The Army of the Duchy of Warsaw (Part 2: The Generals)

Napoleon and Prince Poniatowski at Leipzig 1813

In Part 1 I looked at some infantry regiments I’d painted for the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, circa 1812-1813.  This time it’s the turn of the generals.  These are all AB Figures 15mm models, painted by me.

All my Napoleonic armies are organised and based for Napoleon’s Battles rules, which is a ‘grand-tactical’ game, where the smallest tactical unit is the brigade.  Divisional commanders are single figures based on a 25mm square and corps commanders are groups of figures based on a 40mm square.  I’ll sometimes use general of brigade or an infantry or cavalry Colonel in lieu of a general of division, just for a change of scenery.

As mentioned previously, my Duchy of Warsaw army is mainly geared for the latter part of the Duchy’s brief existence, namely the campaigns of 1812 and 1813.  In the case of the infantry there were some fairly major uniform changes between 1810 and 1813.  However, the uniforms of general officers did not change significantly, so these chaps are good for the entire period from 1807 to 1813.

Prince Józef Poniatowski

Prince Poniatowski

No person embodies the tragedy and heroic struggle of Poland’s fight for existence than the dashing but ultimately tragic figure of Prince Józef Poniatowski, the ‘Marshal of Three Days’.  Born into royalty in 1763 as nephew to King Stanislaw II Augustus of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (with whom he became a close and lifelong friend), he chose a military career and was initially commissioned into the Austrian Army in 1780.  Quickly reaching the rank of Colonel, he became aide-de-camp to Emperor Josef II during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788.  During this campaign, Poniatowski saved the life of the young Prince Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg, who would become a lifelong friend and sometime ally, though frequent battlefield foe to Poniatowski.


Poniatowski returned to Poland in 1789, receiving the rank of Major General and a military command in Ukraine.  By 1791 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant General and was commander of all military forces in Ukraine.  An enthusiastic supporter of political reform, he used the threat of military force to bring the Great Sejm to a conclusion, bringing about the 3 May 1791 Constitution, which (briefly) converted Poland to a British-style democratic constitutional monarchy. 

However, Catherine the Great’s Russia was never going to tolerate a resurgent, strong, democratic and stable Poland on its border and in May 1792 invaded.  Poniatowski’s army, outnumbered 4-to-1, mounted a bitter fighting retreat, inflicting a number of defeats on the Russian Army, most notably at Zielence, but were ultimately unable to stop the Russians from reaching Warsaw.  The Polish Army was more than willing to fight a last great battle at Wasrsaw, but the King was persuaded to sue for peace and ordered the army to stand down.  Poniatowski briefly considered mounting a coup to capture the king and force a continuation of the war, but then changed his mind at the last moment.  In 1793 the Sejm of Grodno, dominated by the pro-Russian Targowica Confederation party and corrupted by Russian bribes and entryism, cancelled the Constitution and brought about the Second Partition of Poland

Prince Poniatowski

Disgusted, Poniatowski and other Polish generals resigned their commissions and Poniatowski was forced into exile.  However, in 1794 Poland rose up against the Russians, led by General Kosciusko in what would become known as the Kosciusko Uprising.  General Jan Henryk Dabrowski, who had remained in the Army following the Sejm of Grodno, backed the insurrection, bringing a considerable regular cavalry force with him and frustrating Prussian efforts to join the Russians in crushing the insurgents.  Poniatowski returned to Poland to join the insurrection and again achieved success on the battlefield, though it was all for nothing and the uprising was bloodily crushed by Russian and Prussian armies.  Kosciuszko was captured and taken to St Petersburg and Poland was then partitioned for a third and final time and ceased to exist as an independent country. 


Poniatowski was forced once again into exile, this time having his estates confiscated (they were later restored to him by Tsar Paul, though Poniatowski refused offers of a Russian military commission).  He went into something of a funk during these years, touring the palaces and salons of Vienna and Berlin, becoming a socialite and friend to Prussian, Austrian and exiled French royalty.  General Dabrowski meanwhile, initially tried unsuccessfully to win support from Prussia for the resurrection of Poland as an ally-state against Austria and Russia.  He then approached Revolutionary France with rather more success and in 1797 formed the first Polish Legions, who would go on to fight in France’s wars from the Carribbean to Moscow in the vain hope that France would back the recreation of Poland as an independent state.   


In 1806 war broke out between Prussia and Napoleonic France, with the Prussian Army being swiftly defeated by Napoleon at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstädt.  Faced with complete collapse, King Frederick-William III of Prussia asked Poniatowski in early November 1806 to become governor of Warsaw, in the hope that a popular and well-known name might hold Prussia’s Polish possessions together.  Poniatowski accepted this post, seeing it as a possible route to a recreated Poland.  However, Dabrowski had been recalled by Napoleon from Italy, to lead a ‘Greater Poland Uprising’ against Prussian and Russian rule.  Dabrowski entered Poznan on 3rd November 1806 and declared the new uprising, which was enthusiastically supported by the Polish people, ironically just as Poniatowski was being installed as the Prussian Governor of Warsaw! 


This conflict of interest between Poniatowski and Dabrowski could easily have caused major problems or even civil war, but Poniatowski was a very canny political operator and welcomed the French Marshal Murat when his cavalry arrived at Warsaw in December.  Poniatowski and Murat immediately warmed to each other (as is becoming clear, Poniatowski’s charm never failed to win him powerful friends) and Murat declared Poniatowski to be the military commander of all Polish forces, much to Dabrowski’s chagrin and indeed that of many Polish veterans, who compared Dabrowski’s record of leading the Polish Legions to that of Poniatowski, who spent that time touring the salons of the European elite.  That view was only reinforced when it was Dabrowski, not Poniatowski who led a Polish division alongside Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Friedland in 1807.  


With Russian capitulation to Napoleon at the Treaty of Tilsit on 7 July 1807, followed by the subsequent Franco-Prussian Treaty two days later, the Duchy of Warsaw was created from most of the lands lost during the Third Partition of Poland.  However, it was not allowed to become an independent kingdom and was instead subordinate to the Kingdom of Saxony, who had held kingship of Poland for some time during the 18th Century and who had a tenuous claim on Poland following the death of King Stanislas II Augustus.  As disappointing as this must have been for the Poles, they largely saw the creation of the Duchy as a stepping-stone toward future independence and grabbed it with both hands, providing Napoleon with one of his most willing and able allied states and armies.  Cynics might therefore suggest that Polish independence was the last thing that Napoleon wanted, just as long as he could keep the hope of independence alive…


Poniatowski was made Minster of War and commander of the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, though Napoleon still did not fully trust him and left Marshal Davout in overall military command of the Duchy until mid-1808, when Poniatowski was granted overall command.  In 1809 a new war erupted between Austria and the Napoleonic French Empire and Archduke Ferdinand‘s Austrian VII Korps was soon advancing on Warsaw.  Despite being outnumbered 2:1, Poniatowski’s Poles fought the Austrians to a standstill at the Battle of Raszyn.  Nevertheless, Poniatowski was forced to retire and took the controversial decision to abandon Warsaw, instead falling back behind the line of the Vistula.  The strategy worked and successive Austrian attempts to cross the Vistula were defeated by Poniatowski and General Michal Sokolnicki.  Seizing the initiative, Poniatowski mounted a counter-offensive, liberating Lvov, Lublin and Sandomierz.  The Austrians eventually managed to re-take Sandomierz, but were forced to withdraw from Warsaw.  With Austrian resistance collapsing, Poniatowski arrived at Krakow to find the Austrians attempting to surrender to Poniatowski’s Russian ‘allies’, who until now had been conspicuous by their absence from the campaign.  Ignoring a roadblock of Russian Hussars, Poniatowski rode alone into the city to seize it for the Duchy of Warsaw.  At the successful conclusion of the war, Poniatowski saw the Duchy of Warsaw’s territory expand to incorporate those parts of Galicia that had been occupied by Austria and the army expanded accordingly.

Poniatowski at the Battle of Raszyn 1809

In 1812 Poniatowski led the V (Polish) Corps as part of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.  Poniatowski and the Poles distinguished themselves at the Battles of Smolensk and Borodino, but by the end of that disastrous campaign, only a shattered remnant of the Corps returned to Poland and Poniatowski himself was wounded.


Recovering from his wounds, Poniatowski rapidly assembled a new Polish army at Warsaw and remained loyal to Napoleon, resisting entreaties to come over to the Russian side as the Prussians had already done.  On 5th February 1813 Poniatowski abandoned Warsaw to the Russians and marched his army to Krakow, where he would continue their training.  Dabrowski meanwhile was raising another Polish division in Germany from the survivors of various units and fortress garrisons.  Consequently, the Polish Army was absent from Napoleon’s resurgent Grande Armée which stalled the Russo-Prussian advance into Germany at the Battles of Lützen and Bautzen

Kellermann with a Polish ADC and escort from the Polish 1st Chasseurs à Cheval

With the Russians approaching once again, Poniatowski left Krakow on 7th May and marched his army through Bohemia to link up with the Grande Armée.  An armistice had by this time ended the present round of hostilities and the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw was reorganised to become the VIII Corps and IV Reserve Cavalry Corps.  Poniatowski commanded VIII Corps, while command of IV Reserve Cavalry Corps was given to the French General Kellermann, a superb cavalry leader and son of the French Marshal of the same name.  However, Dabrowski’s newly-numbered 27th Division, while officially part of VIII Corps, remained independent.  It’s been speculated that friction between Poniatowski and Dabrowski had finally spilled over into mutual loathing, hence the separation of their commands.  I can’t find anything to back up that theory, but there doesn’t seem to be any other good reason to keep Dabrowski separate, especially as VIII Corps was woefully understrength (consisting of a single infantry division of three brigades and a weak cavalry brigade). 

ADC to Poniatowski

With the recommencement of hostilities in August 1813, Dabrowski was operating on the northern flank near Berlin.  Poniatowski meanwhile, found himself under the command of his old friend Marshal Murat, on the southern flank in Upper Saxony, covering the passes through the Bohemian Mountains.  His other old friend, the Austrian Feldmarschall Schwarzenberg now commanded the Allied Army of Bohemia and Poniatowski’s task was to prevent the Grande Armée from being surprised by Schwarzenberg emerging from a mountain pass behind their right flank.  Even though Poniatowski theoretically only commanded VIII Corps, Kellermann and his cavalry frequently came under Poniatowski’s command as a combined Polish army-wing.  


Eventually, as the Grande Armée was pushed back by the converging Allied armies into a pocket around Leipzig, Schwarzenberg finally emerged from the mountains and Poniatowski’s Poles fought numerous small delaying and rearguard actions against Schwarzenberg’s advance-guard.  Murat’s wing formed a defence line south of the city, from Markleeberg in the west to Liebertwolkwitz in the east, with the Poles being responsible for the Markleeberg sector.  The Poles were only lightly engaged during the Battle of Liebertwolkwitz on 14th October 1813, but immediately following this action, General Kellermann was elevated to command a cavalry wing consisting of his IV Reserve Cavalry Corps and General Pajol’s V Reserve Cavalry Corps.  To replace Kellermann, the Polish general Michal Sokolnicki was elevated to command IV Reserve Cavalry Corps. 

Sokolnicki, with escorts from the 3rd Uhlans

A most significant promotion followed on 16th October (some sources say the 15th), as Napoleon awarded the Marshal’s Baton to Prince Poniatowski, who became the first and only non-French Marshal of the Empire.  However, there was no time for Poniatowski to enjoy his new status, as the titanic Battle of Leipzig erupted that same day.  The battle commenced with a general assault by Schwarzenberg’s Army of Bohemia against Murat’s command, around the villages of Liebertwolkwitz, Wachau, Markleeberg, Dölitz and Connewitz.  Poniatowski’s Poles, defending these last two villages, were assaulted by vastly superior numbers of Austrian troops and suffered horrific casualties as they doggedly held a number of river-crossings. 


The Poles lost over half their number in three days of bitter fighting as they slowly gave ground and fell back on Leipzig.  At last on 19th October, Napoleon ordered the army to withdraw through the city, crossing the Weiss-Elster river by means of a single bridge.  The battered but unbroken remnants of Poniatowski’s command formed part of the rearguard and resisted attack after attack while waiting patiently to cross to the west bank.  However, the unthinkable happened as a French engineer panicked and blew up the bridge while it was still packed with troops and while a considerable number, including the Poles, were still on the eastern shore!  As resistance completely collapsed in Leipzig, thousands of troops attempted to swim the river in an attempt to escape, among them Poniatowski.  However, being badly wounded and exhausted from days of constant combat, the Marshal of three days tragically drowned in the attempt.

Poniatoswki meets his end crossing the Weiss-Elster 19th October 1813

Duchy of Warsaw Generals’ Uniforms

Generals of Division

Polish general officers’ dress was very similar in style to that of their French comrades-in-arms, though with a Polish flavour.  As a general rule, their coats were dark blue, facings were crimson, metalwork was silver and horse-furniture was dark blue, edged silver.

There was a variety of coat-styles from the kurtka for cavalry generals’ full-dress, to lapelled and heavily-laced coatees, to simpler double-breasted coats and the very plain single-breasted surtout.  Collar, cuffs, turnbacks and lapels were typically crimson, though there were variations, as can be seen in the portraits above: the collar would typically always be crimson, though the other facings could be dark blue, sometimes piped in crimson.  Waistcoats were white.

A Cavalry General of Brigade

Collar, cuffs, lapels and tail-pockets were typically decorated with zig-zag silver lace indicating rank – a single row of lace for Generals of Brigade and a double row for Generals of Division.  Rank was also indicated by gold stars on the silver epaulettes – one star for Generals of Brigade and two stars for Generals of Division.  A silver aiguillette could also be worn in full-dress.

Breeches were crimson, with a silver stripe down the seam and Hungarian knots on the thighs.  Generals of Division had wider lace strips and larger knots.  For cavalry generals these could be replaced with uhlan-style crimson trousers, edged with two parallel silver stripes. 

Cavalry generals wore hussar-style boots with silver lace edge and tassels, while infantry generals wore tall boots.

A General of Division and a Cavalry General of either rank

Headgear was typically a black cocked hat.  This had a silver cockade and cockade-strap and would be edged in either a strip of black silk or scalloped silver lace.  It was crested in split ostrich-feathers, which were black for Generals of Brigade and white for Generals of Division.  Cavalry generals could alternatively wear a czapka with a dark blue top and silver decoration.  This would usually have a white egret-feather plume with a black base.

Sashes were mixed silver and crimson for both general officer ranks and were not coloured by rank like French generals.

Czartoryski, wearing a surtout

For my Duchy of Warsaw generals I’ve used AB Figures’ French generals, which fit the bill well enough, though if you want lapels on the coat, you’ll have to paint them on (as I’ve done with one figure).  I’ve also used one spare French Guard Lancer officer, which isn’t 100% correct in terms of uniform details due to the sunburst-plate on his czapka, but he looks the part from a distance.

AB Figures do a truly superb Poniatowski figure, in a set that also includes one of his ADCs.  As can be seen from the portraits above, Poniatowski wore a uniform based on the regulation style, but which was mainly a confection of his own devising, including a magnificent brown bearskin cloak, lined with crimson silk.  The details of Poniatowski’s dress vary from painting to painting and it’s possible that all were correct at some time or another!  When I painted my Poniatowski (about 20 years ago) the reference picture I was using showed a sky-blue shabraque, which is different to the ones shown here.  As can be seen from Dabrowski’s equestrian portrait, other Polish generals were also not averse to embellishing the dress regulations! 

Poniatowski’s ADCs wore a unique hussar-style uniform in crimson, sky-blue and silver, as shown above.  Other Polish ADCs wore a far plainer uniform, as modelled alongside Kellermann and shown in the background of the General of Brigade painting above.  This was a relatively plain uniform in Chasseur à Cheval style, consisting of a dark blue habit-kinski with sky-blue collar and crimson piping down the front and around cuffs and turnbacks.  Buttons and epaulettes were silver.  This was worn over a crimson waistcoat, decorated with silver hussar-lace.  Trousers were dark blue with crimson side-stripes and the shabraque was dark blue, edged crimson.  Belts were black, edged silver.  this was topped off with a black fur colpack with crimson bag and sky-blue pompom.  The AB Figures Polish Chasseur à Cheval officer figure is perfect for as an ADC.

Enough for now!  Polish artillery next time and then the cavalry. 🙂   Oh go on then, have some more generals…


This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Minor States, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Army of the Duchy of Warsaw (Part 2: The Generals)

  1. Martin Radcliffe says:

    What a hugely informative a well written post that is! I do find the Polish army and it’s “awkward” position to be particularly fascinating.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Martin. Yes, Poland always seems to have been an eternal tragedy, but deeply fascinating. The story of the Free Polish Forces in WW2 holds a similar fascination for me.

      • Mike Goldyn says:

        “Eternal”? That’s overstating the issue. There was a time when Poland was the dominant power in Eastern Europe.

        • jemima_fawr says:

          Yes, that’s very true, but Poland’s decline and periodic removal from the map went on for 400 years. While not strictly ‘eternal’, it must have seemed like it by the time of the Third Partition, let alone WW2 or 1989.

  2. Dave Caplin says:

    The Chassuur officer also makes a very passable representation of an officer of Poniatowski’s guides.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Yes indeed. He’s a very useful figure all round and I’m hoping against hope that Tony B one day does the elite company troopers in the same uniform. The Polish chasseurs would also be perfect as Italian or Portuguese Legion Chasseurs.

  3. Jason says:

    Great article Mark – really enjoyed the read!

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Jase,

      The lockdown must be really getting to you…

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Ooo, while you’re here: I’m just writing a scenario for the 2nd Battle of Caldiero (the 1805 battle – there were four in total), which should be right up your alley, what with your 1800-period French and Austrians. Should be up by the end of the month.

  4. Rob says:

    What an amazing read. And fantastic miniatures!

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Thanks Rob! 🙂

      Something I completely forgot to mention in the article is that I completely ruined Poniatowski and his ADC when varnishing them (I painted them about 20 years ago, when I still used brush-on varnish). I used Humbrol Mattcote, which usually worked well, but in this instance turned them pure white… Thankfully a few coats of Glosscote made the varnish transparent again and I then sprayed them with a different matt varnish. They recovered ok, but the colour still looks very flat when compared to the others, due to the thickness of old varnish on those two figures. I recently repainted the metallics on them to brighten them up a bit.

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