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.