- Historic Sites
The Hit-and-Run Raid
St. Albans was as drowsy a Vermont town as any there was —until the Confederate Army’s enthusiastic but incompetent bank robbers put on a wild half-hour of extravagant melodrama
August 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 5
At the St. Albans Bank on Main Street (all three of the town’s banks were on two adjacent blocks of Main Street), Chief Teller C. N. Bishop was sitting by the front window counting and sorting the currency when five men strolled in the door. Two were unknown to him, but Bishop recognized the other three as friendly newcomers who had previously introduced themselves as Tom Collins, Marcus Spurr, and Turner Teavis. He also recognized that the latter two were leveling oversize Colt revolvers embarrassingly close to his head. He noted too (at least according to the contemporary report of Edmund Royce) that the wretches brought with them a rank atmosphere of alcoholic fumes.
Teller Bishop dashed for the directors’ room, where Martin Seymour, the other clerk, was working on the books. The two tried to lock the door. But the invaders bore down on them, seized the tellers by the throats, and announced that they were Confederate soldiers, prepared to take the town and its money. While two of the Confederates held pistols against the tellers’ heads, the other three went money hunting. One scooped the banknotes that Bishop had been counting on the open table into his side pocket, meanwhile overlooking the counter drawer, which held $9,000 in gold certificates. Another pulled open the bottom drawer of the counting table and lifted out a dirty canvas bag heavy with $1,500 in silver coin. The amateur lifted the bag disparagingly, commented “Too damn’ heavy,” scooped about a third of the contents into his side valise, and left the rest.
Another amateur noticed the front door opening and stepped forward to admit Sam Breck, a local merchant, come to pay a note and carrying $393 in his right hand. The Confederate took the money and then rushed the honest merchant into the back room. Next came youthful Morris Roach, Joe Weeks’ clerk, to make the day’s deposit. He made it with the fighting Confederacy and landed in the directors’ room where Tom Collins, with drawn pistol, was explaining that this raid was being made to avenge the ravages inflicted on Virginia by Phil Sheridan’s Union cavalry.
While this was in progress, his colleagues were doing an appallingly bad job of bank looting. Fumbling through the unlocked safe, they completely missed some $50,000 in U.S. bonds which customers had left for safekeeping, and a $50,000 block of ready-signed St. Albans Bank notes. They picked up a few hundred dollars’ worth of U.S. bonds but bypassed all the gold coin, thereby exiting with about $60,000 while leaving more than twice that amount within easy reach. The robbery time was twelve minutes, most of them filled with talk.
Simultaneously another group of five youthful Confederates was carrying out a lesser looting of the Franklin County Bank, which still stands resolutely on St. Albans’ Main Street. Kentuckian William H. Hutchinson, twenty-three, was in charge of this amateur theft.
Bill Hutchinson made his entry several minutes before 3 P.M. He found Marcus Beardsley, the cashier, sitting in front of the big monkey stove, chinning with the merchant Jim Saxe, and old Jackson Clark, the long-coated, stovepipe-hatted hometown woodsawyer, who carried his bucksaw wherever he went except, possibly, to bed. Hutchinson, a handsome six-footer with glistening chestnut sideburns, strolled up and inquired the price of gold. Cashier Beardsley replied that he did not handle it, but when J. R. Armington, a local moneybags, ambled in with money to deposit, Beardsley suggested that Hutchinson might be able to make a deal with him.
Hutchinson traded two gold pieces for greenbacks. Armington and Saxe took their leave. The Confederate kept up an affable conversation with the cashier until his four assistants strolled in. After a seemingly embarrassed pause, one advanced a few steps, pulled a heavy Navy revolver from his side pocket, pointed it at Beardsley’s head, and stood staring at the cashier. Believing the man to be a lunatic, Beardsley could think of nothing to do except stare back. Two more of the new arrivals drew out large revolvers and silently pointed them at the speechless cashier.
Still lounging at the counter, Hutchinson broke the silence by explaining that he and these others were Confederate soldiers, here to rob the bank and burn the town. At that point Clark made a dash for the front door. Two of the Confederates blocked the way and relieved him of his bucksaw. Clark broke loose and again made for the door, whereupon the bank robbers pro tem grabbed him and heaved him into the tiny vault-room behind the teller’s cage. When they sought to shut the heavy iron door, Cashier Beardsley warned that the vault was air-tight; any man would soon suffocate in it. He was now to learn that silence can be golden. Three of the Confederates converged on the cashier, dropped him into the vault-room, and banged shut the heavy door, leaving both prisoners to reflect on whether they would suffocate or be roasted by the promised firing of the town.