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Legend of St. Francois County
SAM HILDEBRANDS CONFESSION
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979
Confessions of Sam HILDEBRAND
TYPISTS 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
[Commanded the advance guard in PRICEs raid. - The Federals burn Doniphan. - Routed them completely. - Captured some at Patterson. - Killed ALBRIGHT at Farmington. - Left PRICEs army. - Killed four Federals. - Maj. MONTGOMERY storms Big River Mills. - Narrow escape from capture.]
It is not my purpose to give a history of PRICEs raid into Missouri further than to narrate a few facts connected with my own operations.
In September, 1864, by request, I took charge of the advance guard after all arrangements were made for the grand campaign. The dispatch that came to me, having stated that General PRICE designed taking Missouri and holding it, I felt that a great honor was conferred upon me, and was pleased beyond measure with the prospect of being once more enabled to triumph over my enemies and to peaceably establish myself at the home of my childhood, among the blissful scenes of my earlier years.
While these day-dreams were passing through my excited imagination, I repaired to the designated point and found that my command consisted of a party of ragged Missourians, about forty in number, some of whom I knew. Keeping pace with the main body of the army, we traveled not more than fifteen miles each day. Nothing of importance occurred until we reached the town of Doniphan in Ripley County, Missouri; when, on approaching the place, we discovered large volumes of smoke arising from the town. We put spurs to our horses and hastened into the place as soon as possible; finding that the Federals in evacuating the place, had set fire to every house but one, and that belonged to a Federal officer, we concluded that it had better burn also. We arrived in time to save the mill which seemed to have burned very slowly. It appears that McNEALs and LEEPERs men were on their way to burn up our Green County Confederacy, but ascertaining that PRICE was on his march for Missouri, they set fire to the town and decamped. We pursued and overtook them before they got to Greenville, had a little skirmish, lost two men killed and four wounded, captured sixteen Federals and shot them, rushed on to the town of Patterson, captured eleven negroes and seven white men in Federal uniform and shot them. While the main army advanced slowly I scouted in front of it with my command; but Federals and Union men were very scarce; I still held the advance however, passing through Greenville, Bloomfield, Fredericktown and Farmington; all of which were evacuated before our arrival, and through which I passed with my force without molesting any one with one exception. On reaching Farmington no resistance was offered; the people were somewhat alarmed, but all surrendered quietly except a German, named ALBRIGHT, who ran when we approached, refused to halt, and was shot of course.
Finally, reaching the Iron Mountain Railroad at Mineral Point, we tore up the road, burned several bridges, and tore down the telegraph; but finding no one to kill, I left the command, according to previous agreement, and hastened to the neighborhood of my personal enemies. Finding none of them there to kill I employed myself in recruiting for the Southern army, and succeeded in the short space of six days in getting a full company, who were sworn in, and under Capt. HOLMES went into the Southern service. While laboring for the cause of the South I was at the residence of Maj. Dick BERRYMAN at the stone house in Bogys Lead Mines, near Big River, with a portion of Capt. HOLMES men, when four Federals who had escaped from the fort at Ironton during the siege, came along the road; with but little difficulty we effected their capture, shot them and threw their bodies into a mineral hole.
The main army did not remain long in our section of the country; Gen. PRICE indeed was a great military chieftain, but his present campaign through Missouri seemed to lack design; from the time he entered the State until he left it, he garrisoned no post in the rear. Pilot Knob, the terminus of the railroad from St. Louis and the depot for supplies for all Southeast Missouri was taken, and then abandoned on the next day; he made his way to Missouri River and then up that stream in the direction of Kansas for several hundred miles without molestation whatever, leaving St. Louis, the great commercial key of the West, almost "spoiling to be taken." The great Missouri chieftain left St. Louis to his right, while the heavy force at that place were quietly taking possession of the abandoned posts in his rear. If he had joined the "Independent Bushwhacking Department of the Confederate States of America with all his men, in less than thirty days there would not have been a Federal soldier west of the Mississippi. While Maj. BERRYMAN and a few other officers stayed in St. Francois County recruiting, the main army gained the Missouri River and was quietly making a blind march in the direction of Idaho.
The Federal forces took possession of the Iron Mountain railroad, and on one pleasant afternoon in October, our new recruits armed with their shot guns and squirrel rifles were run into by Maj. MONTGOMERY of the Sixty Missouri Cavalry and completely routed, in which their loss was seven killed and all the balance missing. MONTGOMERY also killed several citizens, whose names were FITE, VANDOVER, and Judge HAILE, the father of Irvine M. HAILE, who was previously murdered by MILKs men.
On the day before Maj. MONTOGMERY routed the new recruits at Big River Mills, I went with some men to Cadet on the railroad and took from the store of Mr. KELLERMAN a wagon load of goods which I delivered up to Maj. BERRYMAN, who distributed them among his men. Maj. MONTGOMERY, with two companies of the Sixth Missouri Cavalry, struck our trail and followed us nearly into camp; but when he ran into the pickets they obeyed the orders I had previously given, and ran in a different direction from the camp, thereby leading the Federal away from our squad of raw recruits, and giving them time to escape. I was not at Big River Mills when MONTGOMERY stormed the place, but was at St. Joseph Lead Mines, when he passed. I was sitting on my horse talking to a lady, when the first thing that I saw of them they were within a few yards of me; I assumed an air of unconcern and continued the conversation; on discovering that they were eyeing me very closely, I turned my horse and rode within a few feet of the column in the direction they were going, talking back to the lady until I was too far off to continue the conversation. I then found myself near a lieutenant whom I addressed as captain, asking him in a very awkward manner if he was going to Big River Mills to drive the Rebels off, which he answered in the affirmative. I told him that I would like to help if I had a gun, but he told me very curtly that he wanted no men who were not drilled. My horse seemed to be a little lame and I gradually fell back, talking all the time to the man opposite me until the last one had passed. I kicked and "cussed" my horse to try to keep up but I could not do it. On getting about one hundred yards behind I availed myself of an opportunity at a turn in the road and took to the woods; the lameness of my horse was very much improved, but I could not beat them into the town; however, I knew that the pickets would lead them off some other way. They did so but were overtaken and killed at the ford above the mill pond.
The new recruits were within hearing of the guns and "broke for tall timber." The short sojourn of the Confederate forces in Missouri was indeed a severe blow to the course I had marked out for myself. In my excited imagination I had raised the veil and looked down the vista of time, beheld the Southern arms triumphant, our country again restored to peace and prosperity, and my little family and my aged mother leaning upon my arm for support at the old homestead, surrounded by all the endearments of our once happy days. But I was awakened from my dream by the unhappy termination of PRICEs raid; it impressed my mind very forcibly with the fact that the people of Missouri were tired of the war and would sacrifice but little more at the shrine of their political convictions. In fact a large majority of them were compelled by circumstance beyond their control to remain at home and take their chances. The atrocities committed in their midst by men professing Union sentiments finally failed to elicit from them a casual remark.
When the war began, the American people were untutored in regard to the cruelties of war; in fact, I am inclined to the opinion that there was not a nation upon earth which had formed the most remote conception of the cruelties of the American people, with all their boasted moral and religious training. Even the words of political bias expressed in times of peace, many years before the war commenced, while yet almost the whole nation was of the same opinion, were treasured up and resurrected against certain citizens, for which their lives were taken.
From a contemplation of this unwelcome subject I turned my mind, and through my native woods I traveled alone to my home in Arkansas, with my fond hopes crushed, and my spirits below zero.
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