Of Confederate raids and sleepy Vermont towns

by chuckofish

In the spirit of my dual personality’s recent trip to Gettysburg, I wanted to share a north country Civil War story that I recently came across. It’s smaller in scope, of course, but compelling in its own way. Whenever I drive son #3 to or from his small Vermont college, I drive through the outskirts of St. Albans, a reasonably sized town a little removed from the northern shores of Lake Champlain. It seems like a typical Vermont town with a core of lovely old buildings, but a little down on its luck now.

St_ Albans Fountain 2

Its green and buildings look a lot like  my village, albeit more Vermont-like than New York-ish, which is to say nicer.

st-albans-city4

Believe it or not, back in October 1864, the town was briefly subject to a Confederate takeover. According to the Smithsonian Magazine online, it happened like this:

“Late that afternoon, a tall, handsome man dismounted from a horse in front of the American House Hotel on Main Street in St. Albans, just 15 miles south of the Canadian border. His name was Bennett Young, and he had been staying in town for a few days, letting on little about himself beyond evident interests in the Bible and fishing. On that Wednesday, he drew a pair of Colt revolvers and said, “Gentlemen, I am a Confederate officer, and my men have come to take your town. Anyone who resists will be shot.” Young had been in Canada for months, recruiting escaped Confederate POWs to conduct raids on presumptively safe American towns. Now the northernmost raid of the Civil War was underway. Twenty-one raiders had entered St. Albans; while some of them held some townspeople prisoner in Taylor Park, others robbed the three banks of about $208,000. Some residents fired at the Confederates, fatally wounding one; one resident was killed in return. The fleeing Rebels tried to burn the town down, but their firebombs proved to be duds. American posses crossed into Canada and located many of the raiders, who were arrested by Canadian constables. The Canadians returned what money the raiders still had and charged Young and four of his men with violating Canada’s neutrality, but they dropped the charges a month later for lack of evidence. One of the three banks that were robbed, the Franklin County Bank, still stands (as a TD Bank branch), as does the American House.”

That must have caused quite the stir, to say the least. Fortunately, the Canadians didn’t  mind the border breech. Somehow, I don’t think they’d be very happy about it now.

And that, my friends, is the obscure history lesson for today.  Have a great weekend!