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Bernard Kowalski

First a US Soldier then Confederate Soldier
Bernard Kowalski was born in Inowrazlaw, Poland in 1821. He immigrated to the United
States in 1841 locating in New Orleans where he became a successful businessman. In 1846 he
was naturalized as an American citizen and joined the US Army to serve in the Mexican War.
He joined the Washington Artillery, a famous military organization of New Orleans.
Bernard went with General Zachary Taylor’s army to Fort Brown near the future town of
Brownsville, Texas. He served as a quartermaster officer. He followed Taylor through the war,
taking part in many engagements.
After the war, Bernard went to California to search for gold. Not finding gold he moved
to Brownsville with his family in 1861, to start his business.

Battle of Brownsville: On the breaking out of the Civil War Bernard Kowalski
enlisted in the Confederate Army to protect Brownsville and the lucrative cotton trade. Cotton
bales crossed the river near Brownsville to be shipped from the Mexican port of Bagdad near the
mouth of the Rio Grande. Bernard was commissioned major of artillery to defend Fort Brown
under General Hamilton Bee. In November 1853, Union General Nathanial Banks assembled
6000 troops to attack Fort Brown. Confederate General Bee ordered the evacuation of Fort
Brown and the burning of military supplies and cotton. Inside the fort were 8000 pounds of
explosives which caused a huge explosion and the burning of a great part of downtown
Brownsville. Bernard Kowalski was taken prisoner and taken to New Orleans where he was
kept a prisoner until the close of the conflict. It wasn’t until July 1864 that Confederate forces
under the command of John S. “Rip” Ford were able to reoccupy Fort Brown.
After the war Bernard Kowalski returned to Brownsville with Sophia his wife and their 3
children to resume his mercantile business operations in this city. They were founding members
of the Jewish community. Their sons Louis and Benjamin helped with the success of the
business. The Bernard Kowalski home was constructed at the corner of 5th and E. Elizabeth
where it remains today as a historical landmark. Son Benjamin Kowalski served as Mayor of
Brownsville from 1912 to 1914. Sophia was Sophia Bernstein, born in Posen, Poland.
Bernard Kowalski was an honored resident until his death, June 24, 1889. His wife
Sophia died a year later in 1890.
Bernard Kowalski and Sophia are buried in the Kowalski plot in the Hebrew Cemetery.