Jan Henryk Dombrowski (1755-1818)

General Jan Henryk Dombrowski (1755-1818) was a Polish officer who served under Napoleon in Italy, Poland, Russia and Germany, before briefly taking service under Tsar Alexander in 1815.

Dombrowski (or Dabrowski) was born near Cracow, in Poland-Lithuania. His military career began in the service in Saxony, but in 1791 he joined the Polish Army and took part in the unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Third Partition of Poland. After the destruction of his country at the hands of Prussia and Russia he went into exile.

As with many Polish émigrés Dombrowski eventually joined the French. In 1796 he reached Paris, where he offered to raise a Polish Legion. He was sent to Italy to put the idea to Napoleon, and on 9 January 1797 the legion was approved. It was 3,600 strong by April 1797 and 7,000 strong by May. The Legion served in the army of the short-lived Republic of Lombardy, then joined the army of the Cisalpine Republic. Dombrowski and his legion fought in Napoleon's Italian campaigns (including at Novi in 1799), and he was promoted to general of brigade.

In 1806 Dombrowski raised a Polish Division, and fought with that unit at the battle of Friedland). In the aftermath of this Russian defeat Tsar Alexander was forced to the negotiating table (or raft) at Tilsit. One of the terms of this treat was the formation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, using the former Polish lands taken by Prussia. Dombrowski served under Prince Poniatowski in the Grand Duchy.

In 1809 he commanded part of the army of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw during the war with Austria, but he didn't get on with Poniatowski, and was soon moved into a more minor position recruiting new units at Posen while Poniatowski commanded the field army. In mid-May the Austrians sent a force under General Mohr to move towards Posen and disrupt the recruiting effort, but Polish victories elsewhere meant that this army was soon withdrawn. As the Austrians withdrew Dombrowski followed him with 7,200 men. At this point the Austrians had occupied Warsaw, but Dombrowski threatened the city from the west and another Polish force threatened from the east and on the night of 1-2 June the Austrians abandoned Warsaw. A series of minor skirmishes followed in the first half of June. The main impact of all of this fighting was to deny the Austrians the easy victory they had expected in Poland and prevent them from moving troops south to deal with Napoleon's main army as it captured Vienna and prepared to fight the decisive battle of the campaign at Wagram. In July Poniatowski joined Dombrowski and the combined force captured Krakow.

Russia 1812 - The Road to Moscow
Russia 1812
The Road to Moscow

In 1812 Dombrowski commanded the 17th Division, part of Prince Poniatowski's Polish V Corps. Early in the invasion of Russia his division was used to protect the French lines of communication, in particular around Minsk. His most famous contribution to the war with Russia came during the retreat. He was given the task of defended the bridge over the Berezina at Borisov, a key position if the French were to elude a ring of Russian armies that were slowly closing in on them. He arrived on the night of 20-21 November, but the position was weakly held and when the Russians attacked at dawn on 21 November he was forced to withdraw (Although only after a long fight against three Russian divisions). Napoleon was eventually able to cross the river over two pontoon bridges, and part of the Grande Armée escaped from the trap. Dombrowski's division crossed the bridges at around 5pm on 26 November. Dombrowski was lightly wounded during the fighting on the western bank of the Berezina.

He fought in the 1813 campaign in Germany, taking part in the French defeat at Düben (16 October 1813). He took over Poniatowski's position after the Marshal died at Leipzig. In 1814 Dombrowski returned to Poland, and in 1815 he accepted a role in the army of the new Congress Kingdom of Poland, serving under Tsar Alexander. Dombrowski's task was to organise the new kingdom's army, but he retired in 1816 and died two years later.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 June 2014), Jan Henryk Dombrowski (1755-1818) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_dombrowski.html

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