Nov 23, 2015
The American Civil War. A nation divided. State versus State. Brother versus Brother.
Talk of the Civil War usually makes one think of the Great Battles: Vicksburg in Mississippi. Antietam in Maryland. First & Second Bull Run in Virginia. Sherman's March through Georgia and the Carolinas, and of course, Pennsylvania’s three-day slugfest at Gettysburg: the bloodiest battle in American history. It really wasn't a 'Northern' war, was it? Certainly the Confederacy never attacked a place like, oh, say, Northern Vermont, right?
What the Confederacy lacked in industrial might, they more than made up for with strategery, sly cunning, and bravado. These are exactly the traits that Confederate troops showed when they attacked the sleepy town of St. Albans, Vermont on 19 October 1864.
During the Civil War, St. Albans was a small town in Northern Vermont, just the throw of a stone from the Canadian border. The War Between The States couldn't – it wouldn't reach the Northern frontiers of the Union, Would it?
As you might recall, 25-year old Confederate captain, Thomas H. Hines had been sent by Richmond to raise a Confederate army in the North and attack the Union from behind and within.
Bennett Young was another Kentuckian. In 1863, he had been captured by Union troops in a raid on Salineville, Ohio. He managed to escape from Union custody, and made his way to Canada. Canada, being neutral, was a great place for Confederate agents to meet up, and that's where Young met with Hines and his group. They spent a few weeks together before Young returned to the Confederacy. Traveling across Canada to Nova Scotia, Young first sailed to Bermuda, then evaded the Union blockade of the South to return home.
Once back in the Confederacy, Young proposed a cunning plan to his superiors. The Confederate Army needed a surge of money, and the Confederate agents in Canada had been looking to make further raids against the Union. Young suggested that a cavalry troop could cross the border and raid Northern towns and villages. The Confederate brass loved the idea, Young was promoted to lieutenant, and told to carry out his plan.
A week after arriving in Canada with 21 cavalry troops, Young and his men crossed the border and rode to St. Albans. The arrived in town, drew their weapons, and told the fine citizens of St. Albans that their town was now under the control of the Confederacy.
Of course, the people of St. Albans were in quite a state of confusion and panic. Young and his band of gun-toting Confederate desperadoes began rounding up the townsfolk and assembling them on the Village Green. Before the locals could mount a resistance and catch up with them, Young and his men had robbed three banks and made off with $200,000 and galloped back to the border.
On their way out of town, the Confederate raiders tried to burn down St. Albans with small containers of Greek Fire. The raiders failed to burn down anything other than a woodshed, however. Along the way, Young and his men had also considered burning down the mansion of J. Gregory Smith: Governor of Vermont. His wife, Ana Eliza, had been home alone while the raid was going on. Their maid hurried into the house and warned Mrs. Smith of the attack.
Moments later, the sound or horses was fast approaching. Ana Eliza first ran to raise the American flag outside the mansion and searched frantically for a weapon. All she could find was a pistol, and no ammunition. She stood bravely on the front steps of her home and challenged the raiders. The raiders turned tail and retreat back to Canada. Shortly thereafter, her brother-in-law, an officer on General George Custer's staff who was home on leave, came to see if she was safe. Ana hastily organized the people of St. Albans into a pursuit, but Young and his raiders escaped back into Canada.
The raiders crossed the border into Canada, losing only one man. Shortly thereafter, they arrived in Montreal, where they were arrested and tried by the Canadian government. Although the U.S. Tried to convince Canada that they were mere criminals and should be returned to Union custody, the Canadians determined that they were soldiers and released them back to the Confederacy.
At the end of the day, all the raid did was make Canadians angry at the Confederacy for getting them involved in the war.
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