The January Uprising, the largest Polish national uprising in the 19th century, broke out 160 years ago. It began on January 22, 1863 with the Manifesto of the Provisional National Government. According to historian Professor Andrzej Nowak, “the uprising was an act of desperation, but it was not madness.”
After defeat Russia In the Crimean War, Poles’ hopes for regaining independence or broad autonomy of the Kingdom of Poland were reawakened. In the areas formerly belonging to the Commonwealth, conspiracy associations were organized, the participants of which undertook preparations for the fight. Two attitudes prevailed in the underground circles. The “Red” camp was a supporter of the armed struggle for independence and called for a national uprising. The “White” party, although also pro-independence, was against the plans of a quick uprising, propagating the idea of organic work.
In June 1860, the funeral of the widow of the hero of the November Uprising, General Józef Sowiński, in Warsaw turned into a national demonstration and initiated further patriotic manifestations. In February 1861, on the 30th anniversary of the battle of Olszynka Grochowska, a procession was organized, the participants of which carried the banner with the Eagle and the Pursuit. He was dispersed by the gendarmes in the Old Town Square. Two days later, a large procession took place at Castle Square demanding the release of those arrested and the granting of national rights. The Russians fired on the procession, killing five of its participants.
Patriotic manifestation in Warsaw
The patriotic manifestation organized on April 8, 1861 on the Castle Square in Warsaw, bloodily suppressed by the Russian army, who shot defenseless people, was of crucial importance. At least 200 people died and 500 were injured. Tsar’s viceroy Mikhail Gorchakov wrote to Tsar Alexander II: “Science has had a strong effect, everything is now quiet and trembling with fear.” However, demonstrations, patriotic services and anniversaries continued to take place in Warsaw, as well as in in Kalisz, Płock, Radom, Lublin.
The tsarist authorities doubled the staffing of the Warsaw garrison. On October 14, 1861, they introduced martial law in the Kingdom of Poland. The army camped in the streets of Warsaw, the cannons were fired. Three days later – on October 17 – the City Committee of the “Red” group was established to prepare the uprising, transformed in 1862 into the Central National Committee.
At the end of January 1862, the tsar decided to establish civil authorities in the Kingdom. Defining the limits of the reforms, he stated: “Neither the constitution, nor the Polish army. No political autonomy, great administrative autonomy.” On May 22, 1862, Alexander II appointed his brother, Grand Duke Konstanty Mikołajewicz, governor of the Kingdom of Poland, and Margrave Aleksander Wielopolski – head of the civil government.
“The concessions for the Poles (…) were caused not so much by the pursuit of a permanent solution to the conflict as they resulted from the internal and international difficulties that Russia was experiencing” – wrote Prof. George Zdrada.
An unexpected captive
Wielopolski implemented some of the social reforms, e.g. he rented out peasants and announced a new education law, which, however, did not calm down the situation in the Kingdom. His reaction to the insurgent preparations was the announcement in October 1862 of new rules for conscription into the Russian army, the so-called captives. For the first time in several years, it was to take place not by drawing lots, but on the basis of name lists. The aim of these activities was to break up the underground structures. – The ulcer has swelled and must be cut open. I will suppress the uprising within a week and then I will be able to govern – Wielopolski told his trusted associates.
Branka was performed unexpectedly in Warsaw on the night of January 14/15, 1863. This became the spark for the outbreak of the uprising. The next day, the Central National Committee declared Wielopolski a “great vile criminal and traitor.” On January 19, the Committee decided to entrust the dictatorship and the command of the uprising to General Ludwik Mierosławski.
On January 22, 1863, the Central National Committee issued a Manifesto announcing the uprising and establishing the Provisional National Government.
“The infamous invading government, enraged by the resistance of the victim it tortured, decided to deal a decisive blow to it – kidnap tens of thousands of its bravest, most zealous defenders, put them in the hateful Moscow uniform and drive thousands of miles to eternal misery and perdition. Polish youth vowed to throw off the accursed yoke or die. So, Polish nation, follow her! After the terrible disgrace of captivity, after the incomprehensible torments of oppression, the Central National Committee, now your only legal National Government, calls you to the battlefield for the last time, to the field of glory of victory which it will give you, and through the name of God on to heaven, we read in the Manifesto, considered one of the most beautifully written documents in the history of Poland, a kind of crowning achievement of Romantic ideas.
The outbreak of the January Uprising
The insurgents, despite insufficient armament and staff shortages, attacked Russian outposts practically throughout the Kingdom of Poland. The authorities of the Uprising also called on “Lithuanian and Ruthenian brothers” to participate in it, which resulted in extending the area of fighting to almost the entire territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth within the borders of 1772. “The symbol of this insurrection, which was the last joint uprising of the nations of the First Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was a triple emblem, wearing not only the Eagle, but also the Pursuit and St. Michael the Archangel – the symbol of Kiev, Ukrainewhere this uprising, although less marked, was also noticeable” – wrote Prof. Andrzej Nowak.
Initially, Russia was terrified of the vision of the intervention of Western powers and a defeat greater than in the Crimean War. Petersburg had a vision of the insurgents as rebels murdering sleeping Russians, the Germans and Jews. The sympathy of the European press, however, was on the side of the insurgents and their ideas.
Unlike the public the governments of Great Britain and France limited themselves to submitting diplomatic notes. “The credulity and crawling of European states was the only source of Russian influence, under which Western politics degenerated so cruel that it almost equaled that of Russia,” commented the London Times. Russia was supported by Prussia, which cooperated diplomatically and in intelligence with St. Petersburg. Thus, Berlin fulfilled the promise of Chancellor Bismarck, who in 1861, upon hearing about the manifestations in Warsaw, wrote in a letter to his sister: “Beat the Poles to make their will to live go away; I personally sympathize with their situation, but if we want to exist, we have nothing left other than to exterminate them.”
The superiority of the forces of the Russian troops
According to historians, over a thousand clashes took place during the uprising, and a total of 200,000 people served in the Polish forces. Despite some successes of the insurgent units, the occupying powers began to gain the upper hand. At the end of 1863, the total number of Russian troops was over 400,000 – 170,000 in the Kingdom of Poland, Lithuania 145 thousand, and in Ukraine 90 thousand. The National Government had no more than 10,000 guerrillas in the field at any one time.
The uprising authorities sought to win over peasants to fight, but the tsar’s emancipation order of March 1864, granting them ownership of cultivated land, prevented this. The uprising began to slowly collapse at that time, the last fights took place until the late autumn of 1864.
Repressions after the end of the uprising
Ludwik Mierosławski, having lost the battles, lost his function after a month.
Later, the dictators of the uprising were Marian Langiewicz and Romuald Traugutt, who became a tragic symbol of the uprising. On the night of April 10/11, 1864, as a result of denunciations, the Russian police arrested Traugutt in his Warsaw quarters. Imprisoned in Pawiak, then transported to the 10th Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel, during the investigation he did not betray his comrades.
On July 19, 1864, a Russian military court sentenced him to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on the slopes of the Warsaw Citadel on August 5, 1864 at 10. Just before the execution, witnessed by a crowd of 30,000, the dictator kissed the cross. Together with Traugutt, other participants of the uprising were executed – Rafał Krajewski, Józef Toczyski, Roman Żuliński and Jan Jeziorański.
After the end of the uprising, Poles suffered numerous repressions, e.g. confiscation of noble estates, dissolution of monasteries in the Kingdom of Poland, high contributions and, above all, active Russification. At least 669 people were sentenced to death for their participation in the uprising. At least 38,000 people were sentenced to exile.
“Seemingly, after the defeat of the uprising, the Polish cause reached the bottom. The autonomy of the Kingdom was liquidated, the Polish language was removed from schools and offices, the Main School was closed. The Polish cause was not reckoned with on the international arena” – Stefan Kieniewicz summed up the uprising in the monograph “Uprising January.
Symbols of national martyrdom
However, the January Uprising was an inspiration for the next generations fighting for independence. Józef Piłsudski and the younger generations of his Legions attached particular importance to the insurrection of 1863-1864. Most of them grew up in families that worshiped the uprising half a century ago and its veterans. In the Second Polish Republic, they were considered symbols of national martyrdom.
On the eve of the anniversary of the outbreak of the January Uprising – the first celebrated in free Poland on January 21, 1919 – the Provisional Chief of State issued a special order regarding veterans, whom he considered “the unsurpassed ideal of enthusiasm, dedication and perseverance in an unequal fight, in the hardest physical conditions, for the last soldiers Poland, fighting for its freedom and an example of many military virtues that we will imitate. On that day, they were recognized as soldiers of the Polish Army with the right to wear a special uniform.
Also in the period of the People’s Republic of Poland, many representatives of the independent intellectual life emphasized the value of the uprising against Russia and were critical of attempts to discredit it. Reflections on the events of 1863 were often an allusion to the Soviet occupation after 1944. – When a man or a nation feels bound and constrained in any way, when he feels that there is no freedom, opinion and opinion, freedom, culture and work, but everything is bound in some kind of chains and buckles, everything is bound as with steel corsets, then the need for complexes. It is enough to be a decent person, to have a sense of honor and personal dignity, to rebel against such slavery, looking for means and ways to get out of it, said Primate Stefan Wyszyński on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the January Uprising.
Main photo source: PAP/Tomasz Gzell