Sunday, September 7, 2014

The St. Albans Raid

Since I've lived in the Northwestern Vermont, I've heard references to and seen signs for the St. Albans Raid. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I assumed it was something that happened related to the War of 1812 or something more obscure. I did not realize until recently that it was an American Civil War event. When I think of Civil War battles, I don't think of Vermont; I think of Pennsylvania or Virginia. Vermont is too far north yet, the St. Albans Raid was a American Civil War event, not so much a battle, unlike any other.

Bennet Young was a Confederate soldier who escaped to Canada. He made his way back to the Confederacy by way of Nova Scotia and Bermuda. He met with Confederate Generals with his idea to attack Northern cities. St. Albans, Vermont was a railroad town about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. At the time St. Albans had around 4,000 residents, now it has over 6,000. The railroad in town, the Vermont and Canada Railroad, was owned by the governor at the time, J. Gregory Smith.  The town had three banks. The idea was to attack the city, rob the banks and then burn it to the ground. The intent was to help the Confederacy with their financial problems and divert the North's attention to protect their cities from surprise attacks. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant and given a group of 21 cavalrymen to return to Canada with to organize the raid.

They arrived in St. Albans via train from Montreal in cells of 2 or 3 men on October 10th to the 19th of 1864 with the cover story that they were on a sporting vacation and took rooms in local hotels. On the morning of October  19th, Young sat in the hallway of the American House awaiting, reading his Bible as the soldiers gathered. He was posing as a preacher. At 3pm, they stood on separate street corners which is now Main Street and started yelling something about taking the city for the Confederacy. The townsfolk quickly understood that this wasn't a joke when their three banks started getting rob simultaneously while many of them were held at gun point in Taylor Park for their horses.

Obviously, the town was never burned to the ground. The damp rainy day prevent them from lighting their bottles of Greek fire. One of these buildings is still a bank (TD Bank), another holds an art gallery now and the other building no longer stands, the local Toyota dealer is there now. One town person was killed and another wounded as they got out of town heading north with $208,000.00. The only building that was destroyed was a shed. As they headed out of town, they diverted their trip north to go northeast and then east. They headed toward a town called Sheldon because it also had a bank, but the bank was closed. They set fire to a bridge that was put out immediately by the local preacher. The bridge survived for another 100 years. They stole a horse while in town from the house in the picture below. In the upstairs bedroom lie a Yankee veteran who was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia earlier that year. Ironically, he was the nephew of Reverend Reuel Keith, who married Robert E. Lee and his bride, Mary.
Reverend Keith is buried next door behind the Presbyterian church in downtown Sheldon. 

This was the time of the telegraph. So word got out of their approaching the border so they split up as they reached Enosburg, a larger town than Sheldon. The raiders made it into Canada where they were arrested but eventually freed. Only $88,000.00 were recovered. Local legend is that one of the local farmers found the remainder in a hole in the ground and built a beautiful brick house that still stands. 

At the time, the raid was considered a success. Yankee General Philip Sheridan was ripping through the Shenandoah Valley so any victory helped the spirits of the Confederacy. The raid did scare many of the American towns on the border of Canada thinking they were next. Canadians at the time were still British subjects and were afraid to be pulled into the war. The raid turned popular opinion against the Confederacy.

1 comment:

Olga Hebert said...

I could not have lived with Mike for twenty years without knowing this, but I did not learn about it in any history class I ever took. Interesting what gets left out sometimes.