For All Nails #188: The Second Republic
From _Europe is Burning: A History of the Bloody Eighties_
by Zelda Carmichael (London: 1974)
...As the shattered remnants of General Ignatieff's army withdrew to the east,
there were celebrations throughout the newly-proclaimed Second Republic. Count
Puslowski's name gained a place alongside those of past heroes such as Casimir
Pulaski and Jan Sobieski. In Warsaw, the government of President Sienkiewicz
named Puslowski Marshal of the Republic.
The results in the Germanic Confederation were more ominous. Agitation
increased among the Kingdom of Prussia's Polish inhabitants, particularly in
Posen, and with order breaking down throughout Europe, King William decided
that the time had come for action. Led by the Prussian delegation, the
National Diet on 22 July 1881 authorised the withdrawal of General von Moltke's
army from France and its transfer east to assist the Russians in putting down
the Polish insurrection.
A second German army was mobilised under General Otto von Bismark, and on 1
September the two armies crossed the frontier into the Polish Republic. Von
Bismark entered from South Prussia and advanced upon Warsaw from the west,
while von Moltke's French War veterans advanced up the east bank of the Vistula
from East Prussia. Marshal Puslowski was forced to abandon his drive to the
east in order to deal with von Moltke, while a volunteer force was hastily
raised in Warsaw to hold the city against von Bismark.
The Warsaw volunteers under General Wojciehowicz met von Bismark's troops on
the city's western outskirts on 8 September. After sharp fighting, von Bismark
halted his advance and proceeded to lay siege to the Polish capital,
surrounding the western half of the city with earthworks and fortified Weber
gun emplacements by the end of the month. Von Moltke, meanwhile, had divided
his own army, sending one division south to join von Bismark's siege of Warsaw,
while moving east with the remainder of his forces to engage Puslowski.
The two eastern armies met at Bialystok on 7 October - ironically, less than
thirty miles north of the site of Puslowski's triumph over Ignatieff. Von
Moltke skillfully fended off several charges by Puslowski's cavalry and carried
out a slow, careful withdrawal from the battlefield. An attempt by Puslowski
to maneuver past von Moltke's right flank on the 10th was blocked, as was a
similar attempt on his left two days later. It soon became clear to Puslowski
that von Moltke's strategy was one of delay. By keeping himself between
Puslowski and Warsaw, von Moltke would prevent the Marshal from lifting von
Bismark's siege. All through the rest of October and into November, Puslowski
used every stratagem he could devise in an attempt to get past von Moltke, all
in vain. The German commander continued his slow withdrawal west, while von
Bismark tightened the siege of Warsaw and the capital's food supplies dwindled.
Puslowski knew that his fate, and that of the Second Republic, were sealed
when, on 20 November, he received word that Ignatieff had been reinforced by a
second army under General Sergei Primakoff, and that the Russians were expected
to resume their offensive after the New year. Primakoff's advance from Minsk
in fact did not commence until 28 January 1882, but by then the Poles were in
dire straits. Puslowski's advance had halted fifty miles from Warsaw, and the
starving city was in the grip of an influenza epidemic. As the Russians drew
near, Puslowski made one final effort on 2 March to break through von Moltke's
lines, but he was unsuccessful. Von Moltke countered with a surprise offensive
on the 4th which drove Puslowski's battered troops back into the advancing
Russians. In three days of desperate fighting the Polish army was annihilated.
News of the destruction of Puslowski's army had scarcely reached Warsaw when
von Bismark launched his own all-out assault on the beleaguered city. In two
days the attackers had breached the weakened defences, and von Bismark's troops
poured into the city on 12 March, subjecting it to a brutal sack.
There were calls in both the Prussian and National Diets for the annexation of
western Poland, but King William wisely chose to ignore them. Prussia's Polish
minority was already larger than he liked, and he had no wish to increase it.
Furthermore, any annexation would inevitably involve the Germanic Confederation
in conflict with the Russian Empire, and William already had more than enough
troubles to deal with as it was. The Habsburg monarchy had been overthrown in
Vienna six days before the fall of Warsaw, and William had already determined
to restore it. By the end of April the last German troops had withdrawn back
into Prussia, and the Russian army had resumed control over Poland, with the
Tsar's secret police close behind...