Chapter 15 - 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

[Started alone. - Rode off a bluff and killed his horse. - Fell in with
twenty-five Rebels under Lieutenant CHILDS. - Went with them. - Attacked one hundred and fifty
Federals at Bollinger’s  Mill - Henry RESINGER killed. - William CATO. - Went back to
Fredericktown. - Killed a man. - Robbed ALBRIGHT’s store.]

    On he 23rd day of January, 1863, I started alone on a trip to Missouri, for the purpose of  making some arrangements for the escape of my family to Arkansas.  I got along very well until  the second might; then as I was riding over a brushy ridge I was suddenly hailed by “Who come   there?”

    I halted and in an instant became aware of my close proximity to a Federal camp.  I  instantly wheeled my horse in the woods to the right, dashed furiously down a steep hill side for a  short distance, and then in the darkness plunged over a precipice eight or ten feet high.  My horse  fell among some rocks and was killed, but I was precipitated a few feet further into a deep hole of  water in some creek.

    I was a little confused in my ideas for a while, but I had sense enough to crawl up out of  the deep water; as I stood there with my dripping clothes I heard some of the soldiers coming  down the hill toward me; so I crossed the creek and took up the hill on the other side.  I was now   completely out of their clutches and could easily have made my escape; but I had left my gun in the deep hole, and the thought of leaving “Kill-devil” in that predicament was more than I could  bear.

    In a few minutes the soldiers left and went back up the hill.  I now slipped back cautiously and got into the water to recover my gun.  The water was deep and cold; however, I  waded in nearly up to my chin and felt around with my feet for the gun.  I got my foot under it  finally and raised it up; but I had no sooner got it into my hands than I saw five or six soldiers returning with a light.  As they were making their way down through a crevice in the bluff, some  ten steps above the rock from which I had been precipitated I had just time to wade down the creek, which was now only a few inches deep in places, and secrete myself behind a cluster of  willows that hung over the edge of the steep bank about twenty yards below.

Hides In Water

    The Federals remained ten or fifteen minutes, walking around my dead horse, and around  the hole of water.  They threw the glare of their lantern in every direction, and though I was  completely hid from their observation, I must acknowledge that as I stood there in the water,  shivering with cold, holding my dripping gun, I felt more like anything else in the world than a   major.  Finally they struck the trail that I had made up the hill with my dripping clothes and each  one of them went in pursuit.

    Taking this opportunity I slowly left my retreat and waded down the creek for a long  distance.  I climbed up the hill on the same side on which the Federal were camped; I made a  wide circuit around them and came into the road, some four or five miles ahead.  I walked rapidly to keep myself warm, and just before the break of day I arrived at the house of a friend, wet,   hungry, and on foot.  I was soon supplied with everything I wanted; my gun was well attended to,  and when morning came “Kill-devil” looked rather brighter than usual.

    I started on in the direction of Fredericktown and fell in with twenty-five Rebel boys,  commanded by Lieut. CHILDS, who asked me to take command of his men and give the Federals a “Whack” at Bollinger’s Mill, on Castor creek.

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Bollinger Mill & Covered Bridge

    The locality for some time had been a place of rendezvous for Southern recruits; that fact  being well-known, the Federals concluded to station some men there.  They were known to be about one hundred and fifty strong, but I consented on condition that his men all take an oath never to surrender under any circumstances.  After the oath was administered we marched to the  place above mentioned, arriving there about eleven o’clock at night, on the 4th of February.   We succeeded in capturing their pickets, made a charge on their camp, fought them for about five
minutes (or until they got ready to fight); killed twenty-two of their number as we were informed afterwards, and at the word we marched out on double-quick time.  We took four prisoners with  us and got some important information from them, but finding that they were not McNEAL’s  men we released them all.

     We lost one man killed, Henry RESINGER, and three badly wounded, who recovered.

    We carried the wounded with us in our retreat, and at daybreak we all started for Mingo Swamp.

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Mingo Swamps

    The Federals followed us, and as our march was retarded by our wounded; they made their way around, and charged us, striking our columns at right angles they divided our line - cutting off seven of my men, whom they took prisoners.

    In this little skirmish I lost one man, and killed three of the Federals, at which they left  our trail and permitted us to make our way to St. Francis River, which we were compelled to swim.

    We got one horse drowned, but got over safely without any other accident, struck camp and commenced getting our breakfast, dinner, and supper, all the same meal.  Presently some one from the opposite shore called for us to bring him a horse.  From his voice we knew him to be  William CATO, one of the seven who had been taken as a prisoner.  One of my men swam over to him with a horse, and when he had arrived safely in camp, he informed
us that six of the  prisoners were shot, and that he had made his escape by dodging them in the brush.  He was
barefooted, and had torn nearly all his clothing off.

    We afterwards learned that the officer in command at Bollinger’s Mill was Capt. LEEPER from Ironton, Missouri.

Seeks Out Dutchman

    Not being satisfied with my trip, I did not remain but one week in camp, before I selected two men and started back to Missouri to make another effort towards getting my family to Arkansas.  On getting to Fredericktown we found the place full of soldiers.  In that town there lived a Dutchman, whose meddlesome disposition led him to be very zealous in the cause of   putting soldiers on the track of private citizens.  It seems that he never left town, and that it  would be impossible to kill him unless it were done in public.

    After night I lay off my coat, and gathering up a saw buck, which I found at a wood pile, I  walked straight across a street or two, until I reached the door, thinking thereby not to attract any particular attention; but on being told that he was not at home, I carried myself out of town as soon as circumstances would permit, got with my two men and started on toward Farmington.

    When morning began to approach we left the road several miles and secreted ourselves on a certain hill, for a friend on whom we had called during the night told us that the military authorities were aware of my presence in the neighborhood, and that they had secured the services of two or three good woodsmen to aid in tracking me up.

    About one o’clock in the afternoon we discovered a man tracking us slowly around our steep hill, looking cautiously ahead, holding his gun in a position to raise and fire in an instant.

    The ground was hard and our horses were not easily trailed, but our pursuer kept moving along very slowly.  We were at a loss to know whether he was really a brave man or a natural fool.  Not coming to any definite conclusion however, I concluded to make my way down the hill a little to  gratify his curiosity by letting him find me.  I wounded him severely on purpose to let him see me, but he yelled so loud that I had to kill him with my knife, for I wanted “peace” about that time.

    We heard some horsemen coming, so we hastened away from there and secreted ourselves in a thicket on Wolf Creek, near the residence of John GRIFFIN.

    Here I learned that my wife had procured a little wagon and a small yoke of oxen, with which to move to Arkansas; that she started with the family on the 16th day of February, and by this time was in the vicinity of Bloomfield.

    At night we went out on the plank road leading from Farmington to Ste. Genevieve and  fired into a camp of Federals; we could not get near enough to do them any harm, but wished to  draw them out to hunt for us; but in this we failed and had to abandon the project.

    From there we went to the junction of the Pilot Knob and Iron Mountain roads, and  robbed a store belonging to a Dutchman by the name of ALBRIGHT.  We patronized him very  liberally and started back to Arkansas with all the goods we could pack.

    At this stage of the war the Federals held possession of all the principal places in Southeast Missouri.  Bloomfield was also held by them, and there was no doubt in my mind but what my family was now in their hands.

    While passing through Stoddard County, the Federals overtook us, and run us so close that we were compelled to throw off a part of our loads; on arriving at St. Francis River we found it guarded.  Our only chance was to whip the Federals, and we determined to try it.  We retreated into a dense cane brake and then commenced upon them.  We killed three of their men on the  second round and then they fled.  We got home safely and were again prepared “to clothe the  naked and feed the hungry.”