Chapter 28 - 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


[Capt. JOHN, with a company of Federal, burns the Headquarters in Green County, Arkansas. - He is "bushwhacked," routed and killed. - Raid into Washington County with fourteen men. - Attacked by twenty Federals. - Killed a Union man for piloting Capt. JOHN. ]

    A few days before my arrival in Arkansas, our little community of women and children at headquarters, were suddenly aroused from their slumbers one morning by the firing of a gun, and found themselves surrounded by a whole company of Federals under the command of Capt. JOHN from Ironton, Missouri.

    All the men were absent on different scouting expeditions, except eight men, who happened to be in camp that morning; they seized their guns and endeavored to make their escape, but seven of them were shot down, and the other made his escape unhurt. The Federals immediately commenced burning the houses after taking all the provisions and clothing they could find.

    The women in great consternation, gathered in their children, and in their night clothes huddled together in the center of the square; there in their helpless condition to watch the devouring flames that were fast winding around them and reducing their homes to ashes.

    Before the houses were all in flames, however, Capt. JOHN ordered his men to supply the women with what clothing they could snatch from the flames.

Gathered Their Children

    After their hasty toilet was concluded their terror subsided, and with perfect composure they watched the progress of the flames without betraying any emotion; they were determined that the Federals should be deprived of the satisfaction of believing that they had triumphed over their spirit of eternal enmity to the Federal cause.

    Some of our boys who had been out on a hunt now returned toward the camp, and before they were aware the Federals fired upon them and killed two of their number. As the scouts were in the habit of coming in from various directions, it was impossible to give them warning before they were completely in the Federal trap.

    A few hours after the tragedy commenced, the Federals had all left, and the women in squads of five or six, went in different direction and camped a few miles off to meet the scouts as they returned.

    My wife and her party had camped near the St. Francis River, and were living on fish when I returned. The Federals were still in the neighborhood, burning the farm houses, mills and shops.

    On the same night that I learned these particulars, I sent all my men out in different directions to ferret out the enemy and to meet at a designated place before daylight. With much difficulty we succeeded in finding several squads of the Federals, from which we inferred, that finding our men mostly absent, they had divided into many little bands to finish their work of devastating the country as soon as possible.

    We met at the time and place designated and concluded that our only chance was to "bushwhack" the Federals, and thus drive them out of the country as soon as possible. Two men were detailed to take a trip up Black River, to notify Capt. BOLIN, and as many men as they could find, of what was going on, that they might intercept the Federals and "bushwhack" them after I should succeed in routing them from the country.

    In less than an hour our company was increased to fifteen men. We hastened in foot toward the lower end of the settlement, and on getting within half a mile of a farm house, we saw about thirty Federals engaged in burning the buildings. We heard the discharge of a gun, and on looking in that direction, we saw a Federal reel in his saddle and then fall to the earth. Two soldiers on horseback immediately dashed toward the point where the shot proceeded from, and in an instant we saw a boy about thirteen years of age, crawl out of a gully and start toward the point of the hill where we were with the soldiers after him.

    The boy had so much the start of them that we saw he could easily reach us before the Federal could overtake him. We lay concealed in the thick brush and let the boy pass without seeing us; the soldiers were soon in our midst; we rose up and made them surrender without creating any alarm. We tied them securely and awaited the approach of others who might be sent out in search of these two.

A Good Head Start

    The boy was greatly overjoyed when he found out who we were. In about half an hour ten Federals came riding up toward us. Our prisoner had been removed back half a mile and hung to prevent an alarm. We saluted the Federals with a sudden discharge from our rifles, and six of them dropped from their horses; the others suddenly wheeled and made their escape. The other soldiers hastened on to an adjoining ridge and kept up a harmless fire against us for two or three hours; they did this to divert our attention as it appears, for before we were fully aware of the fact a fresh force of Federals, numbering perhaps forty men, commenced a deadly fire upon us in our rear, and soon drove us from our position. Our retreat was rather disorderly, and before we had succeeded in crossing a ravine and gaining the opposite ridge, four of my men were killed and two others slightly wounded. We continued our retreat for five miles, and then placed ourselves in position to take the Federals without much danger to ourselves. Here we remained for several hours, and were loth to leave the place, but it finally became apparent to us that the intention of the Federals was to burn out the neighborhood, and then to hasten back before we could collect our men together.

    We wound our way through the woods toward our old headquarters. Late in the evening we heard firing in front, and in an instant we started in that direction, but were soon met by eight of our men who had just returned from a scout, without knowing what was going on. As they were on the retreat we did not feel justifiable in trying to make a stand against such superior numbers, so we diverged to the right and let the Federals pass without attracting their attention.

    On the night following we succeeded in finding the Federal camp, and during the whole night continued to "bushwhack" them at intervals, until we had killed eight or ten of their pickets. The next morning they seemed to have taken up their march for Missouri, but during the whole day we annoyed them all we could, by posting ourselves in positions where we had the advantage, and they by picked off several of them. Late in the evening they made an attempt to follow us into the woods, but we attacked the party on every side; the slaughter was terrible, and we finally put them to rout after killing Capt. JOHN himself, and quite a number of his men.

    We discovered among the Federals, several citizens, who we afterwards learned had gone from Missouri for the purpose of giving all the assistance in their power toward ferreting out our headquarters.

    Wearied by constant fighting, I and my men now returned to the neighborhood of our old camp leaving a fresh supply of Capt. BOLIN’s men to continue "bushwhacking" the Federals until they should return to their hive in Ironton.

    After we had completely routed Capt. JOHN’s incendiaries and driven them from the country, our condition was indeed deplorable.

    Without shelter for our families save a few huts that the Federals did not consider worth burning, into each of which two or three families were huddled, without bedding or a change of clothing, and but little food, we were indeed in adverse circumstances. Several of our men were compelled to remain at headquarters several months to repair damages. Our families, in their crowded condition, became unhealthy, and several of the children died. While we were arranging matters for the comfort and convenience of our families we obtained our supplies from the border counties of Missouri by making short raids; our bedding and provisions, however, we obtained in a great measure, from our friends; but we occasionally branched our further to rob the stores and houses of Union men.

    Another great difficulty under which we labored was the entire absence of surgical aid for our wounded, for the want of which many of our men who recovered were so deformed that they were forever afterward rendered unfit for active duty.

Whole Available Force

    The whole available force of our community now only amounted to eighty available men, and by the time that we had rebuilt twenty houses and a temporary mill, our numbers were still further reduced by desertion, for many of them now left and went into Texas. While these repairs were going on we had a council, in which it was decided that half of our men might take the field against our enemies in Missouri, and make them pay for the damages that we had sustained. In doing this we had no intention of applying the torch to the dwellings of our Union enemies; we were never mean enough for that; we made no war upon women and children; that kind of warfare was exclusively used by our enemies of boasted civilizations, refinement and magnanimity.

    I started to Washington County, Missouri, with fourteen men to obtain supplies of clothing and ammunition. With a great deal of caution we made our way up Black River through Butler and Reynolds Counties, and entered Washington County on her extreme southern line, traveling only at night, and concealing ourselves each day among the rugged hills of Black River.

    We visited a store and packed several horses which we had taken in the neighborhood, with shoes, domestics and calicoes; and here we found some concealed ammunition, which we appropriated. On starting back we traveled slowly; not having heard of any Federals in the neighborhood, we imagined ourselves safe, and designed traveling in the day time. As we were so familiar with all the roads and by-paths in this section of country, we generally felt safe while on our return to Arkansas, but on this occasion we were doomed to disappointment.

    We had gone but a short distance into Reynolds County, when we were suddenly attacked by a party of Federals, numbering perhaps twenty or twenty-five; they had trailed us from the store we had robbed, and now they came upon us with a perfect fury.

    Being heavily packed and encumbered with the horses we were leading, we could not run; at their fire one of my men was killed, when I took advantage of their empty guns, wheeled my men into the brush, dismounted and in an instant returned their fire, at which three of their number fell; I dashed forward with about half of my men and succeeded in gaining their rear. My party in front and my men in the rear now made a simultaneous charge upon them with our revolvers, killing two more and wounding several, in which two of my men were wounded, but not mortally.

    In the fight all the other Federals charged over us and got away, with the exception of eight prisoners, three of whom were wounded. The result of the little fight was, five dead Federals, thirteen horses, eighteen guns and ten revolvers; having lost one man killed and two wounded, but not sufficiently to keep them from traveling.

    After I had inspected the damages, I turned my attention to the prisoners, who were dismounted, disarmed and sitting by the roadside, under guard. On approaching them two of them arose, called me by name and asked permission to shake hands with me. After a short conversation I found that they were two of the men I had captured on Lost Creek, in Wayne County, during the month of May, 1862, whom I released after negotiating with them for the escape of two of Capt. BOLIN’s men in prison at Ironton. On recognizing them I again gave them my hand in reassurance that I appreciated the services they had rendered us in proving true to their word, and could not help telling them that I was glad to see them. After the ceremony incident to the renewal of our acquaintance was over, I began making preparations for the continuing of our journey after having first buried the dead.

    I told our two Union friends that they were again released, together with their three wounded comrades, but that I would take the other three along with me; they; however, plead manfully for the release of their three friends, but I told them that I was compelled to have their assistance in getting along with our stock, until we reached Greenville, at which place, for their sake, I would release them, and true to my word, I did so.

    We made our way to Green County with as much haste as prudence would permit; being too much burdened to "bushwhack" any of those citizens who had accompanied Capt. JOHN into our little confederacy, we concluded to let them rest for the present; but having accidently met one in the road, I shot him through the head and rode on. We found all things cheerful about headquarters, and soon divided our goods among the needy families.