The St, Albans Raid (October 19, 1864)

Twenty-one cavalrymen, organized by Confederate agent George Sanders and led by Lieutenant Bennett Young, arrived from Canada by twos and threes over a period of nine days and took over St. Albans, Vermont in what was to go down in history as the northernmost engagement of the Civil War. With his gun drawn, Young mounted the steps of a hotel and shouted: “This city is now in the possession of the Confederate States of America!”

The battlefields of the Civil War suddenly didn’t seem so far from this quiet village about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. Shock and confusion followed as gun-toting horsemen galloped down Main Street, herding terror-stricken townfolk onto the Village Green.

The raiders then turned their attention to robbing the three local banks. Even though the Confederates dropped much of their loot in the confusion of escape, they still managed to make off with over $200,000. By the time residents could organize a pursuit, the marauders were well on their way back to the border.

As they left, the raiders tried to burn down the town, but managed to destroy only a woodshed. They had evidently planned to burn the mansion of Governor J. Gregory Smith, who was in Montpelier at the time. Soon after the raid began, a maid from a neighbor’s house rushed to Mrs. Smith, crying: “Rebels are in the town, robbing the banks, burning the houses, and killing people. They are on the way up the hill to burn your house!”

Mrs. Smith drew the shades and bolted the doors, all but the front entrance. Her first impulse had been to run up the flag. Instead, looking for weapons, she found only a large horse pistol, but no ammunition. With this in hand she took her stand in front of the house. She could hear a horse galloping up the hill; it turned out to be not one of the raiders, but her brother-in-law, a member of General Custer’s staff, home on leave. Later that night, soldiers were stationed at the governor’s house.

One townsman was killed, another wounded; one raider was wounded and died shortly after. The survivors were arrested in Montreal and tried, but never extradited despite energetic efforts by Washington. The US contended that the men were criminals, but Canada determined them to be military belligerents, so to maintain neutrality, would not convict them of a crime.

Lieutenant Young rose to the rank of General. When he visited Montreal in 1911, a group of St. Albans dignitaries paid him a courtesy call at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. In 1914, on the fiftieth anniversary of the raid, a commemorative plaque was placed at the entrance of what was the Franklin County Bank, the only one of the three banks robbed still standing, and still a bank. On the opposite side of Main Street in front of Taylor Park, there is a Vermont Historic Marker.

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