Chapter 16 - 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 to Bloomfield with three men. - Fight at St. Francis River. - Starts on alone. - Meets his
wife and family. - They had been ordered off from Bloomfield. - Capture and release of Mrs.
HILDEBRAND. -Fight in Stoddard County. - Arrival in Arkansas.]

    For the purpose of getting my family to Arkansas, it was necessary that I should make a trip to Bloomfield, although that place was now held by a large Federal force under McNEAL.

    I started with three good men, crossed the St. Francis River at a shoal, but we had not proceeded more than ten miles when we ran into a company of McNEAL’s men, who instantly fired upon us, slightly wounding one of my men in the fleshy part of the arm.

    We thought it best for four men to retreat from the fire of nearly one hundred, which we did, in double-quick time.  They pursued us very closely, but we were at too great a distance for them to shoot us.

    Wishing to get a few shots at them, we concluded to cross the river and give them a fight from the other side; so we plunged our horses in the deep water at the nearest point, were swimming, and had nearly gained the opposite shore, when the Federals ran onto the bank we had just left and fired a volley at us with their muskets; but their shots were all too high.

Reach Bank of River

    We reached the back where the willows were very thick, jumped off our horses and returned the fire.  From our place of concealment we could easily see that three of their number were killed.  They kept up a random fire at the willow thicket, in which they wounded three of our horses and caused them to run up into the woods, terribly affrighted.  By this time they had ceased firing and had taken refuge behind trees and were watching for our movements; in this position they stood two rounds from our rifles, in which four of them fell, having been shot through the head.  Before we could get another shot we discovered a portion of the men making their way up the river, and I understood at once that their intention was to engage our attention at that place, while a part of the command would make their way around and take us in; so we retreated in good order to a place of safety, and remained all night.

    The next morning we crossed the river in company with several others; and found that the Federals during the night after the fight had gone to Bloomfield.  They procured a wagon and team from an old man living near for the purpose of hauling off their dead.  The old man stated to us that there were seven killed and two wounded.

    I now decided to change my tactics, and try my luck alone and on foot.  I thought that by stealthy movements I could find my family and get them off to Arkansas much better than with a small company of men.

    In a few days I met my family about twenty miles south from Bloomfield on their way to Arkansas, in an old wagon pulled by a small yoke of oxen, which my wife was driving.  I learned from her that some of Capt. BOLIN’s men had removed her from Flat Woods to Bloomfield, in Stoddard County, Missouri, but that McNEAL, on taking possession of the town, had ordered her to leave, adding that the wife and family of that “desperado, Sam HILDEBRAND,” could not remain within one hundred miles of his headquarters.

    With the wagon and oxen furnished her by a friend to our cause, she took the children and some provisions and started out upon the road, and when I met them she was making her way as best she could, but was just preparing to camp for the night in the lone woods.  She cautioned me very particularly about the Federals, and said that she had seen two or three squads that day.  On the following morning we resumed our journey, and about ten o’clock I met six Union soldiers, who came suddenly upon me at a short turn in the road, but, being dressed in Federal uniform, they did not suspicion me as being a Rebel.  They asked me to what command I belonged, and I answered them to Capt. RICE’s, stationed at that time in Fredericktown; at this they seemed satisfied, and passed on, swearing vengeance against any Rebels that might fall in their way.

Federal Take Family

    As soon as they were out of sight, I told my wife to drive on, while I traveled through the brush awhile. I had scarcely got out of the road when I discovered a whole regiment of Federal soldiers, not more than half a mile off, who were coming directly toward us.  I soon gained an eminence in the woods, from which I could observe their maneuvers.  They stopped at the wagon, and after parleying with my wife for several minutes, they turned her team around and took my family along.

    At this juncture it is needless to say that I became enraged, and knowing an old rebel citizen about two miles off, I resolved at once to go to him, thinking that perhaps I might hear from some of our boys, for I was sure that if there were any in the neighborhood the old man would know it.  I was overjoyed when he told me that James CATO and Wash NABORS were taking a nap in the barn, while he was standing on the lookout.  I repaired to the barn at once, told them the fate of my family, and that I wanted their assistance that we might amuse ourselves in bushwhacking them.

    After getting something to eat, and some provisions to take along with us, we started through the dense forest, and got in sight of them about sun-down.  Before darkness set in we killed a man apiece, and then lurked around the camp all night.  About every two hours, CATO, NABORS and myself would meet at a certain hill, designated before dark, and report progress.  I made a great many random shots, but I think that during the night I killed as many as fifteen men.  My comrades thought that they both together killed as many more.  I learned afterwards that the number we killed during the night was just thirty; none were wounded that I ever could hear of.

    Morning began to approach, and we fell back to a high hill, until they began to move toward Bloomfield.  Throughout the day they kept their skirmish lines so strong that we could do nothing; however, we got several shots, at long range, at their scouts, but during the entire day I was not certain of killing more than two men.

    We kept in the woods, as near the troops we could, until we had followed them into the very suburbs of Bloomfield, then we started back along the road about dark, intending to pick up stragglers.  Judge of my surprise and joy when, on going back, I came across my wife and children sitting by the roadside, where the Federals had left them about noon, but without the oxen and wagon, and without any provisions, bedding or change of clothing.

    The capture of my wife had proved rather fatal to them, and her detention among them had produced nothing but disaster and death.

    It reminded me of a passage of Scripture that I once heard my mother read from the Book of Samuel, giving an account of the Philistines having captured the ark of the covenant; they took it from one place to another, but a plague was produced wherever it was detained, until many thousands were dead.   Finally, to get it out of their hands, they hitched up a yoke of cattle to a cart, and without any driver started it out of the country.  The Federals, however, varied somewhat from the Philistines, for, instead of giving her a cart and oxen, and loading her down
with presents of gold, they took her wagon and oxen and everything else she had, and left her by the roadside in an unknown wilderness.

    On seeing me my family was greatly relieved in mind, yet they were in a starving condition, and we had nothing to divide with them.   Believing that the “ark” might have been left there for the purpose of trapping me, I took my position about two hundred yards from my family, and remained while my two comrades were gone after something for them to eat.  After their return I made a fire for my wife in the woods, and gave her directions in regard to the course she must travel in the morning, in order to reach the house of our old friend and requested him to meet my family as early as possible, and convey them to his house.  He did so; and in the evening of the same day, having procured the use of a team, we started on for Arkansas.

    Col. McNEAL sent out a party from Bloomfield, under Capt. HICKS, who followed us to the St. Francis River, but we had got across, and they did not venture very close to the bank, having learned a lesson from me on my upward trip a short time before.

    We arrived safely at Capt. BOLIN’s camp, and my family was soon safely housed and supplied with the necessities of life, in the charming little community where a score of pleasant families resided.