Chapter 35 - 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

[Trip to Missouri with four men. - Attempt to rob TAYLOR’s store. - Fight with Lieut. BROWN
and his soldiers. - Killed MILLER and JOHNSON at Flat Woods. - Return home from his last
raid. - The war is pronounced to be at an end. - Reflections on the termination of the war. - Mrs.
HILDEBRAND’s advice. - The Parole at Jacksonport.]

    When the war first broke out in Missouri, and after the persecutions against the HILDEBRAND family had become so intolerable that I was compelled to flee the country, I owed a small debt to D.W. TAYLOR, a merchant living at Valley’s Mines, in Jefferson county.

    After the mob had destroyed my property and driven me into the Southern army for protection, it was impossible for me to pay the debt during the struggle.

    In all communities there are “land sharks’ who are willing to befriend an intended victim to a certain extent, but who are ready at the first approach of an unforseen disaster to gobble up his lands.

    In this instance TAYLOR attached my interest in the HILDEBRAND homestead, and while the country was in the ebullition of civil war, had sold it at public vendue, bidding it in himself for a mere nominal sum.

    For this little piece of ingenuity I now determined to award him with a clear title to another small tract of land, four feet by six, to have and to hold, as his own individual possession, until Gabriel should blow his horn.

    With this intention, on the 28th day of April, 1865, I started with four men for another raid into Missouri.  We made our may quietly and cautiously through the southern counties of Missouri, all of which were now held by Federal soldiers, for the protection of the citizens - the protection, however, being the same kind that the vulture gave the lamb.

    Reaching Big River late in the night, we repaired to the Pike Run hills and slept until morning.  Knowing that we would be more apt to catch TAYLOR in daytime, we started in the morning and rode over to TAYLOR’s store, which was distant only about six miles.   He was not at home, and having no time to lose, we went into his store and commenced selecting such goods as we wanted, when we were suddenly run on to by some Federal soldiers, under Lieut. BROWN, from Perry county, but who was at that time stationed at Big River Mills, with forty men, one-half of whom he had with him on the present occasion.

    They came up within two hundred yards of the store, and commenced firing and yelling at a terrible rate.  We ran out to our horses, which were tied to the brush not more than forty yards off, but on the opposite side from the soldiers.  One of my men was killed by an accidental shot, and another one who happened to be a new recruit left his horse and ran off through the woods, leaving me with an army of only two men, besides myself, to repel the attack of twenty regulars.

    The Federals, however, after their first fire, took refuge behind some old houses about one hundred and fifty yards off, and from there showed us a very harmless and cowardly fight.   After I gained my horse, I used him for a fortification and shot several rounds at them; occasionally I could see one’s head bob around a corner, but they were out of range, and my shots fell harmless to the ground.  My other two men now left me alone, and for several minutes I remained, trying to get a dead shot at one of the Federals; but having no chance to do so, without charging them myself, I mounted my horses and charged and shot several times after I left.  I went on to an adjoining hill, but failing to find my men, I rattled my cow bell, which I had with me for emergencies of this kind, and in half an hour my three men were with me.

    Having made a complete failure, it is not unreasonable to suppose that we felt very much chagrined at our ill luck, and knowing that if we started south then, we would be annoyed by Federals on our trail, we repaired again to the Pike Run hills for safety, where we could easily have whipped all the forces within the three surrounding counties.  My comrade who was on foot went about four miles to the house of an old acquaintance and obtained a horse, by promising to return him again in six weeks; which promise, I will here state, he afterwards faithfully

Nearly Middle of May

    It was now about the middle of May, and we were anxious to be on our way back; so we started one night and went as far as Flat Woods.

    Before McILVAINE and the soldiers had driven me from there, I became acquainted with two men, George MILLER and Joseph JOHNSON, who professed great friendship for me; but some time after my expulsion from that neighborhood, they visited my house and used abusive language to my wife, making threats what they intended to do with me.  JOHNSON had the impudence to remark that he intended to kill me and bring my head to her swinging to the horn of his saddle.

    These were not vain threats, for they watched for me for a long time; but after they learned a little more about me, they were very shy, and up the present time I never got my eyes upon either of them.

    Late in the evening, on the next day after our arrival in the neighborhood, as I was passing a house I saw a lady dressing some butter, and wishing for a good drink of buttermilk, I alighted a moment and went in the house.  As I was dressed in Federal uniform, the good woman asked me if I was hunting for Sam HILDEBRAND; on telling her that I was, she went on to give me the particulars of our affray at TAYLOR’s store, ascribing to the Federal arms the most brilliant victory, by stating that “Lieut. BROWN, with only twenty men, ran upon HILDEBRANDS’s
Bushwhackers and completely routed them, killing fourteen and wounding several more; a great many soldiers are now after him, and have him surrounded in a place where he can never get back here to bother us again!”  I asked her if she would please give Sam HILDEBRAND a drink of buttermilk?  She looked at me a moment and then replied: “Yes sir; you can have all in the churn if you want it.”

    Not long after leaving there, I found Mr. MILLER in his field and shot him.  After night I found Mr. JOHNSON at home, took him out of the house, and cut off his head with my bowie knife.

    The reader will perceive that the threats of JOHNSON would have been completely reversed if I had carried his head to his wife swinging to the horn of my saddle; but instead of imitating his designs any further, I leisurely pursued my way home to our headquarters in Green County, Arkansas.

    On the next day after my arrival at home, Capt. BOLIN called on me and stated that he wished us all to meet him at headquarters that evening at three o’clock.  At the time appointed I was there, and so were about forty more of the boys, most of whom had just returned from their various scouts.

    The Captain seemed a little agitated, and for several minutes after we were all assembled he did not say a word.  Presently he began, and these are about his words:

    “GENTLEMEN: It is my wish that we remain quietly at headquarters a few days until my other scouting parties return.

    “I wish to say to you now that, in my opinion, this war has virtually closed.  General LEE, the great head and front of all our hopes, as you are already aware, was compelled to succumb to superior numbers, and surrendered on the 12th day of April.  General JOHNSTON surrendered on the 18th of the same month.  The hopes held out by General Kirby SMITH in his general order issued at Shreveport can never be realized.

    “The Southern Confederacy is at an end; our course must be governed by circumstances over which we have no control.

    “The course we have pursued during the struggle is only justified by the fact that a great war existed.  While the eyes of the world have been riveted on great actors and on events of an astounding magnitude, the minor details of the struggle have been overlooked.  That condition of affairs now no longer exists; the war has ceased, and our operations must cease also.

    “Finally, it is my request that each and every one of you submit manfully to the same terms that have been forced upon our great chieftains; that is: Lay down your arms, surrender on parole, and return to the pursuits of peace.”

    This little speech fell like a wet blanket on most of the men, and I must confess that I was one of that number; but we held Capt. BOLIN in such high esteem that not a murmur of dissent was suffered to drop from the lips of any of his men.

    On the next day, however, the matter was fully discussed in every camp.   Nine-tenths of the men fully endorsed the statements made by our noble captain, and I could not but acknowledge that his reasoning seemed plausible; yet I was annoyed beyond all measure by the reflection that the war had suddenly ceased before I was done fighting.

    I cared not so much about the general result.  I knew but little, and cared still less, about the great political problem that the war was supposed to have solved, nor to the technical question discussed by old fossil statesmen, whether the States formed the Union or the Union formed the States, whether the South had inherent rights or whether inherent rights had the South, whether the General Government was a restricted agent of the people, or whether the people were the restricted agents of the General Government.

    These questions probably originated with the ante-diluvians, and they ought to have been left to a committee of twelve Egyptian mummies, with the “man in the moon” for chairman.

    The practical question with me was, whether all the scoundrels in the nation were yet killed off or not.  As far as my knowledge extended, the war had only gobbled up about one-tenth of them.

    Most of those men who had composed the Vigilance mob on Big River were yet alive.  They were in the center of military camps, crawling around the feet of Federal officers, and whining for protection against my vengeance.

    To reach them it would be necessary to overthrow the Federal power; just that far my heart was in the National war.

    My mind was troubled by the reflection that as soon as the war should be ended, all those cowardly miscreants would crawl out from their hiding places, boast of their loyalty, make a grand rush for office, swing their hats, and cry out: “Well, didn’t we whip them?”

    I made up my mind that, for my part, I would take as many of the boys as were determined never to surrender, escape to Texas if possible, fight under Gen. Kirby SMITH until he should surrender, and then make our way into Mexico - there to annoy the Federal Government all I could until I could get another “whack” at my old enemies.
    I thought, however, that I would consult my wife for once, and see what she thought about it.  She looked serious for a minute, and then burst out into a laugh.

    “I once heard about some little boys,” she said, “who were left at home by their parents, who had gone to church.  One of them discovered a rat which had taken refuge under a pile of lumber in the yard; but the boys tore away the lumber, splitting about half the boards.   The rat then ran under the ash-hopper, and when that was torn down it took refuge under the barn floor.  One of the boys ran to the house for matches, in order to burn out the rat; but his little sister, the youngest one in the crowd, cried out: “If you burn the rat we will have no barn!”   The boys saw the force of her reasoning, and made peace with the rat.  So I would advise you to make no further efforts toward destroying the Federal barn for such a purpose.”

    I must confess that this little speech from my wife, given in such good humor, contained a little more good sense than anything I had heard for a long time.

    It sounded a little like a Union speech, and seemed strange on that account; but, although I had not at first the least idea of ever swerving from my purpose, yet I now determined to follow her advice, for I concluded that as she had waded through the hardships of war with a devotion to me that has but few parallels in the history of mankind, I ought to respect her comfort as well as my own.

    On the next day I told Capt. BOLIN that I consented to his arrangement.   He started on to Jacksonport to give in the list of his men, and I started a few days afterwards to the same place, and received my parole on the 26th day of May, 1865, the very day on which General Kirby SMITH surrendered at Shreveport.

    The war now being over, I tried to banish the subject from my mind as much as possible, and soon went to work on the place I still occupied, for no owner had yet returned to claim it.   Most of our men were afraid to return to their homes in Missouri while a remembrance of our depredations were still fresh in the minds of the people, and went to farming in different parts of Green County.

    With what I captured during the war I did not have more than half as much property as I had lost by the hands of the Vigilance mob in Missouri.

    One might suppose that, from the name my enemies gave me, I might have grown rich by my depredations during the war; but such was not the fact; plunder was only a secondary consideration with me; I resorted to it merely to sustain myself while I pursued my main leading object - that of killing my enemies.

    We sustained ourselves during the whole war off of our enemies.   If objections are made to that kind of warfare, I can point to the example of Sherman, in Georgia, and to a host of other Federal commanders, both great and small, even down to the at pigmy lump of insignificance - The Big River Militia.  But, unlike those illustrious examples, we did not charge our government with anything we captured; neither was I a burden to the Confederacy to the amount of one dollar; neither did I ever stoop so low as to become an incendiary, and burn out my enemies.  I
left that for the Indians to do, and for those who saw proper to imitate them.

    So, at the close of the war, and in fact during its whole continuance I was poor, and my family were in straitened circumstances; but I went to work and raised a good crop of corn and everything else that we needed.  In the spring of 1866 I rented another place in a better locality, and farmed on a larger scale.  This I also did on the year following, and at the close of 1867 I had succeeded in rendering myself and family as comfortable as could be expected.

    The negro boy I had taken from Free Jim in St. Francois county still remained with me; he was free, I suppose, but he seemed to prefer good living and light work to “free starvation.”