The Wild Raid At St. Albans: Confederates Invade Vermont

Confederates humiliate St. Albans residents, making them pledge an oath to the Confederacy at the St. Albans Bank.
Image ourtesy of the St. Albans Historical Museum

From our partners at Gothamist: Last night’s episode showed that New Yorkers—including Detective O’Brien’s wife—are becoming anxious about a possible terror threat—from the Confederates in New York City, because a group of Confederates managed to raid a town in Vermont just 15 miles from the Canadian border. By mid-October 1864, nearly two dozen Confederate cavalrymen arrived in St. Albans, Vermont, by way of Canada. Many of them posed as Canadians on a “sporting vacation.” On October 19, Lieutenant Bennett Young led the raid and yelled, “This city is now in the possession of the Confederate States of America!”

Young, a native of Kentucky, joined the Confederate army in 1862 when he was 18 or 19. He was part of Morgan’s Raid, the Confederates’ 1,000-mile journey into Indiana and Ohio, and was captured in 1863. While he was held in Chicago, he escaped to Canada. According to The Lost Key, “He made his way back to the South sailing through the blockade from Nova Scotia to Bermuda, and reportedly on to Richmond, Virginia. Young proposed, and Secretary Seddon approved (commissioning Young a Lieutenant), to return to Canada and undertake missions into the U.S. from there.” Young built up a group of other escaped Confederates in Canada and planned the attack on St. Albans.

During the raid, Young and his men stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks, stole horses, ended up killing one man (who apparently may have been the town’s only Southern sympathizer!) and tried to humiliate residents by making them take an oath to the Confederate States of America. At one bank, a Confederate soldier said, “Not a word. We are Confederate Soldiers detailed from General Early’s Army to come North and to rob and plunder as your soldiers were doing in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The men also attempted to burn St. Albans down, but their bottles of Greek fire didn’t work. They left Vermont for Canada—dropping some of the stolen money on their way out (they still managed to take $208,000)—and when U.S. Authorities tried to get them extradited, Canada refused on grounds that it was neutral during the Civil War. Canada did, however, return $88,000 found on the men.

While President Andrew Johnson proclaimed amnesty for Confederates on May 29, 1865, Young was not included so he had to remain abroad until Johnson issued another proclamation in 1868.

Young become a notable citizen of Louisville, Kentucky; the St. Albans Historical Museum says he became a “railroad owner, bridge builder, author, highly popular lecturer, collector of Native American artifacts, and founding member of the Filson Club Historical Society in his home city of Louisville, Ky.” In 1911, a group of St. Albans residents went to Montreal to meet him, and he supposedly referred to the raid as “the reckless escapade of flaming youth” and he “wondered that he ever undertook it.”

The town of St. Albans is getting ready for the 150th anniversary of the raid—The St. Albans Raid Sesquicentennial Celebration—which is set for September 2014. This past July, residents paid tribute to its past with a re-enactment.

  • Don Delis

    Hey you had a big mistake in last nights episode, “The Hunson River School”. In you have the confederate spy saying he was imprisioned on Johnson Island and that the people of Sandusky would cross the Ohio River to view the prisioners. That is wrong. Johnson Island was located on western Lake Erie! Other than that I thought the show was great.

  • Big_Bongo

    Being a huge fan of American history I absolutely love the historical references and costume.

    • Peter Koenig

      View with care, friend …

  • Jeff Smith

    The opening scenes about the spies has a reference to my great-grandfather, bad man Soapy Smith!
    Right at the start when talk of spies spreads to the street. One
    gentleman addressing a crowd says, “If you think Lincoln cares about our
    city any more than he does that town in Vermont, I’ve got a bar of soap
    to sell you. It might have a gold coin in it.” That was the swindle
    Soapy was famous for. Pretty cool.

  • jg

    Well, Sandusky is also on Lake Erie, no where near the Ohio River. I told my husband “He must be talking about another Sandusky than the one we know.”

  • Doc O

    … loved the scene in the bar with the drinks all lined up for the guys voting more than once… especially when the one double voter is told ” your name is Tim Bayless…”.. the name of one of Tom Fontana’s detectives from Homicide: Life on the Street.