Wednesday, November 05, 2014

New and Noteworthy---The Confederate Raid Into Vermont: The Setting, The Raid, The Trials

The St. Albans Raid: Confederate Attack on Vermont, Michelle Arnosky Sherburne, The History Press, 191 pages, appendix, bibliography, index, 37 illustrations, 3 maps, $19.99.

On the same day as the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia,  there occurred a controversial raid from Canada into Vermont by Confederate soldiers. The goal was to rob banks in retaliation for Sheridan's burning of the Shenandoah Valley and hopefully draw Federal forces from Virginia and defend the Canadian border.

Bennett Young, a Confederate cavalryman who had been captured during Morgan's 1863 Raid, imprisoned  then escaped, led the one day assault. His 1863 escape led him to Canada where he met Confederate sympathizers. His return to the Confederacy gave him the opportunity to request permission to return to Canada as a lieutenant and rob American banks. Shortly before 3 p.m. on October 19, Bennett and over twenty conspirators  initiated simultaneous robberies of St. Albans'  three banks. They identified themselves as Confederate soldiers and took a total of $208,000  which is a little over 3 million dollars in current value. During the robberies, eight or nine Confederates held the villagers at gun point on the village green, then stole their horses to prevent pursuit. Those Vermonters who chose resistance were killed or wounded. Young ordered his men to burn the city, but the four ounce bottles of sulfur, naphtha and quick lime they attempted to use did not ignite.

Michelle Sherburne's The St. Albans Raid: Confederate Attack on Vermont presents a clear and concise introduction to U.S.-Canadian relations during 1863 and 1864, the Confederate Secret Service in Canada, and the goals of the raid. The robberies and treatment of the civilians are well described as is the rescue of the town by discharged Vermont veterans and others. The Confederate invaders were captured, tried and found guilty but Canada, being neutral, did not extradite the criminals. Sherburne cogent description of the proceedings take into account of the impact of the trials on the relations between the two countries. She acknowledges gaps in the story due to the lack of documents and does not over-dramatize events.

One of The St. Albans Raid: Confederate Attack on Vermont several strengths is the inclusion of the photographs of many artifacts, portraits, weapons, bottles of Greek fire and buildings such as court houses and prisons.Sherburne's work is a fine example of local history well researched and well written.

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