Eyewitness Report of Civil War Attack – in Vermont!

On 19 October 1864, a little-known incident occurred during the Civil War: Confederate forces attacked Vermont, robbing three banks in the town of St. Albans – the northernmost land action of the war. Lt. Bennett H. Young led 20 Confederate soldiers, who had crossed over from Canada, on the daring afternoon raid meant to replenish the Confederate treasury.

Photo: Bennett H. Young, the Confederate officer who led the St. Albans Raid
Photo: Bennett H. Young, the Confederate officer who led the St. Albans Raid. Credit: University of Louisville Libraries Digital Collections; Wikimedia Commons.

After the robberies, the raiders – fleeing on stolen horses with over $200,000 – were arrested by Canadian authorities after crossing the border 15 miles away. However, they were freed (without their loot, which was returned to the banks) when a Canadian court ruled they were military men following orders, not common criminals.

A reporter stepped out of the local paper’s downtown office that day and witnessed the raid. His gripping account appeared the next day in the St. Albans Daily Messenger.

An article about the Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont, during the Civil War, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 20 October 1864
St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 20 October 1864, page 2

Here is a transcription of this article:

The Invasion of St. Albans

St. Albans has been surprised – excited. At about half-past three o’clock yesterday, our peaceable community was taken somewhat aback to find in our streets a company of some twenty or thirty armed horsemen. The meaning of it, it was impossible to divine. Men rushed from their stores and offices, not, perhaps, paralyzed with fear, but with wonderment. One enquired of another, “what does this mean?” “They are armed with revolvers!” “It is a rebel raid; they mean to destroy the village,” were the exclamations that greeted us on all sides as we entered the street. We knew not ourself what it meant, and the neighbors, of whom we enquired, were equally ignorant. We saw men proceeding from the livery establishment of Wm. & E. D. Fuller, with horses, unharnessed, lead by the ostler of the establishment, who said he would ride them – “No,” said the man who ordered them, “We will take care of our own horses.” Jumping on to them with impetuous haste, large navy revolvers showed themselves in the hands of all the mounted men. Mr. E. D. Fuller, who was then approaching the “scene,” exclaimed: “What does this mean; take back those horses.” “God d­–m you, if you don’t keep still we will shoot you,” producing their revolvers. The next part of the programme was the appearance of Fuller with a poor six-shooter. He stood near the shoe shop of Mr. Bildad Paul, and tried to shoot his gun, but for three consecutive times the thing failed to give other utterance than a “click.” Mr. E. J. Morrison, the contractor for our large hotel, was standing on the steps of Miss Beattie’s shop, just one door north of the Messenger office, with hand on the latch of the door, and received a shot through his right hand, which was in his pocket, passing through his bowels. He staggered to the stairway of the Messenger office, exclaiming “I’m shot,” pressing his hand at the same time upon his stomach. One or two of the Messenger hands immediately assisted him to the Drug Store of L. L. Dutcher & Son, where medical help was immediately summoned.

While this was going on, the more southern part of Main Street was in great excitement. As we looked down the street, we saw armed horsemen, shooting their guns with the greatest impunity. Our citizens stood silent, and almost speechless. A man came running up the street, exclaiming, “All the banks are robbed.” “What shall we do?” “What can we do?” was the universal answer. About that moment appeared Captain George R. Conger, of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, who urged the citizens to arm themselves with anything, even with broomsticks. “We have a lot of rebel raiders upon us,” he emphatically exclaimed, and “let us catch them.” During the last ten minutes time, the raiders were entering our banks, stealing horses, and awing our citizens in the most frightful manner. Their first descent was upon the National Bank. They entered it without any resistance – and it was impossible to make any. They took $29,650 in 7 3-10 Treasury bonds, in denominations of 50’s, 100’s, 500’s and 1000’s; $10,000 in 5 per cent legal tender coupon notes; $5,000 legal tender interest bearing notes; $8,000 in currency on N. E. Banks and green backs. On entering the Franklin County Bank the casher, Mr. Beardsley, and a man by the name of Clark, with whom the cashier was settling for some work he had been doing for him, were unceremoniously shoved into the bank safe, and the key turned upon them. The raiders, of course, then helped themselves to all the visible funds there were. The amount taken from the bank was about $20,000. Mr. J. R. Armington, coming into the bank a few minutes after, finding it apparently vacant, and mistrusting something, asked, “Who’s here?” when Mr. Beardsley, from his closely confined den, said “Let us out.” The safe was opened, and out came the imprisoned, somewhat alarmed, as may be readily supposed. The St. Albans Bank was the next operation of the raiders. Quietly they entered it and the tellers, Messrs. Bishop and Seymour, were compelled to take the Confederate oath, much to the disgust of these loyal and respectable men. Mr. Breck, of the firm of Breck & Wetherbee, coming into the bank at this time with $400 in hand to deposit, was insolently informed by one of the raiders that he “took deposits,” and seized the money from him. The raiders then proceeded to ransack “the money department” of the bank, and succeeded in carrying off a large amount.

Our citizens about this time commenced realizing their position. They felt that the town was invaded in earnest. All went in search of arms – and, indeed, few there were in town; horses were in great requisition, as were shotguns and revolvers. The raiders, marauders, or Confederate thieves quietly proceeded northward. In twenty minutes or less, a company of horsemen to the number of about forty, we should judge, was organized by Capts. Mewton and Stranaham and others. The brave Capt. Conger and a few others having preceded them – which immediately started in pursuit. The pursuers kept close to the marauders, who on their arrival in Sheldon set fire to the bridge, also barn of Mr. Alfred Keith, but the fire was promptly extinguished. Being closely pursued by the party from here they had no time to rob the bank at Sheldon, and the raiders thence went directly towards Canada to Slab city, where the advance guard of the pursuers reached them. Some jumped from their horses, in the greatest haste, and took for the woods. On application to the Canadian authorities, two of the robbers were arrested and put in irons. The Canadian authorities, then with commendable energy, went in search of the robbers. At this writing we learn there have been arrested at Slab city or near that place three, and six at Stanbridge, where fifty thousand dollars were also recovered.

Our town is most thoroughly organized. Never before has the excitement been so great in this section of the country; and the presence of military from Burlington, Montpelier and Brattleboro is a safeguard of security. At attempt was made by the marauders to fire several of our buildings. An attempt was made to fire the American Hotel last night – or rather it was discovered after the villains had left, but the fire was extinguished. This Thursday morning, Mr. Atwood on attempting to open his store found that a portion of it was ignited with phosphorus. Along our streets we cannot fail to see the bullet holes. In front and on all sides we observe the attempts of the rebels to kill and murder.

In the window of A. H. Munyan are three or four bullet holes to be seen; it was near this point that C. H. Huntington received his wound, the shot being occasioned by his determined persistence to stop the operation of the raiders. We are glad to be able to say that Mr. Huntington is likely to recover.

The appearance of the military here last evening, commanded by Lt. Col. Benton, somewhat aided our citizens in preserving order, and the orderly manner of the soldiers during the night and today attached much credit to Col. Benton, Mj. Barstow, and Lt. Burnett.

We have much more to say concerning this raid, but the shortness of compositors compels us here to stop. At one time during the day we were fearful that we should not be able to issue a paper, so great is the prevailing excitement.

Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did any of your ancestors serve in the Civil War? Please share your stories with us in the comments section.

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