stationed in Poland were ordered to keep "serenity, quietness and friendliness" and prohibited, under the threat of punishment, from oppressing the local population or even showing any forms of disrespect towards the Polish people of all ranks.
References and notesEdit
a ^ The Polish term for the massacre, rzeź Pragi, more literally translates as Slaughter of Praga, but most English sources translate it as "massacre".
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