Wladimir B. Krzyzanowski
Brigadier General, United States Army
Copyright 2002 Anchorage Daily News
By Liz Ruskin Anchorage Daily News
The Polish ambassador to the United States set off a flurry among Alaska historians and librarians this week when, in the course of awarding Governor Frank Murkowski a medal, he mentioned that Murkowski was the second Alaska governor whose name ends in '-ski,' the suffix of the Polish gentry. Alaska's first governor, the ambassador said at a reception in the Capitol, was an American Civil War hero named Wladimir Krzyzanowski.
This was news to the experts in Alaska. No one named Krzyzanowski appeared on their lists of Alaska's early military rulers or its territorial governors. But a quick Internet search proved that accounts of the Polish-born general capping his illustrious military career by becoming the first governor of Alaska were widespread in Polish-American circles. A Web site for the man's hometown in Poland made the same claim.
Curious, state historian Joan Antonson sent an e-mail query to other Alaska historians and researchers. The government documents at the University of Alaska Fairbanks came up dry, as did the Alaska bibliographer at the Loussac Library.
Then Susan Grigg, head of the Alaska and Polar Regions Department at the UAF library, contacted James Pula, who wrote a 1978 biography of Krzyzanowski.
"Essentially, he doesn't show up in their records because he was never governor of Alaska," Pula explained. As far as Pula can tell, Kriz -- as his friends called him -- never lived in Alaska, but visited in 1873 when he was stationed in Port Townsend, Washington, as a Treasury Department agent. Kriz, he said, uncovered corruption by the customs collector in Sitka, investigated reports of gold discoveries and reported the potential for revenue fraud in the area, among other achievements.
However, the governor myth was accepted by virtually all of the early Polish-American historians, said Pula, dean of graduate education at Utica College. The error, he said, appears to stem from a bad translation or a misinterpretation of Kriz's memoirs, which the general wrote for a Polish newspaper that published them in serial form.
"In his memoirs he talks about being governor of Alaska, but the word he uses is kind of a verb, to govern, to administrate," Pula said. Here's one translation of what Kriz wrote about his Alaska experience:
"Administering the province of Alaska after it was acquired from Russia gave me additional knowledge of the northernmost borders of the United States. The costly furs and gold that were discovered during my administration have helped the nation immensely."
Pula believes Kriz was not intentionally padding his resume, just trying to say that he was a government employee charged with administering government policies. Pula had two neutral translators read the relevant passage in Polish and neither came to the conclusion he was the governor of Alaska, he said. But the myth has taken hold among Polish-Americans. The Web sites of at least 10 organizations declare Kriz to be the first governor of Alaska. A spokesman for the Polish embassy in Washington said the ambassador's remarks about Krzyzanowski were drawn from two different Internet sources. "We simply got it not correct," said the spokesman, Artur Michalski. "We fell to the victim of this legend."
That's one of the lessons here, said Antonson, the state historian. "It's a classic example of 'Be wary when using the Internet,' " she said. She and Bruce Merrell, at the Loussac Library, say they want to learn more about Krzyzanowski's mission in Alaska. According to Pula, it was significant. His work as a treasury agent "led to a more effective administration of Alaska that enabled people residing there to live in greater safety and prosperity," Pula wrote in his book. "It is for this he should be remembered with pride by Polish-Americans.'
Joe Krzyzanowski, a Maryland man who runs the Krzyzanowski.com Web site, said he doesn't think taking the title of Alaska chief executive away from the general dulls the luster of the family name. "He's done so many other things," Joe Krzyzanowski said. "If he wasn't governor of Alaska, it's no big deal."
Reporter Liz Ruskin can be reached at 1-202-383-0007
In 1861 he was instrumental in recruiting a regiment of Germans and Poles which was mustered into service as the 58th New York Volunteers. After duty at Washington, D.C. the regiment fought under Major General John C. Fremont at battle of Cross Keys against Stonewall Jackson and in the campaign of Second Manassas in Schurz's Division of Siegel's I (later XI) Corps, where "Kriz," as he was known in the army, commanded a brigade. The command was not engaged at Sharpsburg or Fredericksburg, but in May 1863 at Chancellorsville, it shared in disaster which befell Joseph Hooker's right when it was overwhelmed by Jackson's famous flanking maneuver.
On November 29, 1862, he had been appointed a Brigadier General but the Senate failed to act on the appointment and it expired by law on March 4, 1863. Note: Schurtz declared that the reason for his non-confirmation by the Senate was the inability of any Senator to pronounce his name.
The XI Corps was again badly mauled at Gettysburg, and in fall of 1863 was sent west with XII Corps under command of Joseph Hooker. The brigade took part in battle of Chattanooga and subsequently became part of 4th Div of XX Corps. Itís commander, however, was detached during the Atlanta Campaign to command the post of Bridgeport, Alabama, vital railroad crossing of the Tennessee River. They continued in the defense of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and was in command of post at Stevenson, Alabama, at the end of hostilities. He was brevetted Brigadier General of United States Volunteers, March 2, 1865, and honorably mustered out of the service on October 1.
He was then given a succession of minor appointments in California, Alaska, and South America by the Federal government. He was appointed a Special Agent of the Treasury Department at the New York Customs House in 1883, an office which he held until his death, January 31, 1887.
Arlington National Cemetery Section 1, Grave 832.
Krzyzanowski, Caroline Burnett: Wife of Wladimir
B. Krzyzanowski. Died: New York City, January 11, 1882. Arlington National
Cemetery, Section 1, Grave 832.
Wlodzmierz B. Krzyzanowski, the best known Polish personality of the American Civil War, was born in Poland on July 8, 1824. He was a first cousin to Frederick Chopin. He took part in the 1848 Polish Revolt against Prussia and fled Poland to avoid arrest. He went to Hamburg, Germany and sailed from there to the United States.
He worked as an engineer and surveyor in Virginia and was instrumental in pushing America's railroads westward.
In Washington, D.C., he enlisted as a private two days after President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers. He recruited a company of Polish immigrants which became one of the first companies of Union Soldiers. Krzyzanowski then moved his company to New York and enlisted more immigrants and soon became a Colonel of the 58th Infantry Division, listed in the official Army Register as the "Polish Legion." He participated in the Civil War battles of Cross-Keys, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. President Lincoln promoted him to General.
After the war, he served as an administrator in the newly acquired territory of Alaska. He died on January 31, 1887. On October 13, 1937, the 50th anniversary of his death, his remains were transferred with military honors from Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York to Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast his tribute to the nation via radio, and Poland's President, Ignacy Moscicki, transmitted his esteem from Warsaw.
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 28 June 2003