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The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri
Local History

A Look at Both Sides of the Civil War

 One of the great benefits to the popularity of Civil War books is that important volumes which have long been out of print get new life with a modern edition.  Through its series The Civil War in the West, the University of Arkansas Press has reprinted many hard to find titles about the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, (west of the Mississippi River).  Two of their best reprints are, A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas: Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, and Times of Peace by William Monks, and the Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand: The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker.

Hildebrand and Monks were notorious guerrilla fighters who operated in southeast Missouri and northern Arkansas.  Since Hildebrand was a Confederate sympathizer, and Monks was a Unionist, their books provide valuable insight into both sides of the irregular war.  Ironically, both Hildebrand and Monks became guerrillas after being assaulted by the opposing side.  Their stories reveal how easily neighbors became enemies, and by claiming they only acted in self-defense, Hildebrand and Monks waged a brutal, personal war against those who had done them wrong.

Hildebrand told his story to James W. Evans and A. Wendell Keith, M.D., longtime friends who published the book in 1870.  Although Hildebrand did not write the book, and could not even read it, its graphic depiction of guerrilla warfare leaves no doubt as to its authenticity.

Hildebrand and his family were targeted by the Vigilance Committee in St. Francois County, a group led by local Unionists.  The vigilantes wounded Hildebrand and burned his home.  After his brother was hanged, Sam and his family fled to Arkansas and joined Captain Nathan Bolin’s guerrilla company.  There was no patriotic motivation for Hildebrand; rather, the war was a struggle against his neighbors “Of the real merits of this war I knew but little and cared still less…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.”  Armed with the gun he named “kill-devil”, Hildebrand hunted his enemies without mercy, and assured the reader, “I make no apology to mankind for my acts of retaliation; I make no whining appeal to the world for sympathy.  I sought revenge and I found it; the key of hell was not suffered to rust in the lock while I was on the war path.”

 Despite its title, A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas is primarily Monks’ memoir.  A vocal Unionist in Howell County Mo., Monks was arrested by soldiers in Captain Michael Forshee’s Company of the Missouri State Guard.  Monks escaped after almost a month in captivity, and swore he would kill Forshee for his suffering.  Monks went to Forshee’s home where he found his enemy still in bed.  Forshee begged Monks not kill him because he wanted to raise his children.  Monks angrily told Forshee he should have thought about that when their roles were reversed, and ordered him to get out of bed.  Forshee knelt by the cradle of his six month old child, but Monks was unmoved.  Monks recalled he “was in the act of praying, his wife still standing close by.  The author ordered him to get up; that it was too late to pray after the devil came; that I had been appointed by the devil to send him up at once and he had the coals hot and ready to receive him.”  Despite his threats, Monks took Forshee to the guard house at West Plains.

Both books were expertly edited by outstanding researchers.  For Monks, the detailed introduction by John Bradbury and Lou Wehmer offer important insight on both the book and the author.  A post-war politician, and frequent litigant in county courthouses, Monks remained a polarizing figure in southeast Missouri until his death in 1913.  Kirby Ross, likewise, did an outstanding job with Hildebrand’s memoir.  His exhaustive notes provide valuable evidence for evaluating Hildebrand’s claims, and often reveal how accurate the guerrilla’s story is.  Reading these books, one can only wonder what would have happened if Hildebrand and Monks had ever met.

Other titles in this series owned by the Springfield-Greene County Library are:

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