Chapter 18 - 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

[Took seven men. - Went to Negro Swamp. - Attacked fifteen or twenty Federals. - A running
fight. - Killed three. - Killed CRANE. - Betrayed by a Dutchman. - Hemmed in a house by
Federals. - Fight and escape. - Killed eight soldiers. - Caught and hung the Dutchman.]

    Concluding to take a trip to Negro-Wool Swamp, I selected seven good men, and struck out; making our way slowly, we visited our Southern friends, and passed off the time very pleasantly with them.  We made but few miles a day until nearing the point to which we had started, the object of our trip being to take in a couple of very noisy Union men, for the purpose of giving them a nice necktie of our own make, manufactured from the textile fabric of nature’s own production that we occasionally stripped from the thrifty young hickories in the shady woods.  But while we were on the lookout for them, a scout of Yankees fifteen or twenty in number, came into the neighborhood, and we concluded to let the two meddlesome Unionists rest for the present and to give the Federals a chase.  We ascertained their exact locality, and at sundown I gave one of them a dead shot from old “Kill-devil,” which was all that was necessary to give them a start, and I assure you it was a “running start.”

    Seeing the course they took, we knew that they were bound for Bloomfield, so we mounted and started in pursuit; but they knew so well who was after them that they gave us no show for a fight; however, being much better acquainted with the country than they were, I made my way, with one of my men, across on a nearer route, and got in ahead of them, while my other boys kept up the chase.  We did not beat them much, for when we had gained the point, we heard them coming at full speed, and as they passed, we both fired at the same time; only one man fell, and as “old Kill-devil” was in the habit of tearing a tolerable large hole, we had not dispute about who did it.  From there on to within a few miles of Bloomfield, our chase was in vain; a streak of greased lightning could hardly have caught them.   Knowing that a considerable force would now be sent out into the vicinity of Negro-Wool Swamp to clear that country of bushwhackers, we concluded not to return to that place, but wound our way around south of Bloomfield, and ran suddenly on to a man by the name of CRANE, for whom one of Capt. BOLIN’s men had been
hunting for more than a year; as he was not along, and we were acting as a band of brothers,  I took it upon myself to shoot the fowl.  After having done so, we made our way into Wayne County, where we remained several days, enjoying the rich luxuries placed at our disposal by our friends in that county.  We then took a scout on Black River, and stopped with a German, who had always professed great friendship for us, and who, on this occasion, greeted us very warmly, and seemed to put himself to a great deal of inconvenience to make us comfortable; he stood watch for us, as usual, while we slept in an unoccupied house.  Our minds being free from suspicion, we slept quite soundly for three or four hours, but I was aroused by the sound of horses’ feet; and by the time I had awakened my men, and made ready for our escape, we were completely surrounded.   Through a crack I took a hasty peep, and saw out old friend, the German on horseback and in the line of the Federal soldiers.

Refuse Surrender

    At this juncture, two of my men were in favor of surrendering; I answered by telling them to follow me.  There being a dense forest in front of the house, not more than one hundred and fifty yards off, I made for it in my fleetest manner, holding my gun in my left hand and my revolver in my right; I would have killed the Dutchman as I ran, but he was on the opposite side of the house; a whole volley was fired at us as we went, killing one of my men and wounding two more slightly, but not sufficiently to disable them from duty, and giving me four very slight wounds.  As we passed out, we fired two or three shots a piece with our revolvers, killing two of their horses, and wounding one man seriously in the face.

    On gaining the woods we felt very well over our narrow escape, and made our way for a gap in the bluff, about half a mile off, through which we gained the point, and stopped to rest ourselves, and reloaded our pistols; after which we made our way to the top of the bluff, and discovered through the thick brush, at a distance of not more than two hundred yards, the Federals approaching slowly and cautiously toward us.  I gave my men orders to fire in the same order in which they lay, that is for our extremes to fire on theirs, so that no two men would fire at the same Federal.

    When fairly within gun shot I gave the word and we fired; four of them fell dead, and one fellow, badly wounded, broke down the hill calling loudly on the name of the Lord.  Our rifles were quickly reloaded and we followed cautiously after them in the direction of our friend’s house where we came so near being taken in; on gaining the edge of the woods we discovered them sitting on their horses, near the house from which we had escaped.  They seemed to be holding a council of war; one of them who had on shoulder straps, appeared to be making a speech.   The distance being about one hundred and fifty yards some of my men objected to shooting, but I answered by giving the word slowly, “ready - aim - fire!”   At the discharge of our rifles, four of them fell, and the gentleman with shoulder straps was helped from his horse.  At this juncture, they began to form themselves into about twenty different lines, with only one abreast, each man being in advance, and each one bringing us his own rear.  It was a novel military position, a kind of “nix cum rous,” but it worked well and in almost an instant they seemed to be spirited away, and we saw no more of them.

Down Black River

    We made our way down Black River about two miles and camped for the night, and the next morning about sunrise I went to the house of a friend, who lived back in the woods to obtain provisions for my men.  He told me that the Federals had left for Greenville immediately after our second round at them, and had given orders to some citizens to bury their dead, and on the following day to send the horses to Patterson, which they left in their care, and which included those they had captured from us; at which place they would meet them with a large force and proceed to exterminate the Bushwhackers.

    I obtained what provisions we wanted and hastened back to camp.  After eating we hurried over to the Patterson road, selected a good position, and waited impatiently for the men to come along with the horses.   About ten o’clock in the forenoon an old man about sixty years of age, and three little boys came slowly along with them.  After they had approached sufficiently near, we stepped out and I addressed the old man in a very friendly manner, and stated our business, at which he made some serious objections, remarking as he removed his old cobpipe, that it was rather against his orders, “to deliver the horses up to Sam HILDEBRAND.”  As the old man gave the horses up, I could easily perceive a smile of secret satisfaction lurking about his face.  The little boys, however, were badly scared, and seemed to realize the fact that Sam HILDEBRAND had them.  We took possession of the horses, fourteen in number, and according to previous arrangements, five of the boys struck for Green County, Arkansas, with them, while one of them stayed with me, on foot, for the purpose of killing the German who had betrayed us, and thus came so near having us taken in, and who had caused one of the bravest men in the Southern Confederacy, to be killed.  After sending the old man and the boys away I took leave of my men, and with my comrade repaired to a neighboring hill, rested and slept by turns, until near sunset.

    From the position we occupied I had a fair view of the surrounding country, and particularly the main road leading to Patterson.  But during the day all was quiet, save a citizen would occasionally pass along the road.

    As night approached we became restless from inaction, and before the sun had shed its last rays upon the neighboring hills we were on our way to the scene of our tragedy the day before.

    Arriving there before it was entirely dark we took our position in the fence corner near the house, and here we lay in silent impatience until the gray horizon warned us that our watch for the present was ended.  We quietly retired to the house of a friend for our breakfast, not having eaten anything except a piece of corn bread since the morning before.  Having partaken heartily of our friend’s rough but substantial fare, we again repaired to the house of our treacherous German enemy, having sworn in our wrath to take his life before leaving the country, and succeeded in gaining a position within one hundred yards of his house and directly in front of the door.  Here we remained all day, during which time the family seemed to be discharging their domestic duties very cheerfully.  About four o’clock in the afternoon two strange men rode up to the house and held a conversation with the lady for several minutes and then rode off in the direction they came; this gave us some hope that the Dutchman would soon be at home.  It was evident that as he had left with the Federals the day before in their retreat, and in great haste, that he had made no arrangements for a long absence; and it was more than probably that those two men only came to see whether or not the way was clear.  We felt indeed that our most sanguine expectations were soon to be realized; but the hour passed slowly on; we changed our position after dark to a place in the fence corner, near the woodpile, and here we remained until the night was half spent.  Then we were made glad by the sound of horses’ feet coming from the direction of Patterson; as the sound came nearer we could easily perceive that the noise was made by only one horse.

    Advancing slowly, the Dutchman approached the house, alighted at the woodpile and tied his horse to the end of one of the limbs withing a few feet of us.  Just then we arose and demanded his surrender.  The old fellow was very badly alarmed and called alternately on the Almighty and Mr. HILDEBRAND for mercy; but I gave him to understand that it was useless for him to beg for mercy; that he was a prisoner and that we expected to take him to headquarters as a prisoner of war.   His wife came out to the fence immediately on his arrival, and it was her presence alone that prevented us from shooting him on the ground.  I guarded him while my comrade went to the stable to look for another horse; but finding nothing there but an old mule, he came back leading it with a blind bridle.

    I requested the lady to loan me a saddle, and she soon returned with her own saddle, and remarked that it was the only saddle on the place.  I told her I could not rob a lady; to keep the saddle, and that I was sorry from my heart to be compelled to give her uneasiness or trouble; that war had no mercy, and that through it all I hoped that she would be protected from harm.

    We tied the old man’s hands behind him, and then tied him on the mule without any saddle; at which the mule humped up his back, gave us a specimen of mule melody on a base note that reechoed among the hills, and then became more quiet.  We started on leading the horse and mule, but we had to stop several times to let the mule finish braying, for he would not budge and inch until he got entirely through.  We went about a mile and then proceeded to hang the Dutchman.   He spoke only once and then the mule chimed in, and before he had finished, the
Dutchman was swinging to a limb.  To render his duplicity still more apparent, it should be borne in mind that he was now completely dressed in Federal uniform, having probably enlisted during his absence.  Previous to the hanging, we had taken from him his pocketbook and a revolver.

On Horse And Mule

    We now mounted the horse and mule, and went on about two miles, stopped at the house of a friend and called for something to eat.  Our friend, on hearing what had taken place, plead manfully for the lady whom we had so lately made a widow, stating that she was a good woman, recounted many good deeds she had performed, and finished by adding that she would now be entirely dependent on the charity of the community for support, and insisted on us having the horse and mule sent back.

    We readily consented to this, and told him also that we would much rather she had the pocket book also, for on counting the money we found that it contained forty dollars.

    No one could deliver the mule, horse and money to her without being considered in some measure implicated.   Finally it was agreed for our friend to take the horse and mule back while it was yet night; to leave them near the premises and to throw the pocket book over the gate into the yard.  All things being arranged we started on foot for our homes in Arkansas, and arrived there safely.