10/17/19 The 155th Anniversary of the St. Albans Raid (Part 2) on ‘Across The Fence’

10/17/19 The 155th Anniversary of the St. Albans Raid (Part 2) on ‘Across The Fence’


Good afternoon, thanks for joining us on
Across the Fence. I’m Fran Stoddard. Vermont history and the Civil War are
our focus today. It was 155 years ago in October of 1864, the Confederate soldiers
swooped into Vermont from Canada. The Confederate action would become known as
the St. Albans raid. The robbers stole more than two hundred thousand dollars
from three banks in the city. That’s the equivalent of more than three million
dollars today. With the haul of cash the rebels raced to north on the road to
Shelton Vermont with a posse on their heels. We pick up the story with
historian Howard coffin and editor Keith Silva. The St. Albans raid happened
quickly. It was over in 20 minutes to a half-hour. The raiders had to get out of
town fast. They were getting shot at. They head north on the road to Sheldon and
they quickly realize they’ve got a problem with some of the horses. They
didn’t have time to be selective when they saw them.
They’re coming along this road and lo and behold coming toward them down this
road is a lone horseman and as he gets closer they can see he is mounted on a
fine steed. They stop him, they take the horse, one
of the raiders jumps on and they leave him with one of their nags. The man is
bewildered what’s happened here, he knows nothing of the raid. He starts south
toward St. Albans again and it is long before he sees a bunch of horsemen
coming his way again. It’s the posse under Conger. As the posse approaches,
they see one of the stolen horses. The man is riding they don’t recognize the
man and they begin to shoot at him. The man jumps off the horse and starts
across the field and all the way to the Alder Swamp on the edge of the woods over there. Under fire, they don’t hit him he survives. When the raiders reached Sheldon knowing the cavalry was in hot pursuit, they came
to Black Creek and the covered bridge located on the site of that modern
bridge. In the middle of the bridge was a farmer with a big load of hay. The
raiders saw a chance to get rid of the cavalry once and for all by setting the
hay and the bridge on fire. So they got out their Greek fire.
Now they had intended to burn St. Albans this was war.
St. Albans was spared because of a rainy day and the fact that the grenades
didn’t work very well. But Greek fire worked on this bridge, and they started a
fire, and then they rode away north, but the minister of this church on the hill
overlooking the bridge saw what was happening ran down the hill put out the
fire, saved the bridge, and the posse came
along and crossed with ease. The Confederates wanted all the Yankee money
they could get their hands on and Bennett Young threw his scouting knew
that there was another bank that might be robbed in Sheldon, about a quarter
mile north of the now smoking bridge was the Sheldon Bank, and the Confederates
galloped up and went to the door and it was locked. They got in there too late.
The bank was closed, but, they looked across the street and saw this beautiful
house owned by the Keith family. They didn’t know it but upstairs recovering
from a severe wound suffered the previous spring in the wilderness was
captain Alfred Keith and out front was his prize horse.
The Confederates stole that beautiful horse and galloped on north.
Captain Keith had an uncle named Rule. Rule Keith had gone south many years
before and become an Episcopal minister in Virginia, becoming one of the best
known in the whole state. On a summer day in the rain, he had ridden to Arlington,
Virginia to perform the marriage of the year in Virginia Mary Custis and Robert
E. Lee. What the raiders didn’t know was that they had just stolen the horse of
the nephew of the man who had performed the marriage ceremony for the greatest
Confederate of all, Robert E. Lee. Where history happens always there are legends,
and one of the more intriguing associated with the St. Albans raid
concerns this house. Supposedly a farmer who had a modest house, the night of the
raid, saw some men on the hillside behind the farm burying something that might
have been money. When they were gone he went up there and dug up some of the
stolen St. Albans loot and he built this magnificent Victorian house here beside
what is now Busy route 105 just east of Enosburg. The people here in the town of Franklin,
in 1910 erected this monument to the local men who served in the Civil War.
we’re close to the Canadian border here and it’s likely that some of the raiders
passed through this town, probably along this road. They were very close to the
Canadian border. They hoped by crossing over they would
be safe. The Captain Congress Posse on reaching
the border had a brief discussion and over they went on to the King’s territory.
Next morning Bennett Young was having breakfast at a local farm house and in
the door came Conger and arrested him. There was a fistfight. Conger said he was
taking him back to St. Albans to hang him. They put him in a wagon,
another fistfight, and Young breaks away but finally, they nab him. And with Young
and the rest of the raiders that they’ve captured they start south for St. Albans,
but they run into a group of British officials who take custody of the
raiders and stop them for Montreal where they will be put in jail. It’s a lowry
day here in St. Albans. On-again-off-again rain, dark sky, just the
kind of weather that came on the day of the St. Albans raid. We’re here along the
east side of Taylor Park. All the buildings on the east side were witness
to the raid. They’re well preserved the St. Albans village school was built
in 1860, and one of those who helped build it was Elinus Morrison the only man
killed in the st. Albans raid. The day of the St. Albans raid, the students were
assembled in this room for an assembly and then the raid broke out word reached
the school and the students were hastened down the stairs to the basement
for their protection. But as they went down these
stairs, they got a wonderful view out the windows of all the drama that was
happening along Main Street. This room has a wonderful Civil War history. Recruiting meetings were held here, men signed up for the war and speeches were
given here against slavery. We’ve come full-circle back in Taylor Park. The St.
Albans raid has just happened. The town is in panic. The whole North Country is
in panic. Will the Confederates strike again? Of course, they didn’t. But troops
are rushed to the northern border. General George Standard, the hero of
Gettysburg, is brought up to command them and there are weeks and weeks of tension, but the Confederates never return. What happened to the raiders? Well Bennett Young’s men, of course, were taken to Montreal and there they were put on
trial. It was a famous event. The issue was whether they should be extradited
back to the United States to face trial here and the result would almost
certainly have been hangings. The trial went on something of an international
incident, the United States government got
involved trying to bring the raiders back here. But, in the end, a Canadian
judge sought his own way and said no they don’t have to come back across the
border. They were soldiers doing their duty, so they went free. Eventually
$80,000 returned to St. Albans probably none of it reached Richmond.
As the years passed the St. Albans raid became a famous incident. Bennett Young
became a major personality in the South and eventually headed the major
Confederate veterans group. He was invited once to St. Albans for the 50th
anniversary of the raid. He said yes but the local veterans said no. He did not
come. Once had a massive confederate reunion in a big southern city, a parade
was held in the star was to be the widow of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, “Stonewall
Jackson” but the applause was loudest when Bennett Young, the hero of St.
Albans passed by. The St. Albans raid was a Confederate
victory, but it pales in importance to another victory that was won on that
same October 19th 1864. 500 miles to the south, in the Shenandoah Valley, Phil
Sheridan’s Union Army was fighting a Confederate Army under Jubal Early.
Early’s troops early on we’re winning the day and then Sheridan let a great
comeback in which the Vermont soldiers were tremendously important. Cedar Creek
was a great Union victory giving forever control of the Shenandoah Valley to the
Union and making absolutely certain that Abraham Lincoln would be reelected
president.

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