One of the most unusual incidents of the American Civil War was the Confederate raid on the town of St. Albans, Vermont, that was carried out on October 19, 1864. A band of escaped Southern prisoners of war, who had been hiding out in Canada, robbed three banks in St. Albans.
They then escaped on horseback across the Quebec border, carrying $208,000 in stolen money. The purpose of their mission was to acquire large sums of cash to replenish the depleted Confederate coffers. They also hoped to force the Union Army to divert resources away from the war in the South in order to protect the border with Canada.
This Confederate action, perpetrated hundreds of miles from any battlefield by a rough group of what were essentially spies, was the northernmost land action of the Civil War.
During the dramatic raid, one unfortunate civilian found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was Elinus J. Morrison of Manchester, New Hampshire, who was the only person killed during the incident. He was shot by a Confederate soldier, and died two days later, on October 21, 1864. Elinus is buried in the Morrison family plot at the Valley Cemetery in Manchester. In the center of the plot is a white marble obelisk that bears his name and the name of several close family members.
Elinus J. Morrison was born in 1812 in Fairlee, Vermont, the son of James and Martha Polton Morrison. His older brother, George W. Morrison, visited Manchester in 1835, when he was at the start of his legal career. George was impressed by the ambitious plans of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company to create a large textile manufacturing plant along the east bank of the Merrimack River that would harness the vast water power of Amoskeag Falls. He could see that the population was growing and that good lawyers would be needed. George set up a law office in Amoskeag Village on the west side of the Falls. He later moved to the east side of the river where his practice thrived, and he became one of New Hampshire's most prominent lawyers. Notably he served as a prosecuting attorney in the famous Jonas Parker murder trial of 1850 in Manchester.
George's younger brother, Elinus, followed him to Manchester. He was an expert brick mason, and there was plenty of work to be had in the town. In 1840 Elinus married Mary Ann Elliott in Boscawen, New Hampshire. By 1847 they had moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts. The family returned to Manchester in the 1850s, and eventually settled in a house on Pine Street, near Lowell Street, with their five children. In a published genealogy of the Morrison family, Elinus was described as being of medium height, thick set, with sandy hair, and it was written that he was "…a stirring, enterprising, capable businessman." He prospered in his trade, working as a contractor on a variety of construction projects in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. His specialty was building railroad bridges and tunnels.
In October 1864 Elinus Morrison was finishing up his latest job as the construction foreman of the impressive new five-story brick Welden Hotel in St. Albans, Vermont. St. Albans is located 15 miles south of the Canadian border, on Lake Champlain. Beginning in 1850, when the railroad first came to town, St. Albans underwent a rapid transformation. The once sleepy hamlet quickly grew into a thriving center of transportation and commerce. The St. Albans Foundry Company became a leading manufacturer of farm equipment and in 1860 the Vermont Central Railroad established its headquarters in town.
In 1864 the normal population of 2,000 locals was swelled by hundreds of railway workers and other people who were in St. Albans on business or personal matters, or passing through on their way to other destinations. The busy downtown included two hotels and three banks, plus hardware, millinery, drug, clothing, dry goods, and grocery stores as well as carriage shops and livery stables. To Elinus Morrison, St. Albans must have been a pleasant place to be. It had all the amenities of modern life and was only a train ride away from his family in Manchester.
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story – Elinus J. Morrison and the raid on St. Albans..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her firstname.lastname@example.org