(I will not even try to present the complicated history of this region -
please refer to other sources to get acquainted with the history of
Duchy of Prussia /
Northern Wars period).
At the Swedish Deluge (Swedish invasion on Poland,
II Northern War),
the Crimean Khan Mehmed IV, not for the first time and not for the last, granted
military aid to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He sent 2000 Budzhak Tatars
led by Subchan Gazi aga. These new allies were engaged in the Battle of Warsaw
in July 1656, where they fought in the ranks of troops led by the Starosta of
Jawor Jan Sobieski. Carrying out raids on Swedish supply lines, the Tatars
almost killed the Swedish King Charles Gustav.
Battle of Warsaw 1656 - King Charles Gustav in skirmish with the Tatar troops of
Subchan Gazi aga,
painted by Johann Phillip Lemke (1631-1711).
At the beginning of October 1656 strong Polish-Lithuanian-Tatar forces led by
Field Hetman Wincenty Gosiewski left for East Prussia to crush the
Swedish-Brandenburgian troops stationed there. The Polish troops, estimated
around 12000-13000 cavalry (which besides Tatars included Lithuanian and Polish
troops - both professional soldiers and levy in mass), forded the Narew River in
Łomża or Wizna and headed for Ełk.
8th October 1656 marked the Battle of Prostki (some 130 km east of Witówko).
At the news of incoming Polish forces, General Georg Friedrich of Waldeck moved
out from Wąsosz and led his 2500 cavalry and 1000 Prussian levy in mass to camp
north of the village of Prostki, on the east bank of the River Ełk near a bridge
he intended to defend. He also called for Bogusław Radziwiłł and his 800 cavalry
stationed in the nearby Rajgród.
The news of Gosiewski's troops also reached General Wallenrodt and Colonel
Josias of Waldeck, who were stationed a few days' march away from Ełk. They
rushed to help, but only 2 infantry regiments and 6 cannons managed to get there
on time (about 1000 men).
Early in the morning on 8th October, the Tatars and a part of Lithuanian troops
reached Prostki two hours' march earlier than the core of Polish forces.
Outnumbering the enemy, Gosiewski tried to lure the Brandenburgian troops from
beyond the river and crush them with his main forces while sending Tatars to
intercept Wallenrodt's army marching from Ełk.
A simulated retreat tricked the Brandenburgians who crossed the Ełk River. At
the news of Tatars crossing the river north of Prostki, Waldeck decided to send
Bogusław Radziwiłł's troops to prevent Tatars from cutting off Swedish
At that time, Waldeck issued an order for all his forces to return beyond the
river, regroup and join with incoming help, however the core of Gosiewski's
troops flanked and pinned the enemy to the river. A part of Brandenburgian
forces and cannons managed to escape to the left bank and further beyond River
Ełk's tributary and got in formation again.
Having crossed the river and captured the camp, the Lithuanians and a part of
Tatar forces struck from behind and decimated still engaged in battle
Radziwiłł's troops. Radziwiłł himself was taken prisoner.
The remaining enemy forces were shattered and General Waldeck had a narrow
escape. Some of the Brandenburgian troops luckily escaped to the east and
south-east as the Lithuanians were too busy looting captured enemy supplies.
Waldeck managed to flee with 500 men and Wallenrodt's infantry, constantly
harassed by the Tatars and exhausted by several days' march, was defeated near
Ełk by Gosiewski's cavalry.
This is when the most important, from our point of view, part of the story
begins. After the battle, Hetman Gosiewski and Sub-Khan Agha Gazi got into an
argument over who should keep their notable prisoner - Bogusław Radziwiłł.
Subchan Gazi aga finally had to yield to Gosiewski's demands and hand Radziwiłł
over. Vexed and angry he decided to return to Crimea.
One way or the other, Gosiewski's troops marched on to Lithuania and Samogitia,
while the Tatars, before heading home, went in plundering south-eastern Prussia.
Until the beginning of 1657, about 2000 horsemen (probably fewer taking into
account the losses they had suffered) were able to ravage a vast area burning it
down, looting and taking the locals in Tatar captivity.
They did not miss the opportunity to plunder "our area" and pillaged the nearby
villages of Warchały, Narty, Jedwabno, Szuć and many more. Witówko had been
spared just because it was founded in 1701, some 45 later.
The losses in local population were so severe that, as the records have it, even
long after the Tatar raid about half of the fields lied fallow; e.g. Warchały
returned to its previous population some 80-90 years later.
Heading back home to Crimea, the unleashed Subchan Gazi aga's troops plundered
Podlachia as well (the Wizna Land and the Rajgród County). Although Podlachia
was in fact a friendly, Polish territory, a wealthy Podlachian village on the
Tatar's way apparently made him easily forget about such petty details.
In longer perspective the Tatar activity did not serve Polish interest well,
since it triggered the introduction of German settlers in place of slaughtered
or abducted local population.