Saturday, May 19, 2012


Captain Robert D. Chapman, Fifty-Fifth Georgia Infantry was captured at Cumberland Gap on September 9, 1863, and sent north toward the prison at Johnson's Island. He did not quite make it as he and a companion, Lieutenant James Lane made good an escape after a couple of days march. Evading Federal pickets and Yankee columns marching south, the pair also had bandits and bushwhackers to avoid. Some proved to be very dangerous as evidenced by Chapman and Lane's capture by a clan of them, and their nearly being murdered by them. Both Confederates had spent some time in the region and knew full well the dangers presented by such men. When the clan proposed their release early one morning, the men that were to escort them discharged their rifles, then reloaded them. Alarm bells went off in Chapman's head, and when their escort instructed the soldiers to take the left fork of a mountain path while they themselves took the right, it was enough evidence to Chapman that evil was afoot. The two followed the left fork a distance enough to be out of sight of their would be killers, then dove off of the trail and beat a hasty retreat through the underbrush. After some hours floundering through the tangled terrain the men found a path, followed it, only to find the cabin they came to looked very familiar. They had traveled in circles and were right back where the most danger lay, the home of the bloody clan! Realizing their mistake they quickly went the opposite direction!

After much tramping along rough trails, wading creeks, and generally wearing themselves out, they found a barn which to them looked more like civilization. It was early morning and they were spent, footsore, and famished. They helped themselves to some fence rails for a fire to dry their clothes, (not the smartest move, but they seem to have gotten away with it) then they curled up in the straw in the barn and slept, un-disturbed, for several hours. Late in the morning the soldiers roused themselves and set out again, traveling at a slow pace, not so much to avoid suspicion, but they were in no shape to travel quickly and Chapman had one shoe that was badly damaged and his sock was placed over it to keep it together. He would praise Southern women for their ability to knit such rugged socks!

Chapman and Lane traveled east and past the home of the farmer whose barn they had slept in and asked of his young son if the road led to a Rebel camp. Yes, was the answer, and the pair continued on their way. Unbeknownst to the Confederates, the farmer was a member of a Union Home Guard outfit that had been organized by loyal Union men in the neighborhood to protect their property from the ravages of Rebel bushwhacker bands. These were not the typical partizans or guerrillas that had the Confederate Cause at heart, rather they were the outlaws, thieves, and murderers that preyed on innocent victims irregardless of their loyalties. They quite often fought each other, and some of these bands were made up of deserters from both armies. In essence they were from the lowest stratum the Confederacy (or Federals) had to offer.

The farmers name was Sizemore which was also the name of the clan that had nearly murdered the two men up in the hills. This man was more upstanding and denounced his kinsmen. This Sizemore was told by his son that the men had passed by, and he and another man set out to capture them, thinking they were a part of an outlaw band or were on their way to become a part of one that inhabited the area. They took a short cut and placed themselves ahead of the weary soldiers, and soon captured them, the Confederates offered no resistance. Chapman felt that he would have been better off if they had just shot him, rather than having to face capture and its unknown result. Chapman and Lane presented themselves under aliases and as deserters from the Rebel army, the same story they had given to the hill country clan, just in case these men were more closely knit to their kin than they let on. Fortunately they were not, and as luck would have it their capture in all probability had saved their lives, for the camp they were heading toward in fact did belong to one of the bushwhacker bands.

News of Chapman and Lane's escape from the hills had reached the farmers home while he was in pursuit of the two rebels. The farmer demanded a full accounting of the episode, but Chapman balked, he being still unsure of the intent of his captor. He finally told all, but retained the facade of their being Rebel deserters. This satisfied Sizemore, who told them that they were the only two people he had ever heard of that had encountered his deadly kin and survived to tell the tale. They were still his prisoners, but now they were under the protection of Farmer Sizemore who promised to get the articles stolen from them earlier by his kin, and he did.
Farmer Sizemore advised the Confederates to travel to Booneville, Kentucky,with he and another man as escort, and turn themselves over to the Provost Marshal stationed there and take the oath to the Federal government. This he said would provide them legitimate travel papers so the two could travel freely about the countryside and eventually home. Chapman and Lane agreed to this, with one unspoken stipulation. They would not take the oath, but would turn themselves over to the Provost Marshal as officers in the Fifty-fifth Georgia, Confederate States Army. They preferred to be treated as prisoners of war than be seen as turncoats in the Confederacy. The 15th of September 1863 marked the end of Robert Chapman's and James Lane's odyssey in the hill country. They had been on the lamb since the September 11, and the next day would see them once again on their way to Johnson's Island, only this time they would be delivered.

Captain Robert D. Chapman

Chapman and Lane arrived at Johnson's Island September 30, but were housed away from other officers of the Fifty-fifth as housing was allotted according to date of arrival. Chapman would contract diphtheria that winter but would recover. The winter of 1863-64 was one of the harshest in the region in years, and diphtheria and pneumonia ran wild through the camp. Life in the camp was not pleasant of course, but Chapman states that the food was adequate as far as prison fare goes, and only diminished as Lake Erie froze then later thawed rendering it difficult to supply the prison. Of course there was always a tunnel being dug or other means of escape being considered at all times. Shortly before his departure from the island, Chapman was involved in digging his own tunnel, but gave up when it was announced that he, along with other prisoners, would be transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland. James Lane would remain at Johnson's Island for the remainder of the war and be released in June 1865.
Chapman left the island on February 9, 1864 and was carried by boat to Sandusky, Ohio, where he and the others would be transported to Point Lookout by rail. He still had no intention of remaining a prisoner, and even had absconded with a couple of small saws from a workshop on the island. With these he attempted to saw through the floor of the train car that transported him and his fellows toward their new home. This plan was soon to be discarded, as the first saw was badly dulled in the effort, and the hole was discovered. At each stop along the way a guard detail was set on the platform and the opposite side of the train, so escape once the train stopped was rendered a hopeless proposition. The only other option was to exit the car through a window while the train was slowing down for a stop but still in motion. This plan was settled on, and Chapman was about to go into the night alone. He was better prepared for this escape, in a sense, than he was for the episode in the hills. He had learned from a fellow prisoner of a citizen, a young lady in Emmetsburg, Maryland, that would aid him and she would be able to point the way toward other sympathetic souls who would tell of more friends that would aid him in getting south. So near ten o'clock in the evening, February 11, 1864, his escape was made amid “thunder and lightning, earthquake, dirt, dust, and blood” just outside York, Pennsylvania. It had been discovered he was missing so he had to evade guards for a short time, but the train and guards finally moved on. “A lone Confederate had invaded Pennsylvania and flanked the enemy”!
From here his escape was somewhat tame as compared to the earlier adventure, yet he was still in danger of discovery all along the rout. The weather had turned foul, but his contacts were very hospitable but he could not linger long in one spot. He would travel through snowstorms and freezing landscapes along the way but he had to move, for his sake as well as his hosts. At length he would enter the Shenandoah Valley where he would meet half a dozen Virginia cavalrymen who were on furlough and secretly visiting kin in the Valley. These men comprised his escort home to Confederate lines where he arrived safely on March 1, 1864. After he was verified to be who he said he was, he went to Staunton, Virginia, where he entered the hospital for a few days. Then he went to Richmond to have a new set of identification papers made, having burned his originals way back in September of 1863, then applied for and received a thirty day furlough.
Captain Robert D. Chapman served the Confederate States for the remainder of the war among what was left of the Fifty-fifth Georgia, about 130 men, as part of a guard detachment and as Adjutant at the prison at Andersonville, Georgia and later in the line of Joseph Johnston's army facing Sherman in Georgia and the Carolinas. It all was the adventure of lifetime, or a lifetime in an adventure.

Chapman, R.D., A Georgia Soldier in the Civil War, 1861-1865, 1923

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