Chapter 14 - Sam Hildebrand's Confession


Legend of St. Francois County
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979

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Confessions of Sam HILDEBRAND

TYPIST’S NOTE: I have not altered the manuscript at all, including all spelling and punctuation.  The ONLY change I have made is to capitalize all surnames. - BethK

[Federal cruelties. - A defense of “Bushwhacking.” - Trip with Capt. BOLIN and nine men. -
Fight at West Prairie. - Started with two men to St. Francois County. -   Killed a Federal soldier. -
Killed Ad. CUNNINGHAM. - Capt. WALKER kills Capt. BARNES and HILDEBRAND kills
Capt. WALKER.]

    On arriving at headquarters we busied ourselves for several weeks in building houses to render ourselves as comfortable as possible during the coming winter.  Our headquarters were on Crawley’s Ridge, between the St. Francis River and Cash Creek, in Green County, Arkansas.  It was a place well adapted to our purpose, affording as it did a safe retreat from a large army encumbered with artillery.

    Many of Capt. BOLIN’s men had their families with them, and our little community soon presented a considerable degree of neatness and comfort.  I could have contented myself longer at this quiet place, but our scouts were constantly bringing us rumors of fresh barbarities committed by the different Federal bands who were infesting the country in Southeast Missouri, making it their especial aim to arrest, burn out, shoot and destroy all those peaceable citizens who from the beginning had taken no part in the war.

    They were especially marked out for destruction who had been known to shelter “Sam HILDEBRAND, the Bush-whacker,” as they were pleased to call me.  If any man should happen to see me passing along the road, and then should fail to report the same at headquarters, regardless of the distance, he was taken out from his house and shot, without even the shadow of a trial to ascertain whether he was guilty or not.  An old man, with his head silvered over by the frosts of seventy winters, who had served his country in many a hard fought battle before his tormentors were born, and who now hoped to go down the declivity of life in peace and security, found himself suddenly condemned and shot for disloyalty, because he generously took a stranger into his house for the night, who afterwards proved to be “the notorious Sam HILDEBRAND.”

    These same miscreants, however, would call at any house they pleased, and, by threats, compel even women, in the absence of their husbands, to cook the last morsel of food in the house, scraped together by poor feeble women to keep their children from starving to death,     Did I ever do that?  No, never!  Did I ever punish a man for feeding a Federal?  Did I ever shoot a man for not reporting to me the fact of having seen a Federal pass along the road?  If that was really my mode of proceeding, I would deserve the stigma cast upon my name.

What Is A Bushwhacker?

    My enemies say that I am a “Bushwhacker.”   Very well, what is a “Bushwhacker?”  He is a man who shoots his enemies.  What is a regular army but a conglomerate mass of Bushwhackers?  But we frequently conceal ourselves in the woods, and take every advantage!   So do the regular armies.  But a Bushwhacker will slip up and shoot a man in the night!   Certainly, and a regular army will slip up and shoot a thousand.

    But a Bushwhacker lives by plundering his enemies!  So did SHERMAN in Georgia, and a host of others, with this difference: That I never charged my government with a single ration, while they did so at all times.   Besides, I never make war upon women and children, neither did I ever burn a house; while the great marching, house-burning, no battle hero, turned his attention to nothing else.

    In fact, the “Independent Bushwhacking Department” is an essential aid in warfare, particularly in a war like ours proved to be.  There are a class of cowardly sneaks, a gang of petty oppressors - like the Big River mob - who can be reached in no other way.  A large regular army might pass through where they were a dozen times without ever finding one of them.

    As I stated before, barbarities were committed by a certain band of Federals, that warranted our interference.

    Capt. BOLIN, myself and nine other men mounted our horses and started on another trip, about the first day of December, 1862.

    We crossed the St. Francis, and traveled several nights, until we reached West Prairie, in Scott County, Missouri, where we came upon a squad of Federals, thirty in number, like an old-fashioned earthquake.

    Imagining themselves perfectly safe, they had placed out no pickets; so we ran suddenly on them, and before they had time to do any fighting they were so badly demoralized they knew not how to fight.

    We killed four, wounded several more, and charged on through their camp, as was our custom; in half an hour we returned to renew the attack, but found nobody to fight.

    In our first charge, we caused several of their horses to break loose, which we afterwards got.  We had one man wounded, having been shot through the thigh with a Minnie ball.  Capt. BOLIN and six men took the wounded man back with them to Arkansas, while Henry RESINGER, George LASITER and myself started on a trip to St. Francois County.

Ambush Federals

    One morning, just at daylight, we found ourselves on the gravel road leading from Pilot Knob to Fredericktown, and about seven miles from the latter place.  We concealed ourselves in a thicket and watched the road until evening before we saw an enemy.  A squad of eight Federals came suddenly in sight, riding very fast.  I hailed them, to cause a momentary halt, and we fired.    One fell to the ground, but the others hastened on until they were all out of sight.  While we were examining our game (the dead man), we discovered three more in the distance, who seemed to have got behind the party, and were riding rapidly to overtake them; at this we divided, taking our stations in two different places for the purpose of taking them in.  On coming nearer we discovered that they were not dressed in Federal uniform.  We took them prisoners and ascertained that they were Southern sympathizers from near Fredericktown, who had been imprisoned at the Knob for several weeks, but having been released they were on their way home.  While we were thus parleying with them, asking questions relative to the forces at the
different military posts in the country, the party we had fired into now returned with a much larger force, and suddenly we found ourselves nearly surrounded by a broken and scattered line on three sides of us, at a distance of only one hundred yards.  The odds were rather against us, being about sixty men against three.  I called quickly to my men to follow me, and we dashed for the uncompleted part of their circle.  On seeing this movement they dashed rapidly toward that part and closed the line; but when I started toward that point it was the least of my intentions to
get out at that place; I wheeled suddenly around and went out in the rear, contrary to their expectations, followed by my men, shooting as we ran until we gained some distance in the woods; having the advantage of the darkness that was now closing in upon us, and being on foot, we escaped from the cavalry, who were tangled up in the burst, and were making the woods resound with their noise.

    We luckily escaped unhurt, although there were at least fifty shots fired at us.  I received two bullet holes through the brim of my hat, and one through the sleeve of my coat, and one of my men got a notch in his whiskers.   We were not certain of having hurt any of the Federals as we passed out of their lines.  We kept together and returned to our horses; after a short consultation we mounted and rode back to get a few more shots at them, at long range; but when we got to the battlefield we found no one there.  Toward Fredericktown we then made our way,
until we got in sight of the place, but saw nothing of the soldiers.  During the night we visited several friends, and several who were not friends, but did no harm to any one, there being only two men at that time in the vicinity whom we wanted to hang, and they were not at home.  On the next day we tore down the telegraph wire on the road to Pilot Knob, and stationed ourselves about a mile from town for the purpose of bushwhacking the Federals when they should come to fix it up; but they were getting cunning, and sent out some Southern sympathizers for that
purpose, and we did not hurt them.  But I made a contract with one of them for ammunition, and in the evening, when we again torn the wire down, he came out to fix it up, and brought me a good supply of powder and lead.

    From him we learned that a general movement against us was to be made by the troops, both at Fredericktown and the Knob, on the following day.

    I knew that the whole country between there and Arkansas was in the hands of the Federals.  I knew also that they had learned my trick of invariably making a back movement toward Arkansas, immediately after creating an excitement.

    As they seemed not likely to hunt the same country over twice, I concluded to go north of the road and wait a few days until the southern woods were completely scoured, and thus rendered safe for our return.

Looking for CUNNINGHAM

    While waiting for this to be done, I thought it a good opportunity to hunt up a man by the name of CUNNINGHAM, who had been living in the vicinity of Bloomfield. During the early part of the war he professed to be a strong Southern man, and had been of some service to our cause as a spy; but during the second year of the rebellion he changed his plans and became to us a very dangerous enemy, and was very zealous in reporting both citizens and soldiers to the Federal authorities.

    Our intention on this trip was to arrest and take him to Col. JEFFRIES’ camp, ten miles south of Bloomfield, that he might be dealt with by the Colonel as he might see proper.

    On gaining the vicinity of Farmington, where CUNNINGHAM now lived, we learned that he was carrying on his oppressive measures with a high hand, and was very abusive to those whom he had in his power.

    It is said that he even robbed his own brother Burril CUNNINGHAM, and suffered him to be abused unmercifully by the squad of men under his command.  On reaching the Valle Forge we struck his trail and followed on toward Farmington; but some Federals got upon our trail, and would have overtaken us before we reached town, if a friend had not deceived them in regard to the course we had taken.

    We found CUNNINGHAM at his own house, and when we approached the door I demanded his surrender; he attempted to draw a revolver, and I shot him through the heart.

    Having accomplished our object, we now returned to Bloomfield and reported to Col. JEFFRIES.  We remained there about three weeks.

    On the 5th day of January, 1863, Capt. Reuben BARNES requested me and my two men to assist him in capturing a man by the name of Capt. WALKER, who had a command in the  Federal army, and was now supposed to be at his home, about six miles from there.

    On approaching the house, WALKER ran out, holding his pistol in his hands.  As we were near enough, we ordered him to surrender, at which he turned around and faced us.  On getting a little nearer, he suddenly shot Capt. BARNES, and started to run.  Our chase was soon ended, for I shot him dead.

    We took Capt. BARNES back to Bloomfield, where he died the same day.  We then returned to Green county, Arkansas, and went into winter quarters.