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.

Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy

Various interesting notes about Jefferson Davis, and the Confederate States of America… with some Union history thrown in for good measure too:

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

  • Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky on June 3, 1808. A curious fact of the year 1808 (especially when you consider what Jefferson Davis’ life would mean to the Confederacy, slavery, and the history of the United States), is that in 1808 the importation of slaves was made illegal in the United States of America.
  • Jefferson Davis was a graduate of the United States Military Academy (West Point). Davis ranked 23rd in his 33 member class of 1828. Also graduating in the 1828 West Point class was Robert E. Lee.
  • After West Point, Davis was posted to the Pacific Northwest, serving there in the infantry. Davis transferred to the dragoons in 1833. After spending two years with the dragoons, Davis resigned as a first lieutenant.
  • Jefferson Davis married Sarah, she was the daughter of Colonel Zachary Taylor, Davis’ commander. Colonel Taylor did not approve of his daughter marrying Jefferson Davis. Sadly, a short three months after they married, she died of malarial fever. Later, Davis would marry Varina Howell.
  • Jefferson Davis took part as an officer in the Black Hawk War during the 1830s. Another officer in the Black Hawk War was Abraham Lincoln.
  • Davis served from 1845 to 1847 in the House of Representatives as a Democrat.
  • Davis fought in the Mexican War as a colonel of the 1st Mississippi Rifles. He was wounded at Buena Vista, and he declined a commission as a brigadier general. He then served in the United States Senate until 1853 when he became Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce. After Pierce’s presidency, Davis returned to the Senate.
  • While he was Secretary of War, Davis imported camels and sent them to Texas. Davis thought the camels would do well in the arid environment of Texas and could be used as beasts of burden. The camels would be used to haul supplies and equipment for the United States Army troops in Texas. The Texas camels idea did not work out as Davis had hoped.
  • Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina Howell Davis, had four children. They lost their first child in infancy and then lost a son. Five-year-old Joe Davis fell from a balcony of the Confederate White House and died. Davis had the balcony torn down.
  • After the Mexican War, Ulysses S. Grant was stationed in California. He was without his wife and children, and bored in California. Grant took to excessive drinking. Grant resigned his commission in 1854 and his resignation was accepted by the United States Secretary of War. The Secretary of War accepting Grant’s resignation from the United States Army was Jefferson Davis.
  • Jefferson Davis was a strong supporter of states’ rights and supported his state of Mississippi’s secession from the Union.
  • Mississippi seceded from the Union on January 9, 1861. On January 21, 1861 Davis was at the Capitol in Washington. History was about to happen. The Senate chamber was filled with curious on-lookers. On this morning, five senators from states that had seceded from the Union were to say their farewells. These senators were from the states of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Jefferson Davis was among them. Davis rose and gave a stirring and emotional good-bye speech. He had been ill for a week and in bed. Davis had not slept the night before and was suffering from severe migraine head-aches.
  • Montgomery, Alabama was the first capital of the Confederacy. On February 4, 1861 delegates from six of the states that seceded, met in Montgomery. Meeting at Montgomery, the Confederate States of America adopted a provisional constitution and also elected Jefferson Davis as provisional president. On May 20, 1861 the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. Montgomery only had two hotels, one of them was not up to desirable standards. The capital building in Montgomery was a bit small for the needs of the new Confederacy. Lack of adequate and decent hotel rooms and the need for a larger building in which to conduct the business of the Confederacy were some of the reasons for the move to Richmond.
  • In February of 1861, at Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the provisional president of the Confederacy. On February 22, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia (where the Confederate capital now had been moved), Davis was inaugurated as the president of the Confederate States of America. The Confederate president was to serve a six-year term.
  • Davis did not necessarily want to be president of the Confederacy. He would have preferred instead, to serve in the military and possibly command the Confederate army. As the events of the Civil War played out, Davis’ six-year term as the Confederacy’s president would be cut short.
  • The White House of the Confederacy was the executive mansion for Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis and his family. It is located in Richmond, Virginia. The Virginia State Capitol was the Capitol of the Confederacy.
  • “Dixie” was the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy. When Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander Stephens rode to their inaugural, a band played “Dixie.”
  • Confederate postage stamps used only the portraits of President Jefferson Davis, General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, or Senator John C. Calhoun.
  • Jefferson Davis delivered his inaugural address from the Washington statue on the grounds of the Capitol of the Confederacy.
  • St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia became known as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy” because both Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee attended church services there.
  • Confederate President Jefferson Davis was attending church services at the “Cathedral of the Confederacy” in Richmond on Sunday April 2, 1865. During the church service Davis was given a note informing him that General Robert E. Lee’s lines had been broken at Petersburg. It was immediately time now, for the Confederate president to evacuate Richmond.
  • Union troops occupied Richmond, Virginia on April 3, 1865. The Confederate capital of Richmond had fallen. President Abraham Lincoln went to Richmond the following day and visited the White House of the Confederacy. This visit to Richmond was a moment of glory for President Lincoln. The South was very near defeat, the Union was to be preserved, and slavery was to end. Lincoln saw Jefferson Davis’ office and took the opportunity to sit in Davis’ chair.
  • Accompanying Lincoln in Richmond was his 12-year-old son, Tad. This was to be Lincoln’s first and last visit to Richmond. Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. Tad Lincoln would die of tuberculosis in 1871.
  • After the South surrendered and the Civil War was lost for the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was captured by Federal cavalry on May 10, 1865. He was accused of treason. On May 22, he was sent to prison at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Davis was kept there without benefit of a trial, for two years. Fort Monroe is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. It is named for President James Monroe.
  • Jefferson Davis died at New Orleans on December 5, 1889. Davis and his family, General J.E.B. Stuart, and General George Pickett are all buried at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Over 18,000 Confederate soldiers rest in peace at Hollywood Cemetery. The cemetery is so named because of its many holly trees.