Civil War Overview
Civil War 1861
Civil War 1862
Civil War 1863
Civil War 1864
Civil War 1865
Civil War Battles
Robert E. Lee
Civil War Medicine
Civil War Links
Civil War Art
Republic of Texas
Civil War Gifts
Robert E. Lee Portrait
Page) with as much booty as they could manage to collect. While the
roll was being called, lights were placed in the windows of the houses looking
upon the square, and lanterns attached to poles were hung up at the corners to
enable us to guard against another surprise. While this was being done, my
attention was directed to a house presenting a different appearance from any of
the rest ; large and high, built of stone, with the doors fast closed and
windows dark, it seemed at first as if deserted. No answer being given to our
summons, an attempt was made to force the door, but its massive character defied
violence, and I was on the point of calling off the men from wasting valuable
time upon what, after all, was probably unimportant, when one of the sergeants
came to tell me that the house belonged to Gregor Szelady, the syndic of the
town, who was believed to be on his death-bed. The name being that of the
missing sentry, made me send for the prisoner who had given the information, and
learning, further, that the syndic had a son, Michael, in the Austrian
cavalry—although the man did not know in what regiment—I naturally presumed that
the deserter had taken refuge with his family.
A bag of gunpowder was fastened
to the door, and being exploded by a short train, speedily blew it inward.
Headed by an officer, a strong party rushed into the house, and began their
search. They had not long to seek. In a back room on the ground-floor, the whole
family was assembled —the syndic lying dead upon a bed in the corner, having
apparently just expired; some females and Michael Szelady grouped in speechless
sorrow around the corpse. The entrance of our party aroused them from their
stupor; the women threw themselves before the deserter, and called loudly to him
to make his escape. Michael rushed to the window, and before our men could push
the women aside, had thrown it open and jumped out. He was instantly followed,
and after a long chase among the out-buildings in the rear of the premises, was
captured and brought back into the room.
"Bring him out to the Major,
men," said the officer. " His case will soon be settled. Ten paces and a firing
party for the deserter."
" Oh! spare him, my lord !"
exclaimed one of the females, an elderly woman, throwing herself with clasped
hands at the officer's feet. "Spare the poor boy ! He never meant to desert. It
was to ask his dying father's last blessing that he left his post, and we
persuaded him. Oh, spare the boy !"
The two other women—a couple of
handsome, dark-eyed girls—one of whom was Michael's sister, the other his cousin
and betrothed, followed the mother's example, and joined loudly in her
supplications. Michael himself never uttered a word. "A likely story," returned
the officer, "but no matter. The facts are clear enough. Even if what you say
were true, I have no power to save the man. Out of the way there! Now,
As he spoke he pushed Michael's
cousin, who was nearest to him, aside more roughly perhaps than he needed to
have done. She was thrown off her balance, and falling forward cut her mouth
against his heavy riding-boot. The blood gushed over her face, and stained her
light-colored dress. The sight roused Michael to fury. With a vehement curse he
swung himself loose from the men who held him, rushed upon the officer, tore the
sabre from his hand, and cut him down before the others of the party had time to
interfere. He was disarmed and pinioned in a moment, however, and brought out
just as the noise of the scuffle and the shrieks of the women had induced me to
order in more men.
When Szelady appeared outside,
followed by two men supporting the wounded officer, it was with difficulty I
could keep the Lichtensteiners from rushing upon their former comrade and
killing him. I should have been justified under the circumstances in ordering
out a party and shooting him without delay, but preferring to give the man a
hearing, I assembled the officers for a drumhead court-martial, and proceeded to
try Michael Szelady for the grave military crimes of desertion and wounding his
The facts were clear and
unmistakable. I was particularly anxious to learn how it had happened that
Szelady had been placed on outpost duty contrary to especial orders; the inquiry
showed how curiously accident sometimes frustrates our most carefully-laid
plans. Although the sergeants were prohibited from placing certain men on
sentry, it was yet politic to prevent the men themselves from perceiving they
were objects of suspicion, and they were therefore placed in regular order upon
the rota with the rest, but it was so contrived that something always occurred
to prevent their taking turn of duty. In the present instance, Szelay stood
third on the list, but when the sentries were posted in the wood it was found
that No. 1 was missing, having been drowned in passing the Theiss; No. 2 was
disabled by a kick from the charger of one of his comrades while riding in the
dark among the trees : and the sergeant called forward No. 3 because he had
literally no better man available. It was indispensable that a smart soldier
should occupy the post; it was only to be held for a short time; and the good
character of Szelady in the regiment, was his apparent want of sympathy with the
rebels, added to the reasons prevalent with the sergeant for infringing the
order. It should be added that no one had the slightest suspicion of Michael's
having relatives in Szentes.
The case against the prisoner was
apparently unanswerable. He had left his post in presence of the enemy,
occasioning by negligence, if not by treachery, heavy loss to the regiment ; he
had tried to escape when discovered, and had severely wounded his officer when
captured. The unanimous sentence of the court was, Guilty upon all the charges;
Before passing sentence, I, as
president of the court, addressed the prisoner, and told him we were willing to
hear any explanation he might have to offer. Szelady had listened to the
thus far in apparent stupor. It
evidently seemed to him so inexplicable that he should be arraigned upon so
frightful a charge as having treacherously caused the death of his comrades,
that he had scarcely been able hitherto to realize the horror of his position.
He roused up a little, however, at my address, and after a short pause began to
speak. I remember his words well, for his speech struck me as one of remarkable
ability for a man in his station.
"Major and gentlemen," said he,
saluting the court, " I know that whatever I may say won't be of any use, for it
seems as if every thing was against me. I must die by my comrades' fire as a
coward and a traitor, where I'd willingly have given every drop of blood in my
body to have saved even one of them. I'm not afraid of death, I've looked him
too often in the face for that ; but I do shudder at the thought that those by
whose side I've lived and fought for years will curse my memory after I'm gone.
That's a dreadful thing to the with upon one's mind, and more than all, because
as I hope for everlasting salvation, I'm as innocent of the charges brought
against one as any one of your honors can be. Except that I cut down the
lieutenant—I did that, it's true; but I put it to you, gentlemen, whether if any
of you were to see the girl you loved struck aside and injured, you wouldn't
have acted as I did? But that's not the point so much as the charge that by
leaving my post I betrayed my comrades. That's what weighs upon my mind, and
it's that in particular I want to explain.
"When the sergeant left me on
sentry I dismounted, feeling cold, tied my horse to a tree, and marched up and
down for, I dare say, a matter of an hour, looking every now and then at the
town here, where the lights in the windows were gradually disappearing, and
every thing getting quiet. I was thinking we should have an easier job in
surprising the place than we had fancied, and you may be sure it was the very
last of my thoughts that any one I cared a pipe of tobacco about was among the
inhabitants. I hadn't heard from home for months—in fact, since the beginning of
the war-and not the least idea my poor father had removed here entered my mind.
"As I said, Major, I marched up
and down about an hour, when I thought I heard a rustle in the bushes near.
'Halt!' thinks I, ' let's keep quiet a bit, and see who goes there.' So I
stepped behind the tree to which my horse was tied, and watched. In a minute or
two out came a woman, whose face I couldn't see for her hood, and she was making
off toward the town, when I sung out to her to stop, or I should fire. She
started, as you may suppose, to see a soldier so near, when she didn't know
there was one within miles of the place, and waited till I came up to her. I was
just asking what brought her into the wood at that time of night, and telling
her she was my prisoner, when she gave a scream, called out my name, and jumped
upon my neck. Then, Major, I discovered she was my cousin, Carlin Karobyi, to
whom I was promised before I had to serve. From her I heard that my father and
all the family had come to Szentes a year ago; that he had been chosen syndic,
and was now very ill ; that she had been sent by my mother to a place some miles
away to fetch a celebrated herb-doctor who had made some wonderful cures, as a
last hope; but that she found he had been killed and his house plundered by
Jellachich's Croats the day before, and was now getting back to Szentes as fast
as she could.
"You may think, gentlemen, what
terrible news this was to me. First, my father was very ill, and not likely to
survive the night; next, my mother and sister and poor Carlin in a place we were
going to attack, and I knowing only too well what they might expect from the
Lichtensteiners when their blood was up. Carlin begged and prayed me to come
with her into the town to see my father once more before he died; and when I
told her it was impossible I could leave my post, she assured me that I should
soon be back again and nothing need be found out. Then I began to think, too,
the thing might be managed, if she could only get me into the town without being
seen; for that, if I could not get back in time it would be thought, when the
advance took place, that I had fallen in with the most, and I should then be
able to protect the women after the town was taken. In talking with Carlin we
had got near Szentes, and I clean forgot ail about my horse being tied to the
tree, and that being found there I should be thought to have deserted.
"Well, gentlemen, to make my
story short, I agreed to go with Carlin, as she promised I should be back in
half an hour. The lights were all out as we got into the place; there wasn't a
soul stirring, and we reached my father's house unseen. When we entered, Carlin
told my mother and sister that I had come with her, and after a bit I went in to
my father. How they found out in the town that the Lichtensteiners were in the
wood and on the bank of the river I don't know. Perhaps my mother can tell you.
All I do know is that my father kept fast hold of my hand till he died, and in
wouldn't let me go. And the first I knew of the attack was from the firing
outside, and afterward the trumpet sounding the assembly. Then came the
lieutenant and our men, and you know what has just happened."
Rather to test the truth of
Szelady's story for my own satisfaction than for any benefit its confirmation
would be to him, I summoned the mother, and tried to discover from her how our
occupation of the wood had become known in Szentes. From her statement it
appeared that a neighbor, who was in the house when Carlin Karobyi told her aunt
and cousin of Michael's arrival, must have overheard the story and communicated
it to the leaders of the peasants in the town. Michael's account of the reason
which had brought him to Szentes was, therefore, very probably true, and he was
absolved from the black treachery of having intentionally betrayed his comrades;
but the fact of his having undoubtedly abandoned his post was established by his
confession, and it was certainly
through his negligence that the attack took place. The wound of his superior
officer, again, although inflicted under great provocation, was an inexcusable
crime. I felt much sympathy with the man on account of the trying circumstances
into which he had been thrown, but pity could not be permitted to override duty.
Sentence was therefore pronounced; the only indulgence the court could permit
being its postponement for an hour, to enable the prisoner to take leave of his
relatives and prepare for death.
Szelady was placed for safe
custody in a stable adjoining his father's house, a sentry being posted at the
door. His mother, sister, and cousin—who, after the first shock, bore his
sentence with a composure which seemed to me strangely unfeeling at the
time—were to be admitted to him in succession, and after they had taken their
farewell a priest, who had been captured in the town, would administer the last
rites of religion and attend him to the place of execution. The interview with
his mother and sister was soon over; that with his cousin lasted longer—so long,
in fact, that the priest interrupted them before it was concluded. Just before
the expiration of the hour, the priest came to me with a request from the
prisoner to be permitted to see Carlin once more, but without witnesses, as he
had a last message to deliver to her. Willing to afford the poor fellow whatever
indulgence was in my power, I assented to his request. The priest sought Carlin,
brought her to the door of the stable, and closed it upon her. Some time having
passed without the return of the girl, the priest again went in to hasten the
He came out presently with a very
serious look, saying, "Poor souls, poor souls! It is hard for them to part.
Grant them a few minutes longer. I go to comfort the bereaved mother."
He walked away. A quarter of an
hour passed, and still no sign. Longer delay could not be permitted, and a
corporal with a file of men were sent in to bring out the prisoner. They had
scarcely entered, however, before a shout was heard within, and the corporal
rushed out, exclaiming, "Treachery! Michael has escaped ; and the girl, too, has
" Escaped !" I ejaculated.
"Impossible! Surround the place, and look to the priest !"
We hurried into the stable,
searched it in every corner, turned over the bundles of hay and straw it
contained, and even looked into the racks and mangers, but in vain. Neither
Michael nor Carlin were to be found. His mother and sister and the priest had
also mysteriously vanished, and it was evident that the repeated interviews were
nothing but a device to gain time for the confederates to complete their
arrangements. Though naturally annoyed at having been so thoroughly duped, I can
not say that I felt particularly sorry to be relieved from a painful duty. Had
Michael remained, the sentence passed upon him must have been executed; and
being persuaded that the story he had told was true, my feelings had pulled hard
in one direction, while discipline and the articles of war had tugged just as
vehemently in another. Michael was now, however, gone, and I was not hypocrite
enough to affect much grief at his escape. The only mystery I should have been
glad to solve, was, in what way his escape had been effected.
Time, however, would not allow of
our devoting much pains to its discovery. News was received that the
advanced-guard of the Prince's force had crossed the Theiss, and was now passing
the wood. I gave orders for instantly evacuating Szentes, and the
Lichtensteiners resumed their position at the head of the retreating army. I may
here state that the passage of the river was only just effected in time.
Gorgei's force debouched upon the right bank as the last of our corps was still
upon the bridge, and it was under a heavy fire, and with the loss of many of the
engineers. that our men succeeded in detaching the pontoons, and thus depriving
Gorgei of the means of following us beyond the Theiss. Two days later we fell in
with strong reinforcements under General Vetter, which placed us again in a
position to hold our own in the next encounter.
In the year '55, long after I had
forgotten the mysterious escape of Michael Szelady, I was again on campaign with
my regiment. This time, however, the service in which we were engaged was far
less hazardous than that of attempting to subdue the revolted Hungarians. The
Lichtensteiners formed part of the corps d'armee under Count Caronini, sent by
Austria to occupy Moldavia and Wallachia, the Danubian Principalities, during
the Crimean war. Except an occasional brush with some turbulent villagers, we
saw little actual service; and yet it was during one of these small expeditions
that the mystery which had hitherto involved the events I have just detailed was
Intelligence had been received at
Bucharest that the inhabitants of a Moldavian village had risen against a
company of Croat infantry quartered on them, owing to some offense given, I
fear, by our men. The Moldavians had besieged the barracks, set them on fire,
and slaughtered every man spared by the flames. Orders were given me to see to
the suppression of the disturbance, and to bring the ringleaders to justice. Two
squadrons of the Lichtensteiners had been considered sufficient for this
purpose, and I had ridden out with my servant—a man who had attended me for many
years—toward a little inn upon the frontier, where I had given the commander of
the expedition rendezvous.
It happened that we had never
been in this part of the country before. The inhabitants were peaceable and
quiet, and our duties brought us chiefly into contact with people of a different
sort. It was not singular, then, that after crossing a wide tract of hilly
country, we strayed from the bridle-road, and in endeavoring to regain it
bewildered ourselves so thoroughly that we had not the remotest idea in what
direction it was to be sought. In this dilemma I desired
my attendant to ride up to a
farm-house I saw at the end of a valley we were then traversing, and inquire the
way to the frontier inn. The man rode off, was absent a considerable time, and
at length returned with a curious smirk on his countenance.
"I've made a strange discovery up
there, Colonel," he said. "An old acquaintance of your honor owns that
farm-house, and a good bit of land hereabouts, he tells me."
" Indeed. Oscar !" I replied.
"Who is it? What is his name?"
"Michael Szelady, your honor,"
" Szelady !—what !—our deserter
from Szentes?" I exclaimed. "Are you sure you are not mistaken?"
"Positive, Colonel," returned
Oscar ; "and he bade me say that if you would only please to favor him with a
visit, he should consider it the greatest honor that could happen to him. But
here he comes."
He pointed to the farm-house, and
as he spoke a stout, well-dressed fanner, mounted upon a fine bay, rode toward
us. Oscar was right—it really was Szelady. The ex-dragoon saluted me
respectfully, and invited me very cordially to rest a few hours at his farm,
promising to guide me himself afterward to the frontier inn of which I was in
search. When we arrived at the farm-house, a comely smiling woman, in whom I had
little difficulty in recognizing Carlin, came to meet us, with an infant in her
arms, and two other urchins shyly clinging to their mother's dress. Michael
presented me to his wife and children, and conducted me into his house.
After an excellent dinner,
succeeded by some capital wine and cigars, I requested Michael to tell me by
what means he and Carlin had succeeded in making their escape from the stable at
Szentes. I assured him that he might confide in me without fear. Although an
Austrian army occupied the country, he was now beneath the protection of the
Turkish flag, and I should not demand his extradition.
" am sure of that, Colonel,"
returned Michael. "I didn't serve three years among the Lichtensteiners without
learning the difference between an officer and a gentleman, and a scoundrel who
betrays poor wretches for the price of blood. If I had not felt easy upon that
score I should never have made myself know n to Oscar there, whom I recognized
as an old comrade the moment he rode up.
"You ask how Carlin and I made
our escape. Well, the fact is, we never made our escape at all, but were in the
stable, or rather under it, all the time you were searching for us. You may well
look surprised; but this is how it came about. In many of the houses in
Hungarian towns—particularly those of the better class, and of ancient date
—there is generally some secret place large enough to be used for purposes of
concealment. In my father's house at Szentes, this was a chamber situated
beneath the stable, filled with piles of brushwood and fagots, and communicating
with one of the stalls by a trap-door, artfully let into the floor behind one of
the partitions. The thing was so cleverly arranged that you might have looked
long without finding it even if you had known of its existence, but in the hurry
and surprise which must have followed our unexpected disappearance, it wag
almost certain to elude discovery.
"My mother told me about this
place when she visited me in the stable, but our great difficulty was to find an
opportunity of raising the trap secure from intrusion, and to restore it after
leaving to its old position. For this purpose the priest, an old friend of my
father, laid the little plot of reintroducing Carlin, and then after in bit
coming bask to see if our interview was finished. At his second visit he
replaced the trap behind the partition, swept the earth and litter back over the
spot, and made the best of his way out of the town with my mother and sister.
"Carlin and I waited below until
the troops had quitted Szentes, and did not venture to leave our concealment
until we found the town in Gorgei's possession. We agreed that Hungary,
henceforth, was no place for me. My mother collected her property, and we came
over to Moldavia, where I purchased this farm and married Carlin. We live here
happily and in comfort, and are very prosperous : and here we hope, if
Providence will, to pass the remainder of our days."
I repeated my assurance to
Michael that I should do nothing to disturb his happiness, and cautioned Oscar
to be careful not to let fall any hints among his comrades. My caution was
probably superfluous, as I judged front Oscar's significant grin in reply that
Michael had already adopted means to insure his silence. Still he promised
inviolable secrecy, and he will be the more likely to keep his promise, as when
I last heard of him he too had passed under the sceptre of the Sultan, having
married Michael's sister, and settled as a horse-breeder near his
brother-in-law, among the Moldavian hills.
page 52 to illustrations of the
GREAT MISSISSIPPI EXPEDITION.
The upper cut represents the
fleet of IRON-CLAD GUN-BOATS with which
Commodore Foote is to attack the rebel
Columbus and other points on the river, while the army assails
them simultaneously on the land side. It will be noticed that they are most
formidable craft, and likely to accomplish the work set before them. By the time
these lines are read, it is possible that they may have begun operations.
The other cut represents
FORT HOLT, Kentucky,
opposite Cairo, which is to be the starting-point of the land part of the
expedition. On another page we give a sketch of the interior of the BARRACKS at
All these pictures are from
designs by our attentive and faithful correspondent, Mr. Alexander Simplot.