When the American Civil War Came to St. Albans, Vermont
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Most people (including many Vermonters) aren’t aware that the Green Mountain state played a small part in the American Civil War. The St. Albans raid was the northernmost land action of the Civil War, taking place in St. Albans, Vermont on October 19, 1864.
In this incident, one of the most unusual in American history, Bennett H. Young led Confederate forces. Young had been captured in John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid in Ohio, but escaped to Canada in the fall of that year. Morgan ventured to the south, where he proposed Canada-based raids on the Union as a means of building the Confederate treasury and forcing the Union army to protect their northern border as a diversion. Young was commissioned as a lieutenant and returned to Canada, where he recruited other escaped rebels to participate in the October 19, 1864 raid on St. Albans, Vermont, a small town 15 miles from the Canadian border.
Young and two others checked into a local hotel on October 10, saying that they had come from St. John’s in Canada for a “sporting vacation.” Each day, two or three more men arrived. By October 19, there were 21 cavalrymen assembled. Just before 3:00 p.m. the group simultaneously staged an armed robbery of the three banks in St. Albans. They announced that they were Confederate soldiers and stole a total of $208,000. As the banks were being robbed, eight or nine of the Confederates held the townspeople prisoner on the village green. One St. Albans resident was killed and another wounded. Young ordered his troops to burn the town down, but the four-ounce bottles of Greek fire they had brought failed to work, and only one shed was destroyed.
The Confederate raiders escaped with the money into Canada, where they were arrested by authorities. A court decided that the soldiers were under military orders and that the officially neutral Canada (then a part of the British Empire) could not extradite them to America. They were freed, but the $88,000 the raiders had on them was returned to Vermont.