St. Albans Raid

The Civil War And Vermont

October 19, 1864

While Vermont’s contribution to the Union during the Civil War is significant, Civil War events in Vermont are not significant. Nevertheless, there is an interesting Vermont Civil War event.

Vermont Was The First State To Abolish Slavery

In 1777, Vermont proclaims itself as an independent state. The second article of the Vermont Constitution abolishes slavery, making Vermont the first state to abolish slavery. In the 1860 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln won a decisive victory in Vermont with voting results as follows:

  • Abraham Lincoln – 33,808
  • Stephen Douglas – 8,649
  • John C. Breckenridge – 1,866
  • John Bell – 217

“Vermont Will Do Its Full Duty.”

Vermont had three governors during the Civil War, they were Erastus Fairbanks (1860-1861), Frederick Holbrook (1861-1863), and J. Gregory Smith (1863-1865). All were Republicans.

When the Federal Government called for troops, Governor Fairbanks stated “Vermont will do its Full Duty” and Vermont did so by providing the Union with six infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, two light artillery batteries, and three sharpshooter companies. Vermont also built three military hospitals.

During the Civil War Vermont Provided The Union:

  • Over 28,100 men who served in volunteer units
  • 17 infantry regiments
  • 1 cavalry regiment
  • 3 light artillery batteries
  • 1 heavy artillery company
  • 3 sharpshooter companies
  • 2 frontier cavalry companies

Green Mountain State Casualties In The Civil War

  • During battle, 1,832 were killed or mortally wounded
  • Disease claimed 3,362 men, either in prison or otherwise
  • Over 2,200 Vermont men were taken prisoner
  • Vermont men who died while prisoners of war totaled 615

Vermont provided the Union with men who carried with them to Civil War battlefields the reputation and pride of the Revolutionary War Green Mountain Boys. During the Civil War, the youngest to ever to win the Medal of Honor was Vermonter Willie Johnston. Sixty-three other men from Vermont also won the Medal of Honor.

St. Albans Raid

Despite the fury and carnage of the Civil War occurring in other parts of the country, the people of Vermont led a peaceful life during the war years. St. Albans Raid however, muddied the water somewhat for the quiet village of St. Albans. St. Albans is located on the shore of Lake Champlain, only fifteen miles from the Canadian Border.

On October 10, 1864 three young men check in at a hotel in St. Albans. They explain they are from St. John’s Canada (Canada at this time, was the Province of Canada, and part of the British Empire) and are on a sporting vacation. Their leader signs the hotel register as Bennet Young, another signs in as George Sanders. More men from St. John’s regularly arrive at the hotel in groups of two or three every day or so, their sporting vacation in the small St. Albans village is shaping up to be a big affair. Finally, a total of twenty-one young men (they averaged 23 years of age), arrived over nine days. They seemed to be a friendly bunch of young men.

At 3:00 P.M. on October 19, 1864 the Canadian sporting vacation to St. Albans gives way to the real reason and mission for the young men gathering in St. Albans. The friendly young men are actually Confederate cavalrymen who were taken prisoner by Union troops, but had escaped to Canada. They were at St. Albans on authority of the Confederate government to steal money for the Confederate Treasury and to distract Federal troops away from their lines. They were not friendly.

St. Albans Raid

St. Albans Raid

The raiding Confederates divide into three groups and simultaneously enter the three banks of St. Albans. Confederate agent George Sanders has drawn his gun as he climbs the steps of the hotel and shouts: “This city is now in the possession of the Confederate States of America!” The Civil War has come to St. Albans, Vermont with Confederates soldiers taking over the town, galloping about and threatening the Vermont Yankees with guns.

The Confederates rob the St. Albans banks of $208,000. While the bank robbing is going on, eight or nine other Confederates gather townspeople to the town common, threatening them with drawn guns and stealing their horses. Confederate Lieutenant Bennett Young orders his men to set St. Albans aflame using bottles of “Greek Fire,” an incendiary chemical that would burst to flame when exposed to air. Fortunately for St. Albans, the bottles of Greek Fire turn out to be duds. Only a woodshed was set afire.

The citizens of St. Albans fight back and one townsman is killed, while another is injured. A lone raider is wounded and he dies afterwards. Confusion and mayhem control the scene for both the townspeople and the Confederate raiders. During their escape to Canada, the Confederates clumsily drop some of the bank money in the town, but still make off with over $200,000. Canadian authorities arrest them in Montreal after the raiders have crossed back into Canada.

The St. Albans Raiders are tried In Montreal. The United States government considers the Confederates to be criminals and requests their extradition. Canada however, has a trick up her sleeve, saying the Confederates are soldiers under military orders. With this stance, and desiring to remain neutral in the American Civil War, Canada does not convict the Confederate raiders of a crime and sets them free. Canada returns to the St. Albans banks $88,000 that was found with the raiders.

It has been interpreted that the ruling of the Canadian court in the St. Albans Raid was in fact recognition of the Confederate States of America by the British, since Canada was then the Province of Canada and part of the British Empire. This is debatable.

The raider Lieutenant Bennett Young, later becomes a Confederate general.

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William Tecumseh Sherman Quotes

Quotes Of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman

War Is Hell

Sherman's march To The Sea

Sherman’s march To The Sea

  • “Oh, it is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization.”

Union Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman upon hearing of South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Sherman had lived in the South for nearly 12 years, and he had a true fondness for the South. Sherman would play a major part in winning the Civil War for the Union.

  • “I see every chance of a long, confused and disorganizing civil war, and I feel no desire to take a hand therein.”

…Sherman wrote these words to his wife Ellen, in January 1861.

  • “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.

“The North can make a steam engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth-right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with.

“You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing!

“You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it…Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them?

“At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see that in the end you will surely fail.”

…The prophetic words of William Tecumseh Sherman on December 24, 1860, after he learned of South Carolina’s secession. Sherman was superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy at the time.

  • “You might as well attempt to put out the flames of a burning house with a squirt-gun. I think this is to be a long war-very long-much longer than any politician thinks.”

…William Tecumseh Sherman, assessing the war in 1861.

  • “I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash-and it may be well that we become so hardened.”

…General Sherman, from a letter to his wife written in July, 1864.

  • “Three years ago by a little reflection and patience they could have had a hundred years of peace and prosperity…Last year they could have saved their slaves, but now it is too late…Next year their lands will be taken…and in another year they may beg in vain for their lives.”

…General Sherman in January, 1864 regarding the situation of the Rebels. Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865 and the Civil War was over. Happily, Sherman is wrong here with his time estimate of the continuation of the war.

  • “If you don’t have my army supplied, and keep it supplied, we’ll eat your mules up, sir.”

…General Sherman’s warning to an army quartermaster before the departure of Sherman’s army from Chattanooga and heading toward Atlanta. 

William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman

  • “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl.”

…General Sherman, from a telegram sent to General Ulysses S. Grant at Atlanta, Georgia. September 9, 1864.

  • “The whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak violence upon South Carolina. I almost tremble for her fate.”

…General William T. Sherman, as he prepared to march his army into South Carolina. This was following the March to the Sea.

  • “We have devoured the land and our animals eat up the wheat and cornfields close. All the people retire before us and desolation is behind. To realize what war is one should follow our tracks.”

…General William Tecumseh Sherman.

  • “That devil Forrest… must be hunted down and killed if it costs ten thousand lives and bankrupts the Federal treasury.”

…Sherman referring to Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

  • “After all, I think Forrest was the most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either side.”

…After the Civil War, Sherman made these comments about Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

  • “Wars are not all evil, they are part of the grand machinery by which this world is governed.”

…General William Tecumseh Sherman.

  • “War is at best barbarism…Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot, nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

…William Tecumseh Sherman. These words are from his June 19, 1879 address to the Michigan Military Academy.
  

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