Chapter 24 - 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 fifteen men. - Captured three Federals. - Hung one. - Captured a squad of Federals. - Reception of "Uncle Bill." - Hung all the prisoners. - Captured five more, and hung one.]

    After spending the winter very agreeably, on the 10th day of March, 1864, I concluded to make a raid to the vicinity of Jackson, Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, with fifteen men, several of whom were from that county, and knew the people and county well.

    It was to remunerate these men for the invaluable services they had rendered me on several of my trips that I consented to go with them.

    We passed through Butler County into Stoddard, leaving Bloomfield to the south a few miles, crossed the southeast corner of Bollinger and into Cape Girardeau.

    Having traveled very slowly, and altogether in the night, we had created no disturbance on our way, nor interfered with any one, for it was our custom to make no demonstrations until we were ready to return.

    In the latter part of the night we arrived in the vicinity of Jackson, selected a good place and camped for the day, during which time some of the boys visited their friends. One of my men who was an entire stranger in that part of the country, went into town to get whiskey, and to see what was going on.

    On returning late in the evening he told me that there were three Federals in town who seemed to be well acquainted with the people, and that they were behaving very well. He wanted to take some of the boys and go back after them, to which I consented. They started off in eager haste, but soon returned with the three prisoners, having met them in the road some distance from town. Not knowing them I retained them as prisoners until the boys came in who knew them. Being governed by their statements, I released two of the Federals and kept the other as a prisoner and took him with us when we started that night for White Water, but we did not take him far before we tied him to a limb.

Camping On White Water

    On White Water we remained inactive several days, receiving the kindest treatment from our Southern friends, which enabled some of my men to visit their friends and relatives.

    About sunset one evening a citizen came to us and stated that about an hour before nine Federals had passed the road, and the probabilities were that they would stop for the night at the first house.

    The night was now growing very dark, and we were soon under full pursuit of them. On nearing the house, however, we rode very slowly, and tied our horses in the thicket at some distance, and approached the premises very cautiously. It was a double hewed log house, with an open hall between them, with a small cooking apartment forming an ell to the main building, but separated from it by a narrow hall also.

    After forming my men in a line around the house I crept to the windows and peeped into both rooms, only one of which, however was lighted, and in it I could see no one except a very old lady, who might have been a grandmother, and some little children who were grouped around the old lady, and who seemed to be holding a very earnest conversation with her in a very low tone. I went around to the kitchen window, and upon looking in to my great joy I saw the Federals eating their supper.

    The position I occupied was a very easy one, and their conversation was so peculiarly interesting that I could not refrain from listening. They were using very vulgar and indecent language to the lady, who, with all the kindness and amiability characteristic of her sex, was waiting upon the ruffians while the old gentleman was seated on a box in a corner of the room exposed to the most outrageous insults, accompanied with threats of the most heinous character; but in silent fear the old man bore their criminal epithets and bitter curses without returning a word.

    By this time I had heard all that my weak humanity could bear. I retreated from my position, passed around the circle, and collected my men at the entrance to the kitchen into the open hall, this being their only place of egress, and placed an equal number of my men on each side. I now stepped into the door and demanded a surrender, at which my men became impatient and rushed for the door, but I prevented them from entering. Each of the Federals pushed back his chair, at which I told them that I would shoot any man who should attempt to arise from the table with his arms, admitting my men at the same time. At this the Federals placed their revolvers on the table and retired according to my command to the fartherest end of the room and formed in a line.

    By this time our little disturbance had aroused the old grandmother and the little children in the other house, who came to the scene, the children screaming in a terrible manner, and clinging to the old lady’s dress for protection. On reaching the kitchen, however, the scene was quite different from what they had expected. They halted a moment at the door in dreadful suspense, then suddenly the oldest girl, who was about eight years of age, sprang suddenly into the room, exclaiming "Well, grandma! if here ain’t Uncle Bill!" then seizing one of my men by the hand she sobbed aloud, "Oh Uncle Bill! don’t let the soldiers kill pa!" at which the whole household greeted "Uncle Bill." The old gentleman last of all approached my man who had been recognized and greeted with so many smiles and such marked distinction, giving his hand slowly while the tears trickled down his weather-beaten cheek, and only said: "Bill, I’m glad to see you," my comrade receiving his hand and retaining it for perhaps half a minute, said nothing, but turned and introduced me as Major HILDEBRAND to his relative, and to the household. As I stepped forward to receive the salutation of the old gentleman of whom I had heard so much, and knew so little, I heard one of my prisoners remark, "a hell of a Major" and upon casting my eyes around I found them ready to burst into a derisive laughter, which I must confess took me a little back.

    At this I ordered one of the rooms forming the main building lighted, and stationed my men properly, I marched my prisoners out of the kitchen through the little hall into the room of the main building, put a guard over them and pickets around the house, I returned to the kitchen with my man now known as "Uncle Bill," to have a talk with the old gentleman while his wife was hastily preparing a nice little supper for us all. The old man again took me by the hand, thanking me for my coincidental visit, stated that the Federals had made several trips into the neighborhood after him, but heretofore succeeded in eluding their search. He also stated that the only charge they had against him was for feeding bushwhackers, and that when the soldiers came up to his house on the present occasion, just after dark, they were in the hall before he saw them, and he had no possible way of escape except through them.

Escape Uncertain

    Considering his escape so very uncertain, he resolved to submit to his fate, and that when we made our timely appearance he was a prisoner, sentenced to be executed as soon as they were done supper. He wound up his statement by saying: "Well, Major HILDEBRAND, I must confess I am very agreeably disappointed in your general appearance; I have long been anxious to see you, and am surprised that you never called on me before, but if you had done so I should never have taken you for Sam HILDEBRAND. I was led to believe, by hearing of your exploits, that you certainly were a rough looking customer, a perfect "raw-head and bloody-bones;" and that Belzebub himself would have been daunted by your ferocious appearance."

    Supper being announced eight men were left to guard the prisoners while the others were eating, until all had partaken of the sumptuous repast. We were now ready for business, we marched our prisoners out to the fence in front of the house, tied their hands securely behind them, placed them on their own horses and tied their feet together underneath. Then mounting we started south, leading the horses on which the prisoners rode. Having traveled very fast we reached a part of the country as day began to approach in which we felt perfectly safe.

    Leaving the road we went into a deep ravine about fifteen miles northeast of Bloomfield, covered with thick undergrowth and sheltered by heavy timber. Here we hung our prisoners. They were really brave fellows, and submitted to their fate without a murmur, and during our march that night they showed not the least sign of being conquered, but said they were McNEAL’s men, and that when they went into the army it was for the purpose of killing Rebels, and that some of the worst Rebels they had killed were men who were staying at home, and the most of them professing to be "loyal."

    After disposing of our prisoners, we secreted our horses in a dense thicket, and ten of us took our station on a road leading from Benton, Scott County, Missouri, to watch for Federals. We remained here nearly all day, without seeing any, and were thinking about giving it up as a bad job and returning to our camps; but when the sun was about an hour high; in the evening, we discovered five Federals winding their way slowly toward Bloomfield.

    My men were divided into two parties, and were stationed about one hundred yards apart. We allowed them to get nearly opposite the second squad of which I was one, then we stepped suddenly into the road before them and demanded a surrender, to which they submitted, but seemed very much alarmed. On calling up my men who had been stationed farther down the road, and who stood at this time behind the prisoners, they seemed somewhat relieved as they recognized one of them as being an old acquaintance, who extended his hand cordially to all of them but one, remarking to him that he would not shake hands with him "until he met him in hell."

    They now dismounted and surrendered up their arms and their horses. I then marched them out of the road to a safe distance into the woods and inquiring of my man who had recognized them, concerning their character. He reported that all of them were his acquaintances of long standing; that four of them were very clever fellows, these I released immediately; but the fifth one we hung after investigating his case.

    When night came we mounted our horses, and taking our booty with us, started back to Arkansas.