- 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
Young decided that the time had come to set the town afire, a feat painstakingly prearranged. He ordered his men to begin using their glass bottles of “Greek fire,” a chemical solution which was supposed to burst into flame on exposure to the air. The raiders first smashed their bottles against the front of Atwood’s Store, but the stinking stuff just wouldn’t burn. One raider dashed back to the American Hotel, and for reasons best known to himself treated the water closet with Greek fire. The stuff smouldered harmlessly.
At any rate the boys who had been infantry were changing into cavalry. They relieved Bedart’s Saddle Shop of practically its entire stock of saddles, bridles, and blankets. They rustled seven more horses out of Fuller’s Livery Stable. Edward Fuller got back just in time to ask what was going on. He soon found out. Young rode up and demanded that he hand over a pair of spurs. The liveryman was a pistol toter. He ducked behind a hitching-post, whipped out his gun, and pulled the trigger. The little Derringer snapped in futile misfire. Young guffawed: “Now you’ll get me the spurs?” Apothecary L. L. Dutcher, the original historian of “The Great Raid,” records that Fuller answered, “Yes, but I thought you were joking.”
The livery stable proprietor dashed through Bedart’s shop and sprinted back to Welding’s prospective rooming house which Elinus J. Morrison from Manchester, New Hampshire, was building. Morrison shouted to his workmen to climb down and defy the invaders. The workmen did not seem to hear well. Lieutenant Young, meanwhile, was taking careful bead on Fuller. The livery stable proprietor jumped behind an elm tree. The bullet overtook Morrison as he was making a tactical withdrawal into Miss Beattie’s store, struck his hand, and lodged in his abdomen. Onlookers dragged the builder to Dutcher’s Apothecary Shop for first aid. Morrison died of the wound the following day, the only known fatality of the raid.
Meanwhile, the plain-clothed Confederates were Rebel-yelling, shooting, and taking horses for their escape. As they began riding out of St. Albans in columns of four, the horse dealer Wilder Gibson emerged from the saloon, rifle in hand, posted himself in front of Smith’s Store, drew a careful and steady bead, and fired upon the hindmost of the gang. Reportedly one of the raiders slumped, and later died of the wound. This was never confirmed.
At any rate, the raiders were getting away, thundering down the road north. They stopped long enough to make another unsuccessful attempt to kindle a bridge with the Greek fire, and to annex another good saddle horse. Then the raiders rode into Canada, crossing the Missisquoi at Enosburg Falls.
The St. Albaners organized a pursuit party, reportedly of sixty to seventy men. This took half an hour, too long a delay to permit them to overtake the Confederates but long enough to add to the slapstick. Near Sheldon Village a farmer had been ridden down by the raiders and made victim of a forced horse trade—a badly winded nag for his fresh and buxom mare. The farmer was just standing there, recovering from his surprise, when he saw the pursuit party bearing down on him. Judging them to be more of the raiders, he ran like the wind across an open field. The St. Albaners recognized the winded horse, thought the fleeing farmer to be one of the Confederates, and took out after him shouting and whooping, until the harassed yeoman lost them in a swamp.
The pursuit became more and more ludicrous. A telegraph operator at St. Albans had keyed out a dispatch that the Rebels were sacking the town. At Burlington, Vermont, forty miles south, church bells tolled, an estimated force of 200 men assembled and armed and entrained for the north. The train broke down.
Perhaps that was just as well, for Canadian peace officers were functioning effectively. Canadian sympathy for the Confederacy was widespread and well accredited, but the Canadian constabulary, with a good intelligence system, recognized the need for impartiality. From Montreal, some forty miles to the northeast, a sheriff’s posse had ridden overland to a point near Enosburg where they waited on Canadian soil to intercept the raiders. Thirteen of the “bank robbers,” including Lieutenant Young, were presently arrested and lodged in jail in Montreal. The rest of the raiders escaped temporarily.
Approximately $80,000 of the bank loot was taken from the prisoners and was held pending court action. The case was assigned to Justice Charles J. Coursol of Montreal. After weeks of consideration he ruled that his court had no proper jurisdiction or cause to hold trial and therefore ordered all the Confederates discharged from jail. The Justice further directed that Chief of Police Lamothe of Montreal restore all the money to the raiders. The freed Confederates were cheered by sympathizers on the streets of Montreal. The Canadian press, however, was cool, denouncing the raid as the work of “brigands.”