Thursday, September 15, 2005

Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand (New Edition)

I just finished reading a galley proof of a new annotated edition of the Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand, edited by Kirby Ross and published by University of Arkansas Press. Although overshadowed by his colleagues to the west, Sam Hildebrand was a notorious Missouri bushwhacker in his area of operations, mainly the southeast corner of the state. Operating with a small group of followers (and often by himself), Hildebrand and his rifle "Kill-Devil" were a terror to local Unionist civilians, Vigilance Committee members, and Missouri militiamen. Although three of his brothers were murdered, Hildebrand managed to survive the war only to be killed attempting to escape from court officers holding him on assault charges.

Hildebrand's memoir was published in 1870 and was ghost-written/edited by James W. Evans and Dr. A. Wendell Keith. Readers have a right to be skeptical of a bushwhacker self-apologia that contains often outlandish claims and is so loose with dates and time frames, but what makes this new edition worthwhile and important to the study of the Civil War in SE Missouri are the exhaustive notes researched and compiled by editor Kirby Ross. In his notes (which comprise nearly half the book), Ross takes the claims made by Hildebrand in his book and examines their validity using evidence from all available viewpoints. It is not unusual to see the author spend several pages on a single citation, providing extensive background context and excerpting articles, military reports, and letters from all sides that either support or contradict Hildebrand's story. It is an impressive effort and I actually enjoyed reading the notes more than the autobiography itself. Look for it in November.

The war in SE Missouri is a bit of a scholarly black hole, but authors like Kirby Ross look to be hard at work rectifying this. Another work of note by this author is the brief but well-researched book Battle at Jackson Fairgrounds. You can read it online here at the excellent Civil War St. Louis website. If you scroll down to the bottom of the homepage in the special collection section you can also find some of Ross' articles dealing with the various Missouri militia units created during the war.

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