St. Albans, Vermont - Touring the site of the raid

lupaglupa

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My family took advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend and having everyone fully vaccinated to go on a trip to Vermont. We spent one morning in Saint Albans, touring the sites associated with the raid of October 19, 1864. I have been reading about the (very distant) relative of mine who was one of the raiders and wanted to see where all the action took place.

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The main street of St. Albans today looks much as it did in 1864, though only some of the buildings you see above date from the era. At the time of the raid, St. Albans was an important hub on the railroads and had several banks. The raiders planned to rob the banks and burn down the town before continuing on to repeat the attack in two other Vermont towns. Their exact motives were mixed: The CSA needed funds to support the War and the men wanted to repay northerners for some of the devastation that had been visited on the South. The 18 men known to have participated in the raid were all Confederate soldiers who had escaped from Union prison camps and made their way to Canada. Their leader, Lt. Bennett Young, had worked with CSA agents in Canada to formulate the attack plan for the raid.

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The raiders travelled to St. Albans in small groups, pretending to have business there. They took rooms in local hotels. One, the American Hotel, still stands on Main Street today. On the morning of the raid the raiders gathered in Lt. Young's room in this hotel, then went out onto the street and announced to passers by that they were Confederate soldiers who had come to take the town. At first the people on the street thought it was a joke - then the raiders shot off their pistols.

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Key to the success of the raid was making sure the events on Main Street didn't become known outside the immediate area, so the raiders shepherded people from the street and stores onto the village green (the green, now called Taylor Park, was hosting a farmers' market this past Saturday). While some of the raiders guarded the people on the green, the others set out to rob the banks and steal horses for their get away.

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Schoolchildren in the local school had gathered on the third floor for an assembly, which gave them a perfect view of the raid as it unfolded. The former school house is now the St. Alban's Historical Museum (unfortunately closed due to covid). As the raiders robbed the banks, local citizens began to protest. A few men tried to evade confinement on the green. One was shot as he tried to duck into a store. He later died of the wound, the only person to be killed in the raid. In about 15 minutes, the raid was over and the raiders fled north on their stolen horses.

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A key part of the plan had been to use "greek fire," a type of incendiary, to burn the town as the raiders departed. The raiders had brought a number of containers of the fire with them. They used all but one in St. Albans. None, however, lit properly and the town was not on fire as the raiders left. This meant the townsmen could quickly mount up and pursue the raiders, which they did. The men were followed to the Canadian border and soon arrested. The plaque above is on the site where one of the robbed banks formerly stood, next door to the American Hotel.

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Taylor Park holds a large monument to the men from St. Albans who fought in the Civil War, not far from where the townsfolk were held hostage during the raid (that's the schoolhouse just behind it on the right).

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The park also has a lovely fountain donated by Vermont Governor John Gregory Smith as a place where Civil War veterans could gather. Smith, a native of St. Albans, was governor at the time of the raid.
 
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