On October 20, 1864, the New York Times published a shocking account of a surprise Confederate raid on an unlikely target, the northern Vermont town of St. Albans.
The story was telegraphed soon after the events occurred: “…on Wednesday, Oct. 19, St. Albans was in a state of apparent quiet, common to New-England towns. Our informant, (railroad) conductor BALDWIN, was standing on the steps of the American Hotel, just as the town bell rang out the hour of 3 o’clock, when he saw a man coming out of the door of the First National Bank, and as he did so a citizen on the steps knocked him down. A second was also floored; but the third raider had a pistol in his hand and the citizen retreated. The conductor thought the affair was the freak of some drunken men, but soon he saw symptoms of a disturbance at other points. Several men appeared to be rushing about with pistols, in parties of from five to ten. One of these gangs met a Mr. MORRISON and presented a weapon to him, demanding his surrender. He answered, ‘You are joking, boys.’ They fired and he fell, weltering in his blood. Our informant saw him throw up his hands and then sink on the ground, and then he (Baldwin) realized for the first time that the village was attacked by an organized body of men, bent on pillage and regardless of human life.”
The unfortunate victim, Elinus J. Morrison of Manchester, N.H., was a 52-year old contractor who was overseeing the construction of the new Welden Hotel in St. Albans. When he and his workmen heard gunshots coming from the center of town a short distance away, they instinctively ran towards the commotion. They were unaware that they were about to confront an organized gang of well-armed Confederate soldiers in civilian clothing, who were brazenly robbing banks and terrorizing the citizenry.
As Elinus turned the corner onto Main Street, he found himself on the steps of Miss Beattie’s Millinery Shop. Local citizen Myron Wilson was in the center office of the St. Albans Messenger newspaper nearby. He heard his son yelling from outside, “There are horse thieves in the street!” Wilson looked out to see a band of 15 to 20 men “…opposite the offices and on either side…some on horseback, some on foot, engaged in unhitching horses attached to vehicles and fastened at the posts on the street.”
Wilson reported that he “…saw one of the horsemen aim a pistol and fire a shot which took effect in the body of said Morrison.” He heard the horseman order Elinus to stop, and Elinus respond, “I don’t see it (the gun)!” The raider answered him, “I’ll make you see it!” As Wilson further recalled, “Morrison, after the pistol shot him, came off the steps and leaned against the corner of the building in a crouching position, and I said to him, ‘Are you hurt?’ I saw the blood coming from one of his hands.” Elinus responded, “Yes, they have shot me through the body.”
Adaliza Blakely, a 17-year old seamstress who worked for Miss Beattie’s Millinery Shop, was outside the store when she heard gunshots. Although at least two eyewitnesses had reported that the shooter was on horseback, Adaliza recounted that, “I immediately turned and looked in the direction from which the report (gunshot) came and I saw a man with two pistols standing by his horses and about ten or twelve feet from where Mr. Morrison stood…I saw this man…fire twice with his pistols before Mr. Morrison was wounded.” She saw Elinus bend down and grab the left side of his abdomen.
Wilson and Erasmus Fuller, the owner of a local livery stable, carried Elinus into a room in the back of the L. S. Dutcher and Son drug store. They placed him on a bed, and examined his wound, which appeared dire. Elinus was attended by Dr. Seth R. Day, and then was taken to his room at the American Hotel where he was further treated by Dr. John Branch. Unfortunately, nothing could be done to save him. Elinus Morrison died two days later, on October 21, 1864.
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — The aftermath of the St. Albans Raid, a Hollywood movie, and a reenactment..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org