Chapter 33 - 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


[Gloomy prospects for the South. - Takes a trip to Missouri with four men. - Saved from capture by a woman. - Visits his mother on Big River. - Robs the store of J.V. TYLER at Big River Mills. - Escapes to Arkansas.]

    I had a long conversation with Capt. BOLIN, who had just returned from an expedition on the head waters of Current River concerning the probable termination of the war.

    He was a man of considerable intelligence, and I always noticed on his return from a raid his pockets were stuffed full of Yankee newspapers.

    I found him sitting on a log deeply absorbed in examining his miscellaneous pile of news.

    "Well, Captain! what’s the news from the North? Are they ready to give it up yet?"

    "Give it up, indeed! Sam, the war is very near to a close."

    "I thought so! I knew they could not hold out much longer; I suppose we have killed nearly half of them; I hope they will grin and bear it until we get another swipe at them!"

    "I rather think they will! but Sam, it is the South which is going under; her fate is already sealed."

    "What makes you think so?"

    "I think so because the great armies of the Confederacy are crippled and almost annihilated; their whole country is overrun and impoverished by immense Northern armies; I fear that our great chieftains will be compelled to yield, and when they go under, our little fighting here must also stop."

    "Ah, Captain, you get that from your Yankee papers; I can’t believe anything that they contain."

    I must acknowledge, however, that I was somewhat staggered by Capt. BOLIN’s candid remarks, I immediately selected four men, being determined to make another trip to see whether the Federals had literally swallowed up the whole country or not.

    We made our way up Black River, thinking that we would be very likely to make the trip on that route without ever seeing a Federal.

    One evening, on the first day of March, 1865, after remaining in a thicket nearly all day, we concluded to approach the house of a friend with whom we had stopped on a previous trip. A terrible rain storm was coming up, and we thought we could leave our horses where they were and repair to the house for shelter until the rain should cease.

    Our friend was from home; he had gone toward Springfield to look after his son whom he feared had been murdered by some of the roving bands of Federals. We learned from the good woman that none of the enemy had passed that road for a long time; so feeling perfectly safe we repaired to the barn intending to get a little sleep, but took the precaution to crawl up into the loft and over the hay into a low place near the wall.

Awakened By Wagon

    Directly after dark we were awakened by the noise of a large empty wagon that was driven up to the barn, just under our window; on peeping out the truth flashed across our minds in an instant that not less than fifty Federal soldiers were in the barn yard all around us; but on watching their maneuvers a few minutes, we became satisfied that they knew nothing of our presence.

    The barn floor below us was soon full of them and in a few minutes eight or ten of them crawled up through the window on the hay and rolled up in their blankets, between us and the window. Our escape seemed impossible; we could not slip out the window without stepping on the soldiers; we might indeed lay still and escape detection for a while, but we knew full well that as soon as it was light enough they would load their wagon with the hay and be sure to discover us. For once I was at my wit’s end.

    In this predicament we lay for two long hours, when all at once we heard the alarm of fire; our good woman was calling lustily for help. In the corner of the yard about fifty feet from the house there stood a little cabin that had once been her dwelling house but which was now used as a kind of receptacle for old boxes and barrels.

    This house was in flames, and we learned afterwards that she set it on fire herself to draw the soldiers from the barn so that we might effect our escape. In this she succeeded admirably; everyone broke for the fire and prevented it from catching the main building, while we made our escape without any trouble whatever. We took a long breath of relief, mounted our horses and made one good night’s travel. Passing near the town of Buford then west of Fredericktown, we arrived in the vicinity of Flat Woods and remained concealed in a thick forest during the day. In the evening, two of my men who were dressed in Federal uniform, wandered off from the camp and were discovered by a citizen named John MYERS, who mistook them for Union soldiers and immediately commenced telling them how, thus far, he had succeeded in deceiving the Rebels. He handed them a sheet paper on which he had written out a full report of his success in ferreting out the friends of Sam HILDEBRAND in that neighborhood. He stated that he was in the habit of reporting to the Rebels also, and to prove the matter he drew from his pocket a half worn paper purporting to be an account of the Federal movements in that section of country. He manifested a great desire for my capture, and when they told him that I had actually been captured and was a prisoner at their camp near by, he waved his hat and shouted like an Indian. They brought him into camp to satisfy his curiosity; but on discovering that I was not tied he started to retreat, but was stopped by my men. As soon as night began to approach we shot him and proceeded on toward Big River, but stopped in the pinery northwest from Farmington, where we remained two days. On leaving there we took supper with a friend near Big River Mills and proceeded down the river to the old HILDEBRAND homestead.

PRICE’s Raid Into Section

    During PRICE’s raid into that section of country I left word for my enemies that they should build my mother another house at the old homestead in lieu of the one they had burned, otherwise, I would burn the last one of them out. Some of my friends, however, seeing that they were slow about commencing it, and wished perhaps to screen them, met together and in a very short time built her a cabin, which answered her purpose very well for a temporary abode. Into this cabin she removed, and there I found her on the night of March 6th, 1865.

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Log Cabin Built for Mother of Sam Hildebrand After Main House Was Burned

    I left my men and horses in a secure place near by, and quietly approached the premises where once had been the happy home of my childhood. It was late at night when I called at the door, but my mother had not yet retired; knowing my voice she laid her spectacles upon her open Bible where she had been reading, and softly opened the door. Her motherly arms entwined around my neck, the same arms that had so often lulled me to sleep in my innocent childhood, that had so often clasped me to her bosom and made me feel secure from all the dangers and storms of life. My heart beat strangely as all those dear scenes and all the events of my life in one short minute crowded through my memory. I could not help contrasting her own condition at the happy period with the cheerless present. As she took her seat I could not help noticing the calm serenity of her countenance; a quiet resignation seemed to pervade her nature. Considering the terrible loss that her kind heart had sustained in the cruel death of her three boys, and in the utter uprooting of all her cherished hopes in this world, I was at a loss to account for it, and was about to express my wonder when she seemed to divine my thoughts before my question was formed, and with a slight motion of her hand toward the Bible, she said in a faltering tone: "My dear boy! you are more unhappy that I am!" The remark was so true, that I wished I had the power to obliterate the past, and to commence life again as a little frolicsome boy around my mother’s chair.

    I remained with her most of the time during the next day. It was her impression that the war was near its close; that the triumph of the Union cause was almost complete, and she insisted strongly that when the Southern soldiers should lay down their arms, that I with the rest would yield obedience to the government and claim its protection.

    I was so softened by this interview with my mother, that I almost forgot my enemies; and I made up my mind to return to Arkansas without killing anyone if I could do so with safety to myself.

    But it was necessary that I and my men should take some goods with us, for our families, at this time, were rather needy; and believing that friends as well as foes should bear a part of the burden of our suffering families, inasmuch as all our energies had been directed to the accomplishment of an object which they so strenuously contemplated was right, we concluded to make a small raid into the town of Big River Mills, that my friends might still know we were on the war path. We started late in the evening and kept along the main road, arriving in town between sundown and dark. We went to the store of J.V. TYLER, and helped ourselves to such articles as we actually needed. After mounting our horses we did not remain long to see the balance of our friends, but hurried on all that night to get as far beyond the gravel road at night as possible.

    We lay up to rest ourselves during the day; but about two o’clock in the evening, we discovered a considerable force of Federals on our track; they came to the place where our trail commenced winding around the hill, and there they began to move very cautiously.

    I plainly saw from their movements that they had learned my trick of making a circuit before camping; this being the case I determined to escape by the same knowledge. We started very cautiously down the hill in an opposite direction, rode about three miles, made another circuit and went on in a great hurry. Every few miles we made a similar curve, but continued on, and by the time they had crept cautiously up to the last place we were far beyond their reach.

    We had no further trouble with the Federals and reached Arkansas with all our goods.