Chapter 6 - 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

[Interview with Gen. Jeff. THOMPSON. - Receives a Major’s Commission. - Interview with
Captain BOLIN. - Joins the “Bushwhacking Department.”]

    Captain BOLIN with most of his forces were somewhere in the vicinity of Bloomfield, Missouri, and as I was anxious to identify myself with the army, I got the use of a horse as soon as I was able to ride, and in company with several others proceeded across the swampy country east of the St. Francis river, for the purpose of joining General Jeff. THOMPSON.  I reached his headquarters in safety, and stayed about camp, frequently meeting acquaintances from Missouri and occasionally getting news from home.   As soon as I could gain admission to the General’s headquarters I did so, and he received me very kindly.  He listened very attentively to me as I proceeded to state my case to him - how my brother had been murdered, how I had barely escaped the same fate, and how I had finally been driven from the country.

Receives Commission

    General THOMPSON reflected a few moments, then seizing a pen he rapidly wrote off a few lines and handing it to me he said, “here, I give you a Major’s commission; go where you please, take what men you can pick up, fight on your own hook, and report to me every six months.”  I took the paper and crammed it down into my pantaloon’s pocket and walked out.  I could not read my commission, but I was determined to ask no one to read it for me, for that would be rather degrading to my new honor.

    I retired a little distance from camp and taking my seat on an old cypress log, I reflected how the name of “Major Sam HILDEBRAND” would look in history.  I did not feel comfortable over the new and very unexpected position in which I had been place.  I knew nothing of military tactics; I was not certain whether he was merely a bottle washer under a Captain.  I determined that if the latter was the case, that I would return to Green county and serve under Captain BOLIN.

    As I had no money with which to buy shoulderstraps, I determined to fight without them.  I was rather scarce of money just at that time; if steamboats were selling at a dollar a piece, I did not have money enough to buy a canoe paddle.  I stayed in camp, however, several days taking lessons, and hearing tales of blood and pillage from the scouts as they came in from various directions.

    By this time my wound felt somewhat easier, so I mounted my horse and made my way back to Green county, and arrived safely at Captain BOLIN’s headquarters.  The Captain was at home, and I immediately presented myself before him.  He said he had heard of me from one of his scouts, and was highly gratified that one of his men had seen proper to have me conveyed to his headquarters.

    “I presume” said he, “that you have been to the headquarters of General Jeff. THOMPSON.   Did you see the ‘Old Swamp Fox?”

    “What did he do for you?”

    Here I pulled my commission from my pocket, that now looked more like a piece of gunwadding than anything else, and handed it to the Captain.

    “Well, Major HILDEBRAND - “

    ”Sam, if you please.”

    “Very well then, what do you propose to do?”

    “I propose to fight.”

     “But Major - “

    ”Sam, if you please.”

    “All right sir?  Sam, I see that you have the commission of a Major.”

    “Well, Captain, I can explain that matter: he formed me into an independent company of  my own - to pick up a few men if I can get them - go where I please - when I please - and when I go against my old personal enemies up in Missouri, I am expected to do a Major part of the fighting myself.”

    At this the Captain laughed heartily, and after rummaging the contents of an old box he drew forth something that looked to me very much like a bottle.  After this ceremony was over he remarked:


    “Well, sir, the commission I obtained is of the same kind.  I have one hundred and twenty-five men, and we are what is denominated ‘Bushwhackers’; we carry on a war against our enemies by shooting them; my men are from various sections of the country, and each one perhaps has some grievance to redress at home; in order to enable him to do this effectually we give him all the aid that he may require; after he sets things to right in his section of country, he promptly comes back to help the others in return; we thus swap work like the farmers usually do in harvest time.  If you wish an interest in this joint stock mode of fighting you can unite your destiny with ours, and be entitled to all our privileges.”

    Captain BOLIN’s  proposition was precisely what I so ardently desired.  Of the real merits of this war I knew but little and cared still less.  To belong to a large army and be under strict military discipline, was not pleasing to my mind; to be brought up in a strong column numbering several thousands, and be hurled in regular order against a mass of men covering three or four miles square, against whom I had no personal spite, would not satisfy my spirit of revenge.  Even in a fierce battle fought between two large opposing armies, not more than one man out of ten can succeed in killing his man; in a battle of that kind he would have no more weight than a gnat on a bull’s horn.

    I was fully satisfied that the “Bushwhacking department” was the place for me, with the continent for a battlefield and everlasting woods for my headquarters.