Sunday, October 20, 2019

Forgotten Pioneer Woman of American Letters—Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Child as a young writer.

Lydia Maria Child died in her Wayland, Massachusetts home at age on October 20, 1880.  Chances are you never heard of her.  But she may have been the first American woman to earn her living as a professional writer and became one of the country’s leading social reform advocates.  If you remember her at all, it is probably because she penned a classic holiday song still sung by school children.

Child was born on February 11, 1802 in Medford, Massachusetts.  Her father Convers Francis was a businessman,banker, and a stern conventional Calvinist.  The youngest of three children, she received a conventional education at a local dame school and a female academy.  She was especially close to her oldest brother, Convers Jr. who encouraged her inquisitive mind and guided her reading.  She was bereft when he left home to attend Harvard when she was 9.

When her mother died, her father sent her to live with a recently married older sister in Maine where she was expected to act as a housekeeper and eventually a nurse for the children.  The curious Maria continued reading and when time allowed explored the area.  A visit to the nearby Penobscot settlement began a lifelong interest in and respect of Native Americans.

In 1819 young Maria took a teaching position in Gardiner, Maine.  She dabbled in mystic Swedenborgism but wrote her brother that “I am more in danger of wrecking on the rocks of skepticism than of standing on the shoals of fanaticism. I am apt to regard a system of religion as I do any other beautiful theory…”

Maria returned to Massachusetts in 1821 a dutifully took communion and became a member of the orthodox First Parish in Medford.  But she soon moved in with her brother Covers, now a Unitarian minister at First Parish in Watertown and attended his church regularly.  He encouraged her reading and gave her a magazine article that suggested that New England history might be fertile ground for an aspiring novelist.  

With Convers’ encouragement she dashed off her first novel Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times which was published in 1824 and is credited with being the one of first historical novels published in the United States coming out just months after James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, first of the Leatherstocking series.  Like Cooper’s book, it was also noted for its sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans.  From that time forward he dedicated herself to writing.

But it was not yet a profession that could support her.  The same year she opened her own school in Watertown and continued teach for the next four years.  In 1826 she founded Juvenile Miscellany, the first monthly periodical for children issued in the country.

Maria's husband David Lee Child, a reformer, journalist, and improvident businessman in mid life.  Their childless marriage and partnership endured despite often long separations as Maria pursued her career.

In 1826 Maria married Boston lawyer David Lee Child, an idealistic reformer who introduced her to the wide and tumultuous world of the Hub City’s intellectuals, activists, and especially radical abolitionists.  

Maria officially joined a conventional Congregational church but left it and began to attend worship with William Ellery Channing, although she despaired of his reluctance to fully embrace abolitionism.  She was soon a frequent participant in Margaret Fuller’s “conversations” held at Elizabeth Peabody’s North Street bookstore.  She became Fuller’s close friend and collaborator

Despite her loving relationship with her husband, he was frequently drawn in to improvident schemes or in trouble for his activism.  Twice he was jailed for debt.  The family had to rely largely on Maria’s earnings as a writer.  Inspired by her own experience she published The Frugal Housewife, a guide to making do with little.  It was a success and kept the family fed.

Child was a collaborator with fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison but broke with him after 11 years of close association in 1851 over his advocacy of violence and abstention from voting while slave states remained in the Union.  Although the events in Bloody Kansas and John Brown's Harper's Ferry Raid caused her to move toward approval of violence, the breach with Garrison was too raw and personal for her to resume that relationship.

In 1831 Maria became an associate of the nation’s most notorious abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison.  She became a leader of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and contributed to Garrison’s newspaper The Liberator.  Although an ardent supporter of women’s rights, she came to believe that the subjugation of women could not be ended until the still worse evil of slavery was ended.

From 1832 to ‘35 Child published five volumes of the Ladies Family Library featuring short biographies exemplifying feminine virtues for her growing audience of middle class women.  The books were popular and selling well until her unvarnished militancy was aired in her 1833 book  An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans.  Her radicalism alienated much of her audience.  Sales of her books for women plummeted, as did circulation of her magazine, which she was forced to suspend in 1834.

Child's anti-slavery book caused many of the middle class women readers she had carefully cultivated to abandon her. 

Defiant, Child turned her attention full time to the cause of abolitionism.  In 1839 she was elected to the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  The following year she was appointed editor of the Society’s influential publication, the National Anti-Slavery Standard and moved to New York City to assume her duties.  Her husband David, although nominally named her co-editor, remained in Massachusetts to work on a scheme to introduce sugar beet cultivation to the state to end dependence on slave harvested sugar cane.  Under New York law, Maria was able for the first time to separate her finances from those of her husband.

Her tenure at the Standard was a success and circulation grew with her policy of appealing to the whole family. 
She continued her service on the board of American Anti-Slavery Society where she collaborated with Lucretia Mott and Maria Weston Chapman.  She wrote anti-slavery fiction as a way of broadening the appeal of the movement including the short stories The Quadroons in 1842 and Slavery’s Pleasant Homes: A Faithful Sketch 1843.

But in 1842 she broke with Garrison over his advocacy of refusing to vote as a protest against Union with slave holding states, his advocacy of violence, and organizational infighting.  She felt these positions would alienate her broadened readership base.  She resigned her editorship and turned her back for a while on the organized anti-slavery movement.  She vowed to work only with feminist and suffrage organizations.   

Child returned to her father's home in Wayland, Massachusetts which became her own home for most of the last 30 years of her life. 
Child remained in New York as a freelance writer for sometime before returning to reunite with her husband.  Together they cared for her ailing father in Wayland.  The old house became her home for most of the rest of her life.

In the 1850’s escalating tensions over the Fugitive Slave Act and the attack on her personal friend Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate re-invigorated her opposition to slavery and caused her to re-evaluate her previous absolute opposition to violence.  Outrages like the murderous raid of pro-slavery forces on Lawrence Kansas caused her to become more sympathetic to violence.  Her poem The Kansas Emigrants drew widespread attention.  

She was sympathetic to John Brown after his arrest for trying to lead a slave insurrection with his raid at Harpers’ Ferry.  She personally knew some of the prominent Bostonians including Rev. Theodore Parker who had financed the raid.  Child wrote letters of in support of Brown to Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise and published the exchange which was widely praised in the North and condemned in the South.

During the same decade she turned her attention to religion.  She had long been a seeker and although most frequently worshiped with the Unitarians, she found their practice sometimes cold and unsatisfying.  She plunged into a study of both the evolution of Christianity and of world religion.  She published her three volume The Progress of Religious Ideas through Successive Ages in 1854.  She hoped to remove “the superstitious rubbish from the sublime morality of Christ.”  The closely researched books were respectful of the contributions of many religions to the development of a refined human morality.  The books were highly praised, but sold poorly.  He close friend the Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson said of one volume that it was “too learned for a popular book and too popular for a learned one.”

As war clouds gathered, Child left Wayland for Boston where there was work that needed to be done in the winter of 1860-61.  She was back home when the war broke out and dedicated herself to charity work supporting contrabands—the slaves that fell into Union hands or escaped their masters by fleeing into the protection of the Army.  Concerned with their future, she edited the Freedmen’s Book, a reading primer for former slaves.

With the end of the war Child returned to earlier passions. The plight of Native Americans grabbed her attention and she authored a series of pamphlets on the issue.  Most influential was An Appeal for the Indians in 1868 which called upon government officials and religious leaders, to bring justice to the tribes, including the right to retain their lands, speak their languages, and practice their religions.  The pamphlet helped encourage the establishment of the Board of Indian Commissioners and the subsequent more slightly more lenient peace policy of the Ulysses S. Grant administration.

Child on the porch of her Wayland home in the post-Civil War era.

Child also resumed her work on behalf of women’s suffrage where she was a leader of a faction that demanded that free Black men get the vote first, or in conjunction with women.  She was a founder of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1867 she was attracted to the Free Religious Association (FRA), a semi-impendent group of Unitarian ministers and congregations which were challenging the remnants of orthodoxy.  She attended worship at meetings on her frequent trips to Boston.  In 1878 she published Aspirations of the World, her own personal eclectic Bible made up of quotations culled from the religions of the world.  

Child’s husband David died in 1874.  Freed of his debts and schemes, she was for the first time in her life able to save money from her continuing active work as a popular writer.  She used her new found wealth to give generously to causes in which she believed.

When Child died in 1880, her funeral was conducted in her Wayland parlor.  The eulogy was given by her frequent collaborator on abolition, women’s suffrage, and Indian rights, Wendell Phillips.  She was buried next to her much loved but improvident husband David.  They left no children.

The cover of one of the many editions of Child's most famous poem re-titled Over the River and Through the Woods.  Although she might have preferred being remembered for her abolition and women's rights work, as a passionate advocate of children's literature, I don't think she would be entirely disappointed.

Oh, did I forget to mention that seasonal song which is now just about the only thing Child is remembered for?  The words to the Thanksgiving song Over the River and Through the Woods were originally published in 1844 as a poem A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day in Volume II of Child’s collection Flowers for Children.  I could find no attribution for who set the popular poem to the now familiar tune.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

And the Band Played The World Turned Upside Down

John Turnbull's famous 1820 painting of the surrender at Yorktown.  General Benjamin Lincoln accepted the sword from Brigadier Charles O'Hara as Washington looked on.  The French army was on the left and the Continental Army on the right.  The band played The World Turned Upside Down.
The English musicians had it right when they played The World Turned Upside Down on October 19, 1781.  On that day British forces commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis marched out of their fortifications at Yorktown, Virginia between ranks of Continental Army and French troops. Cornwallis, feigning illness, dispatched Irish born Brigadier General Charles O'Hara to do the distasteful duty.  O’Hara attempted to offer the sword of surrender to the senior French officer, the Comte de Rochambeau who declined pointing to General George Washington.  Washington, irked at Cornwallis’s breach of decorum, likewise refused to accept the sword from an inferior officer.  He chose his subordinate, General Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated at the surrender of Savannah, Georgia, to accept the sword.  7,087 British and German mercenary officers and enlisted men and 840 sailors from the British fleet in the York River lay down their arms.
By the terms of the surrender worked out in delicate negotiations since the British advanced a white flag across the front on October 17, rank and file troops became prisoners of war with a promise of humane treatment.  Officers were allowed to swear parole and disembark for England.  Washington had curtly refused a proposed article 10 of the surrender document that would have given protection to loyalists and Cornwallis knew that he could not contest the issue, leaving local Tories unprotected.
The surrender was not the end of the war, but was clearly a blow from which the British could not recover.  Both sides avoided major clashes of their main armies for nearly two years as negotiations dragged on in Paris until a treaty was finally signed recognizing American independence on September 3, 1783.
Modern historians accurately emphasize that the victory at Yorktown would have been impossible except for the large French Army under Rochambeau and the presence of the French Fleet under the Comte de Grasse at sea.  After the patriotic hagiography of Washington in the 19th Century, it has become fashionable to decry the Continental commander’s generalship, particularly in light of his long string of battlefield losses to the British—especially the disastrous Long Island campaign.  But Washington was masterfully in command of the operation from the time the allies reached agreement on a plan in Newport, Rhode Island. 
In July of 1780 a French fleet under Admiral Destouches had brought Rochambeau and 5,500 troops to join the Americans at Newport.  Washington and the French General soon reached a rapport and encouraged the Admiral to sail south to support American troops under the Marquis de Lafayette in contesting a large British force under the traitor Benedict Arnold which had been dispatched to Virginia.  The Admiral was reluctant to test his fleet against the British and sent only a small squadron of three ships in February 1781.  When those proved ineffective he took a larger force of 11 ships in March 1781, and fought a tactically inconclusive battle with the British fleet under Marriot Arbuthnot at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Destouches withdrew due to the damage sustained to his fleet, leaving Arbuthnot and the British fleet in control of the bay’s mouth.
Meanwhile Arnold’s raiding troops were reinforced by 2,300 troops under command of Major General William Phillips, who took command. Phillips easily defeated the Virginia Militia, and burned the tobacco warehouses at Petersburg on April 25. Just as Richmond laid exposed Lafayette’s 1,200 Continental troops of the Line arrived, and the British withdrew to Petersburg on May 10.

Driven out of the Deep South by an American campaign of attrition, Lord Charles Cornwallis "invaded" Virginia which was defended by ill organized militia and a small force of Continental troops playing a clever game of tag under Washington's favorite, the young Marquis de Lafayette.  Painting by John Singlton Copley.
On May 20 Cornwallis arrived at Petersburg with the Southern army that had masterfully been driven out of Georgia and the Carolinas by an American campaign of attrition that succeeded even without winning a major battle.  Despite technically winning a battle at Guilford Court House in Greensboro, North Carolina against the American army under General Nathaniel Green, Cornwallis had lost nearly a quarter of his men.  He decided, against General Henry Clinton’s orders to hold the Deep South, to turn north to “invade” Virginia.
Cornwallis took command of the united troops at Petersburg since Phillips had died of swamp fever.  He received further reinforcements from Clinton in New York bringing his total forces to 7,200 men.  Lafayette fell back on Richmond, where he was reinforced by troops under Baron von Steuben and Anthony Wayne.  Now with 4,200 men, Lafayette played cat-and-mouse with half of Cornwallis’s men as the other half raided to the south.  Clinton issued contradictory orders but finally directed Cornwallis to Yorktown where he was to build strong fortifications, create a deep water port for the Navy and await further reinforcement from New York.
Meanwhile Washington and Rochambeau convinced de Grasse, a more aggressive officer than Destouches, to move with his powerful West Indies Fleet to the mouth of the Chesapeake to block reinforcement of Cornwallis. The French and Continental Armies assembled at White Plains north of New York to determine a course of action.  At first Washington proposed an assault on the city and began probing British defenses with reconnaissance raids.  But after de Grasse confirmed that he would be sailing to Virginia with a fleet of 29 ships and additional troops, the two commanders agreed to march their armies, in as much secrecy as possible, south to join Lafayette in trapping the British on the Yorktown peninsula. 
Washington, a master of counter intelligence and  misdirection, allowed dispatches to be “captured” by the British that indicated that the joint armies planned an assault on New York, made all the more believable by Washington’s  probes. 
On August 19 4,000 French and 3,000 American troops began the march in Newport while a large number were left in White Plains to continue pressure on Clinton in New York and defend the Hudson Valley.  The Armies arrived at Philadelphia on September 2.  Continental troops threatened not to cross into Virginia unless they were paid, and Congress hastily authorized immediate payment of one month’s wages
On September 5 Washington got word that de Grasse had arrived off of Virginia and had disembarked troops to reinforce Lafayette and was sending his empty transports north to pick up his army.  The same day de Grasse heavily damaged a British relief fleet under Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves at Battle of the Capes sending the British limping back to New York and preventing any interference with the movements of Continental and French forces.

French commander the Comte de Rochambeau quickly established a rapport with Washington and together they mapped out plans for a campaign.  The French officer was always careful to acknowledge and honor the Continental General as the senior commander.
Washington and Rochambeau made a hasty march to the Head of Elk on the northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay where most of the troops were picked up by de Grasse’s transports.  Others were picked up in Baltimore on the way south.  Washington arrived in Williamsburg on September 14.  His artillery, baggage, and siege tools arrived with more French assault troops days later.  Washington now commanded a combined force of 8,000 Continentals, 7,800 French, and 3,100 militia.  In addition he had an impressive artillery train including heavy siege guns.
On September 28 Washington led his army out of Williamsburg and surrounded the British on the Yorktown peninsula.  The French fleet prevented reinforcements or evacuation.  Cornwallis was trapped.  With the French under Rochambeau on the left and the Continentals in the “place of honor” on the right, Washington closed in.  For the next two weeks he brilliantly conducted a classic siege campaign.  

                Rochambeau and Washington giving their last orders before the battle in the Siège de Yorktown by Auguste Couder.
As Washington slowly tightened the noose, Cornwallis abandoned his outer defenses except for a Fusilier’s redoubt on the west side of the town and Redoubts 9 and 10 in the east on September 30.  The allies occupied the abandoned defense line and set up guns to pound British emplacements.  Cornwallis had his men occupy earthwork defenses just outside the city of Yorktown and awaited promised reinforcements from Clinton.  Amid regular skirmishing and artillery exchanges, Washington advanced construction of a series of siege parallelstrenches—ever closer to the British positions. On the 3rd, the foraging party, led by Tory Col. Banastre Tarleton, tried to make a break but were met by Lauzun’s Legion, and John Mercer’s Virginia militia under the command of the  Marquis de Choisy who sent the cavalry quickly reeling back behind their  lines,  with 50 men lost.

On the night of October 6, troops moved out in stormy weather to dig the first parallel. Washington ceremonially struck several blows with his pick axe to begin the trench. The trench was to be 2,000 yards long, running from the head of Yorktown to the York River
By October 9, all of the considerable allied artillery was in place in the parallel.  The French guns opened the barrage and drove the British frigate, HMS Guadeloupe across the York River, where she was scuttled to prevent capture. Then the Americans opened up with the first gun ceremonially fired by Washington himself.  The British line was pounded unmercifully.  Fire continued into the night so that the British could get not rest and so that miners and sappers could begin construction of a second parallel.

                                       Washington fires the first gun of the siege. 

The British never discovered that a second line was being dug.  They were surprised on the morning of October 12 when fire erupted from the second line.  By the October 14 the trenches had reached within 150 yards of the British redoubts 9# and 10#.  The allies prepared assaults to take these critical defenses.  Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis (sharpened log stakes) surrounding them, and muddy ditches that surrounded the redoubts at about 25 yards.  A French diversionary attack on the Fusilier’s redoubt at 6:30 A.M. sent much of the British line into a panic
At seven the 400 elite light infantry with Colonel Alexander Hamilton in the lead launched a bayonet assault on 10#.  Hamilton sent Laurens around to the rear of the redoubt to prevent the British from escaping while his men hacked through the abatis, crossed a ditch, and climbed the parapet into the redoubt, despite recieving heavy fire, Hamilton took the fortress by storm.  The French under German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrücken bogged down in the abatis for a while but then crested the parapets and forced the defending Hessian troops to withdraw to an interior line behind some barrels before forcing them to surrender.

Alexander Hamilton had spent most of his war as aide de camp and a surrogate son to George Washington but he ached to prove himself in Battle.  The General allowed him to take command of the critical assault on  Redoubt #10.  He earned the glory that he craved and that he knew would boost his post war ambissions.
With these two positions now in his hands, Washington’s artillery was in complete command of British positions in the city and in the harbor.  American and French gunners kept up relentless fire. In a desperate attempt to break out on October 15 British troops managed to take a small portion of the American line and spike six guns before retreating under heavy fire.  By evening the six guns were repaired and pounding the enemy once again.
The next day Cornwallis attempted to evacuate his troops across the York River to Gloucester Point.  One wave of boats made it across, but a squall hit, making further evacuation impossible.
Cornwallis convened a council of war and his officers agreed that their situation was now hopeless.  On the morning of October 17 he dispatched a drummer followed by an officer waving a white handkerchief.  The bombardment ceased, and the officer was blindfolded and led behind the Allied lines.  After two days of negotiations, the formal surrender was conducted.
Washington seldom gets credit, but he had sole command of the entire operation, while consulting regularly with his French allies.  His conduct of the siege was masterful.
Five days later the British fleet sent by Clinton to rescue the British army finally arrived off of Yorktown.  They could do nothing but pick-up frightened Tories and sail back to New York before the French fleet overtook them. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

That Time Confederate Cavalry Raided Vermont

Frank Leslie's Illustrated published a series of engravings detailing every step of the Confederate raid on St. Albans based on photo graphs of the town and sketches of actual townsmen.  The teller at the St. Albans bank was told,  “Not a word. We are Confederate Soldiers detailed from General Early’s Army to come North and to rob and plunder as your soldiers were doing in the Shenandoah Valley.”
Compared to the industrial scale horror of many of the battle fields of the Civil War, it was a trifle.  Hardly even a skirmishone dead on each side, a handful of injuries, one shed burned, and a few locals thrown into a panic.  Indeed outside of the Green Mountain state where it is something of a big deal, it has been relegated to a mere footnote in the central epic of American history.
But I guess the actual invasion of Vermont by Confederate cavalry on October 18, 1864 merits a few spilled electrons here.
By October of 1864 things looked grim for the Rebels.  Robert E. Lee’s increasingly bedraggled Army of Northern Virginia was losing a war of attrition but was putting up a desperate resistance behind the earthen work defenses of Petersburg, gateway to Richmond itself.  William Tecumseh Sherman was cutting loose from recently fallen Atlanta and making his March to the Sea.  The West had been cut off for more than a year since the fall of Vicksburg and total Union control of the Mississippi.  Most important Confederate ports had either already fallen were effectively blockaded.  The Southern economy was in shambles, its limited industrial capacity largely smashed, and her people exhausted.  Yet they fought on, desperate for a miracle.
In such a situation President Jefferson Davis was eager to try anything, no matter how outlandish and desperate.  His attention turned to Canada where Confederate agents swarmed concocting fantastic plots the main aim of which was to exploit Northern war weariness and somehow defeat Abraham Lincoln in the November election and replace him with a peace Democrat who would negotiate an end to the war. 
To that end they had been advising and arming a small number of radical Copperheads, nominally led by Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham and his political organization The Sons of Liberty.  Most of the Sons were simply anti-war, but I minority did hatch some plots with the aid those Canadian agents—attempts to stir an uprising in Chicago coincidental to the Democratic Party Convention there.  The plot had been exposed, and Republican propagandists made a field day of exaggerating the threat and denouncing Copperhead treason.  Vallandigham himself was deported to Canada.  
Meanwhile other plots included a plan to seize the only Navy Gunboat on Lake Eerie, the U.S.S Michigan which was guarding a sizable prisoner of war camp on Johnson’s Island.  Armed agents seized a steamboat and planned to intercept the Michigan whose officers were supposed to be drugged by saboteurs.  That plot also was exposed and the rebels had to high tail it to Canadian shores on their commandeered boat.

Lt. Bennett Young planned and led the raid.
So it was not surprising that Davis eagerly accepted a plan laid out to him by a young cavalryman.  Bennett H. Young was the teen age son of a Kentucky aristocrat when he had enlisted in the 8th Kentucky Cavalry.  He was only 20 when he was captured in Ohio during General John Hunt Morgan’s raid deep into Yankee territory.  After a short time as a prisoner of war, he escaped and made his way to Canada.  From there he went all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he booked passage to Bermuda and from there back south on a blockade runner.  After the daring do of these adventures, he eventually laid out his plans to President Davis.
He proposed to return to Canada and once there recruit a force from the large numbers of escaped POW’s there, then stage a raid on a fat and under-protected U.S. border town.  The immediate objective would be to rob banks and secure desperately needed speciehard currency in the form of gold.  The raid would also perhaps force the Union government to divert troops from the southern fronts to protect the exposed northern frontier.  It might be enough of a blow to Northern moral to help tip the November election to George McClelland and the Democrats.  
Perhaps the wildest hope was that the raid would provoke an over-reaction and a hot pursuit of the raiders across the border causing an international incident.  With luck it might even blow up into something that would finally bring British intervention into the Civil War either on the side of the South or as a neutral peace keeper which would separate the forces and recognize the South—a long cherished Confederate dream.
Davis was sold.  He commissioned Young a lieutenant, provided a small purse to help finance his plan and sent him back to Canada with order to meet up with Confederate agents there.  Returning north by the same perilous route, Young was soon enough busy recruiting his force.
Eventually he gathered 21 other young adventurers, most of them, like himself, cavalrymen, the others expert horsemen.  After a brief period of training, they began to slip across the porous and undefended border by ones and twos, most by train.

The S.t Alban's Bank, right, was one of three that were robbed during the raid.
Their objective was the prosperous rail junction town of St. Albans fifteen miles from the border.  It major attraction was three fat banks clustered near the center of town.  
On October 10, Young and one companion checked into a local hotel explaining their long guns by claiming to be on a hunting trip from St. John’s.  Over the next few days the others arrived with similar stories.  Although it is a mystery to me how so many armed young men, many of whom had to have obviously Southern accents could come into a small town without arising at least some suspicion.  But then St. Albans was far from the war, and perhaps only its sons and husbands in the Union service had ever heard a Southerner speak.
As his troops assembled, Young spent time scouting the surrounding area and all possible roads in and out of town in all directions under the cover of hunting trips.  The handsome and charming young man also found time to dally with the affections of a local belle and was even welcomed into the home of Governor J. Gregory Smith and given a tour by his wife, Anna
Finally, all was in place.  About 3 pm October 19, Young strode the steps of the American Hotel, drew his pistol and announced the astonished men gathered there “I take possession of this town in the name of the Confederate States of America.  Anyone resisting will be shot.”  By coincidence he had the good fortune of picking a day when the local Sherriff and as many as 50 other leading local citizens were attending court at the county seat and Gov. Smith was attending state business in Montpelier.  The men most likely to organize an effective resistance were gone.
Young and a handful of cohorts began to round up citizens on the streets and herd them onto the village green.  When the local church bells sounded 3 pm teams of two or three burst simultaneously into the town’s three banks—the St. Albans Bank, Franklin County Bank, and First National Bank of St. Albans—clustered together conveniently enough on Bank Street.  In each case employees were pistol whipped or threatened and chaotic searches were conducted for cash.  In each case substantial amounts were  not found, left behind or, and lost in the excitement.
The robbers found little hard currency and in one case decided that a bag of silver Dollars was too heavy to carry.  Very little gold was taken, but they loaded up on bank notes, green backs, and government bonds.  
Meanwhile as Young held the terrified locals at gun point, other men rounded up and saddled horses from the local livery stable and from the streets.  
Several shots were fired in the bank robberies and as Young and his men menaced the town.  There were several tussles and a few locals managed to get a hold of weapons and fire, mostly ineffectively, at the raiders.  One local man was killed, and another wounded by gunfire.  Two raiders were shot, one of whom later died of his wounds.
Meanwhile, despite the best efforts isolate the center of town, word was getting out that a raid was taking place and men started to arm themselves and prepare to attack the raiders.  
Young planned to set fire to the town, reportedly as revenge for General Philip Sheridan’s devastating raid in the Shenandoah Valley and as a diversion to keep townspeople too busy putting out the flames to pursue them.  To this end the raiders had equipped themselves with four inch glass vials of Greek Fire that were supposed to burst into flames when broken and exposed to the air.  Vials were thrown at the American House and several other businesses, but only a shed ignited and it was quickly extinguished
Young was overheard to order one of his men to go to Governor Smith’s home and burn it.  A boy slipped away from the crowd and ran to inform Mrs. Smith that the raiders were coming.  She quickly rummaged through the house and found an old horse pistol.  Unfortunately it was unloaded and she did not find any ammunition.  Gamely she hauled the heavy weapon out and took a position in her doorway awaiting the arrival of the Rebels.  Her heart was beating when she heard hoof beats.

With the Sherriff, Governor Smith, and many of the leading citizens away from town, working men like these formed the local resistance and joined two hastily assembled posses.
Fortunately the horse was ridden by Captain George Conger, a recently discharged  Union cavalryman who was organizing a posse.  He left some men behind to guard the governor’s home and then headed to town.  Eventually he gathered a posse of 50 men and F. Stewart Stranahan and John W. Newton gathered another 50.  Both groups began to close in on the village center.
Realizing that he was pressed and outnumbered, Young had to abandon plans to proceed to two other nearby towns to rob their banks.  He and his men hightailed it out of town not too much in advance of the posses.  In the confusion more bank loot spilled from the raiders’ bags.  
Here his planning and knowledge of the roads paid off the men split up and then split again.  All gained the Canadian border safely, including the two wounded men, one of who would soon die.
Once in Canada it did not take long for local authorities, warned by telegraph to find and round up raiders.  All who actually went on the raid were in custody within 24 hours, although co-conspirators and Confederate agents in Canada were not nabbed.
Canadian authorities were in a quandary about what to do with the men.  At the State Department William S. Seward issued blustery demands for their return, calling the men common criminals.  Young and his men demanded to be treated as combatants of war and thus beyond extradition and criminal punishment.  As predicted the incident did blow up into an incident that threatened US-British relations.  Canadian authorities finally decided that their neutrality prevented them from turning the men over.  They did however return all of the money they recovered—about $88,000 of the estimated $200,000 stolen.  Some of the rest of the money was recovered in St. Albans and along the trail of the fleeing raiders.

Five of the raiders, including Lt. Young in cavalry boots, were photographed in Canada while awaiting their fate.  They had pieced together some semblance of uniforms to emphasize that they were soldiers on a mission approved by the President to the Confederacy and not common criminals.  But in the raid they had been in mufti and if the Americans could get them extradited they would be tried and spies and most likely hung.
While in custody the raiders were treated as celebrities.  They posed for photographs in and out of their jail cells.  Papers both North and South were filled with breathless accounts of their escapades.  Illustrated stories splashed across the pages of weeklies like Harper’s and Frank Leslie’s.  
But the publicity failed to dishearten the public, who were beginning to get used to Union victories in the field.  A few troops were indeed dispatched to protect the border, but the Union had plenty to spare.  Another Canadian based plot to stage an election day uprising in New York City was revealed and squelched when General Benjamin Butler arrived in the city with several thousand troops.  The election went off without a hitch.  Lincoln, of course, was re-elected.
The South, however, was cheered by the heroics.  President Davis promoted Young to Brigadier General as he sat in his jail cell.

Promoted to Brigadier General while in custody in Canada, Young eventually became a leading citizen and wealthy man.  Seen here in his uniform as National Commander of the United Confederate Veterans--the Southern equivalent of the Union's Grand Army of the Republic.
Eventually all the men were released.  After the war Young was specifically excluded from the General Amnesty offered Confederate troops.  He could not go safely home again until 1868.  He studied law while in exile and back home opened up a prosperous law practice.  He was widely celebrated as a hero and gained both wealth and prestige.  He became noted for his philanthropy including founding the first orphanage for Black children in Louisville, a school for the blind, and much pro bono work for the poor. He became President of the Louisville Southern Railroad, a memoirist, and National Commander of the United Confederate Veterans.  He died in 1919 at the age of 66.
Only one of the three robbed banks still stands.  And it is still a bank building.  But after many mergers and changes of hands it is, somewhat ironically, a branch of a major Canadian bank.
Tailored made as an adventure yarn, the St. Alban’s raid has been the subject of novels and of the 1954 film The Raid starring Van Heflin, Richard Boone, Anne Bancroft, and Lee Marvin.  As you might suspect, the film was only loosely tethered to the facts.

St. Albans has become a magnate for New England Civil War buffs and a boon to Vermont tourism.  This marker stands near the site of the three banks targeted by the raiders.
The state of Vermont has heavily promoted the story of the St. Albans Raid.  The state has found that Civil War buffs nicely supplement the annual pilgrimages of leaf peepers to the state.