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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1865 Report

St. Albans raid

During the Summer of 1864 refugees from the Southern States and deserters from the draft and from the army of the United States collected in large numbers in Canada, and especially upon the southern border. Many of them were desperate men, and all were bitterly hostile to the United States' Government. WIth but little employment and in most cases scanty means of subsistence, they were ready for any desperate undertaking, which should promise injury to the citizens of the Northern States and plunder for themselves. It was early ascertained, that prominent men in Canada, from the South, who claimed to represent and to be acting under the authority of the Southern Confederacy, were actively engaged in organizing these desperadoes, and that arms and ammunition had been collected, in considerable quantities, at different points in Canada, for use in some expedition into the Northern States. The details of various plans were discovered and their execution prevented by timely preparation at the points threatened. Some of these had reference to different points in this State, and created much anxiety on the part of the officers of the State, in consequence of the entire want of all military organization in the State, and the utterly defenceless condition of the border. Upon the application of the Governor, arms and ammunition were placed in the United States Arsenal at Vergennes, for use in case of emergency. But the legislature had assembled and were engaged in perfecting the details of a militia law, and it was hoped that the organization of the militia would be authorized, before any active demonstration should be made.

Of the afternoon of the nineteenth of October, 1864, a party of between twenty and thirty armed men made their appearance in the streets of St. Albans, and commenced an indiscriminate firing upon the citizens and plundering of the banks. These men were all dressed in citizen's clothes, and had concentrated at St. Albans from various directions, many of them having been staying at the hotels in the place several days. Two of the citizens were wounded, one of them mortally,--who died in a few days,--and more than two hundred thousand dollars taken from the banks. There were no arms at hand, and no organization. The raiders seized horses from wagons standing in the streets for a few minutes, shouting and firing their revolvers, they rode off in the direction of Sheldon.

Immediate search was made for all available arms, and in a few minutes Capt. George R. Conger, with a few mounted men started in pursuit, followed, a few minutes later, by a company of about forty men, hastily organized by Capts. Newton and Stranahan, and armed with such weapons as they could procure.

About five o'clock in the afternoon a telegram from St. Albans was received by the Governor in Executive Chamber at Montpelier, stating that the rebels were in their streets, shooting the citizens and robbing the banks. Judging from the information previously received, that this was but the commencement of a series of similar outrages upon the border of the State, the most prompt and effective measures practicable were immediately adopted for the defence of the frontier. Col. Redfield Proctor was immediately sent to Burlington, with directions to provide for the defence of that place, and to take command of all forces which might be raised in the north-western part of the State. Lieut.-Col. Reuben C. Benton was dispatched to St. Albans, with directions to organize such forces as might be necessary in Franklin County and take command of them, reporting to Col. Proctor, and Lieut. Col. William W. Grout, of Barton, was informed by telegram of the outrage at St. Albans, and directed immediately to organize and arm such force as might be necessary to protect the banks at Derby Line and Irasburgh, and was authorized to take command of all such forces as he should raise. Detachments from the Veteran Reserve Corps were sent to St. Albans that evening from Brattleboro', Montpelier and Burlington, and Maj. William Austine, U. S. Military Commander in the State, proceeded to St. Albans with the detachment from Brattleboro', and took command of the United States' troops there. Arms and ammunition were sent that night by special trains from the arsenal at Vergennes to Burlington, St. Albans and Montpelier, and were distributed as rapidly as possible to all the exposed places in the State. The Norwich cadets, through Gen. Jackman, tendered their services and were directed to proceed to Newport and Derby Line, and volunteer companies were organized at St. Albans, Burlington, Montpelier, and other places during the night, so that by the next morning there were organized and armed bodies of men to the number, including the Veteran Reserves, of nearly thirteen hundred men, available for the defence of the State.

In the meantime the raiders were making their way to Sheldon, rapidly pursued by the mounted party from St. Albans. When they arrived at Sheldon they set fire to the bridge, and also to a barn, but they were so closely followed that they had no time to rob the bank. From thence they went directly to Canada, to "Slab City," where the advance of the pursuing party overtook them. Several were captured and delivered to the Canadian authorities, and others were then and subsequently taken by Canadian officers; thirteen were ultimately captured. They all claimed to belong to the Confederate army, and their leader, Bennett H. Young, claimed to be an officer in the Confederate service, acting under orders from the Confederate government, and that the outrage which they had committed was not robbery and murder, but a justifiable act of war. Proceedings were immediately taken, under the direction of the General Government, to procure the surrender of these men, by the Canadian Government to the United States,--which resulted, after tedious delay, in the recognition by the Canadian authorities of the belligerent character of the men, and of the outrages which they had committed, and their surrender was refused. In the course of the night of Oct. nineteenth a copy of the telegram from Gen. Dix, directing that the raiders should be pursued into Canada, if necessary, and destroyed, was received, and was immediately transmitted to Lieut. Col. Benton at St. Albans, with directions to cause it to be communicated to Capt. Conger by special messenger at once. The direction was obeyed, but the order was not received by Capt. Conger until a few minutes after he had surrendered his prisoners to the Canadian authorities. Effectual means were taken for obtaining constant accurate information as to the further movements and plans of the rebels collected in Canada; and it was soon ascertained they they had by no means abandoned their intention to destroy St. Albans and other places in Vermont, and to retaliate here for the destruction of property by Sheridan in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and they they were actively engaged in planning and organizing further incursions into the State. A comparatively large body of Militia were placed by the Canadian Government upon the Line, on the Canadian border; and information was very soon received from Washington, that a notice had been transmitted to the English Government, which might result in hostile relations between the two countries.

Measures were immediately taken for placing the State, so far as possible, in a condition for defence. Provisional companies of militia, both infantry and cavalry, were organized throughout all the northern counties. Arms and ammunition were freely supplied by the War Department and distributed to these companies. Guards and patrols were established and kept up, and measures were adopted for obtaining immediate information on the appearance, in any place, of suspicious men or bodies of men, and their movements and probable designs.

The number of provisional companies of infantry organized was thirty-one,--containing 1781 officers and men. the number of provisional companies of cavalry was fourteen, with 434 officers and men; total provisional force 2215. I annex in Appendix G, a statement of the several companies of Provisional Militia, with the strength of each. In addition to these means of defence, two companies of Frontier Cavalry were raised under the authority of the War Department and stationed at St. Albans, as I have before stated.

I annex, in Appendix B, such of the orders and telegrams in relation to the subject, as will be of interest.

The duties assigned to Col. Proctor, Lieut. Col. Benton and Lieut. Col. Grout were executed with great promptness and marked ability. Vigilant watch and guard were maintained in their several departments; their action was judicious, and their reports made to this office were full and frequent. The officers and men of the provisional companies are entitled to great commendation for the readiness with which they responded to the call of the Governor, and the cheerfulness and fidelity with which they performed the duties, in many cases very arduous, which were imposed upon them.

The several provision companies of Infantry were disbanded on the twentieth day of January, 1865,--the organization of the Militia having then progressed so far to render their longer maintenance unnecessary. The provisional companies of cavalry were disbanded June 1, 1865.

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