Friday, November 11, 2011

How I Was Almost Captured by the Confederates

Today's entry is from The Life-Story and Personal Reminiscences of Col John Sobieski, written by himself.

Sobieski was a Polish native descended from royalty who was banished from his own country, and so came to America.  He entered the American army in the 1850's, and fought on the Union side during the Civil war.  In this excerpt he writes about an experience he had shortly after the Battle of Antietam.

I was very nearly captured while we were near New Baltimore, after the battle of Antietam. I took charge of some teams one day, to go out and get some forage. Our orders were very strict not to enter into any private house, and if any of my men did so, or attempted in any way to molest the inhabitants, to report them on return to the camp. After getting some distance out into the country, and being some little distance in the rear of my teams, I noticed that they had halted in front of a farm-house. I put the spur to my horse, and as I approached the house heard the cackling of hens and the gobbling of turkeys, and knew some fowl (foul) proceedings were going on at the front. I rode up to the house just in time to meet the men on the way out to their wagons, with their hands full of fowls. I halted them and ordered them to drop their plunder, and threatened to report them on returning to camp. A very handsome lady, apparently about thirty-five, who was standing on the porch of the house, thanked me for my protection, and calling me captain, asked me how soon it would be before I would return. I told her in a couple of hours. She said if I would call, she would show her appreciation of my services by having a good dinner for me.

On my return she met me at the door, and a darky received my horse and led it away.

As I was entering the hall, she said: "Captain, you can lay your belts upon this table, and I'll promise you that they shall not be interfered with."

I hesitated for a moment, questioning in my mind the wisdom of the act; but I took them off and threw them on the table. She led the way into the parlor, where she introduced me to an exceedingly handsome young lady, who was her sister.

She said, "Sister, this is the young captain who protected our house this morning."

The young lady bowed and smiled. I was at that time twenty years of age, a very susceptible time in one's life, so the smile was more than I could stand, and I was gone in a minute.

She said, "Yes, sister told me about the event of this morning, and that shows that all the chivalry is not on our side."

The lady of the house said: "Now, I will hurry up my servants with the dinner, and my sister will entertain you;" which she did charmingly.

Soon dinner was announced, and when I entered the dining room, I saw there were several extra plates. I was assigned to a place at the table, and while waiting for the ladies to be seated, a door opened to my right, and in walked two Confederate officers, a captain and a major. They were introduced to me as Captain and Major Grayson. They extended their hands, and I shook hands with them and said I was glad to meet them. I reckon I never told a bigger lie.

The lady of the house said: "Now, I will put the major on the right of our friend, and the captain on the left. There, you don't know how nice you warriors look."

I thought I might look nice, but I didn't feel that way. It was some minutes before I dared look in the face of my hostess. I cannot describe my feelings in those minutes, though I tried to conceal them. I thought, after I had protected her house, she had laid a trap to take me prisoner. I was afraid, if I looked at her, I would say something that wasn't nice; so I waited until my emotions were conquered, and everything went as pleasantly as though we were old friends.

After dinner we went into the parlor. All around the parlor walls there were pictures of distinguished Virginians: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Tyler, Marshall, Zachary Taylor, and others. I thought all this time that I was a prisoner, though not the slightest reference had been made to the subject, or to my peculiar position. As we walked around the room we talked about the great men whose pictures we looked upon, and they complimented me that one so young as I was, and a foreigner, too, should be so well acquainted with the lives of these great men. Soon the ladies came in and we got to talking about my native country. As I told them of the struggle of our country for liberty and the part my family had taken in the struggle, and as I described the Russian prison, the death of my father, the banishment of my mother and myself, I saw the tears standing in the eyes of the two fair Virginians.

I now told my hostess that I must go. They all begged of me to remain longer, as they had enjoyed my visit so well; but I assured them that I must go. I thought they were going to say that they would keep me anyway; but soon my horse was announced, and we proceeded out into the hallway, followed by the ladies. The gentlemen assisted me in adjusting my belts, and when we arrived at the porch the little darky stood ready with my horse. When the bridle was placed in my hands, I turned around and confronted them for the first time. Up to this time not a single word had been said in regard to our peculiar relations.

As I extended my hand, both of the gentlemen stepped forward to receive it. The major said he was glad to have met me, and hoped to meet me again under more favorable circumstances. And the captain said, ''And above all, we hope you may go through the rest of the war unscathed."

I thanked them for their kind wishes, tipped my hat to the ladies, mounted my horse, and was gone. My relief was great when I found that I was a free man.

Still, I have often since pondered upon my strange adventure that afternoon. I have rather concluded that the major was the lady's husband, that the captain was his brother, of course, and that they had come there that day after we had left, and the lady had told them of the events of the morning, and, under the circumstances, they could not avail themselves of their opportunity for my capture. I wonder if they did go through the rest of the storm of war unscathed! I hope they did; and I have often hoped since then, that if they did come through alive, that I might meet one or both and have a talk with them over the events of that afternoon. I have given up that hope now, but trust in the great Beyond we shall meet and have a talk and laugh over the peculiar dinner on that November day, when we met together, and, forgetting the bitter passions of war, passed the hour so pleasantly.
John Sobieski, a photograph from his autobiography

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