Chapter 23 - 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 ten men. - Went to Mingo Swamp. -Went to Castor Creek. - Medicine traffic. - Attacked two companies of Federals under Capt. CAWHORN and Capt. RHODER. - Fought them seven nights - Dick COWAN. - Went with Capt. REED’s men. -Attacked Capt. LEEPER’s company. - Killed fourteen and wounded eight. - Captured forty-four guns, sixty pistols, forty horses and four hundred dollars.]

    On the 15th day of December, 1863, I started back to Mingo Swamp with ten men, and met with no obstacles on our route after swimming the St. Francis River. When we got into the neighborhood of the unfortunate tragedy of our previous trip, we ascertained from reliable sources that the Federals left for Bloomfield on the day following the skirmish at old Bill COOTS’, and that the men we had been looking after so long had gone into the regular army.

    We visited the house of our newly made widow, Mrs. COOTS, for the purpose of seeing the graves of my two brave boys. She confessed that COOTS had layed plans for my capture; that the Federals were camped only one mile off at the time, and that after I had consented to come to his house for breakfast, he went to the Federal camp and notified them of the fact and made arrangements to take me in. Finding no one in that vicinity to fight, we made our way over onto Castor Creek to a well known friend, who had, since the beginning of the war, acted as an agent for us in receiving and forwarding supplies and medicines. Hearing of no Federals in that portion of the country, and there being no persons in that quarter against whom we had enmity sufficient to induce us to invest any of our capital in bark or grape vines, we obtained the medicine sent to that place from Farmington, St. Francois County, Missouri, and started back for Mingo Swamp. On our way the monotony of our journey was suddenly relieved by seeing a Federal coming toward us, apparently riding very cautiously. We only got a glimpse of him as the road took him down into a small ravine out of our sight. We were very certain that he had not discovered us, so we got out of the road until he came up; when we halted him he seemed very much frightened, but surrendered quietly.

Been To Cairo

    He told us that he had been to Cairo, Illinois, to see his family, and was on his way back to his command at Fredericktown. Upon the whole he gave such a good account of himself that we only disarmed him and took his green backs, which, however, only amounted to twelve dollars.

    On the following night we heard of three more Rebel boys in the country and sent for them. After they agreed to try a trip with us, we left the drugs with a friend and went back onto Castor Creek to watch for the Federals who were in the habit of passing there on their road between Fredericktown and Cape Girardeau. We had been there but one night and day when we heard of two companies of Federals near by commanded by Captains CAWHORN and RHODER. As soon as it was dark we proceeded to spy out their exact locality and take a look at the surroundings. We found their position and numbers that it would be entirely unsafe to charge through their camp as was our custom, and concluded to bushwhack them. During the night we killed twelve and wounded several more, as we were informed afterwards. When day again made its appearance we went about two miles into a dense thicket with our horses. We put out spies watching and waiting impatiently for them to move. Instead of marching, however, they were charging around the most public places in the vicinity, threatening Southern sympathizers with annihilation, but we got no chance to bushwhack them.

    During the day a squad of them went to the residence of Dick COWAN, one of my men, burned his house and other buildings, and attempted an outrage on one of his sisters who happened to be there. For several days the people in the neighborhood were compelled to suffer the most glaring insults and wrongs. Each night we renewed the attack, and killed one occasionally at all hours of the night. They stood our mode of warfare six days and nights, but early on the morning of the seventh day they started on their way to Cape Girardeau. During their march we stationed ourselves at convenient places, and as they came along poured a deadly fire into their ranks and then retreated into the woods. We thought by this means to induce them to follow us, but it only seemed to hurry up their march. This we repeated three times before they reached Cape Girardeau.

    By this time we were anxious to see our families and started back to Arkansas. Taking our drugs that had been left with a friend, we soon met twenty-eight of Capt. REED’s men who insisted on our taking a trip with them to Wayne County, and perhaps as far north as Iron County. To this I consented, detailing two of my men to take the drugs to Arkansas, we started on our way, marching in day time. We passed about twenty miles south of Bloomfield and on to Greenville, in Wayne County, arriving there about sunset, but did not find any Federal troops in the place to protect its loyalty. Soon after arriving in town we heard of a company of Federals on Lost creek under Capt. LEEPER, and taking our informant for a guide we marched at once to give them a fight.

    Reaching there about sunrise the next morning we charged their camp, running their pickets in at full speed, fought them only a few minutes, when those who had not got into the brush surrendered. In the fight we lost four men killed and six wounded, the latter, however, all recovered. Of the enemy we killed fifteen, wounded eight, and took ten prisoners besides the wounded. Our booty consisted of forty-four guns, sixty pistols, forty horses, four hundred dollars in green backs, and other articles of value to us and to our families.

    The subject of what disposition we would make of the prisoners came up, and in cases of the kind we were purely democratic, so we took the vote whether we would kill them or set them loose.

    In consideration of the wrongs my family had received at their hands, and of their well-known cruelty, I made a speech in favor of killing them and voted accordingly.

    When the whole vote was counted I found myself in the minority by just two votes; but true to my word I released them, unarmed and on foot.

Tom McKEE Killed

    In the evening before we had attacked them they had killed an old man by the name of Tom McKEE and burned his house with other buildings. This fresh outrage was not known to us until they were gone, or we undoubtedly would have shot them. On being informed of this fact, however, we sent a scout after them, but they had left the main road and secreted themselves in the thick woods. The wounded, however, were at our disposal, but we did not, during the whole war get mean enough to imitate our enemies by killing wounded prisoners, but placed them at the house of a widow woman who promised to take care of them until the Federals at Pilot Knob could have them removed.

    We procured a wagon and loaded it with our booty; took our six wounded men and started back to Green county, Arkansas, where we arrived without any difficulty, and found all things right at headquarters.