As Elinus J. Morrison lay on his deathbed in the American Hotel in St. Albans, Vermont, his wife Mary was summoned by telegram from the family home in Manchester, New Hampshire. She made her way north by rail as fast as she could, and arrived in time to be at Elinus’ side when he took his last breath on October 21, 1864.
Elinus Morrison had been shot in the abdomen on October 19 by a Confederate soldier. The shooter was part of a gang that had robbed three banks in St. Albans, terrorized the local populace, and attempted to burn down the town. These 15 to 19 escaped prisoners of war (the exact number has never been established) in civilian clothing fired their pistols recklessly to intimidate the citizenry, but sometimes they aimed to kill. Elinus was targeted when he exchanged words with one of the raiders, and two other civilians were shot in separate incidents. Collins Huntington was shot in the back, injuring a rib, and Leonard Bingham was slightly wounded in the abdomen. They were fortunate as their injuries were minor.
On their way out of town on stolen horses, the raiders paused long enough to throw bottles of a sulfuric liquid called “Greek fire” at several buildings. This incendiary chemical failed to ignite, and all that was left of the Confederates’ attempt at arson was a lingering odor of rotten eggs. The raiders were hotly pursued by two groups of angry citizens. A local U.S. Army officer, Captain George Conger, who was in St. Albans after being discharged, quickly organized a posse of 50 men, and a second group of around 40 followed close behind. However, the raiders did manage to escape over the Canadian border 15 miles away. They carried $208,000 in stolen money that they intended to turn over to the Confederate government.
Within 24 hours, 14 of the “rebel ruffians” as the New York Times called them, including the ringleader Lieutenant Bennett Young, were apprehended in Canada. Despite rigorous diplomatic efforts on the part of the U.S. government, Canadian officials refused to extradite the culprits so they could be tried in the U.S. It was determined that the raiders were war combatants, so therefore Canadians felt that they had no jurisdiction in the matter. The men were set free. The Canadians had seized bank notes and gold from the raiders, valued at $87,000. These funds were returned as partial restitution for financial loss to the St. Albans banks. Although Lieutenant Young was implicated as the murderer of Elinus Morrison, he was never charged with the crime.
Elinus Morrison was honored with a religious observance at the American Hotel in St. Albans. His body was then brought back to Manchester where his funeral was held. Elinus was buried in the family plot at the Valley Cemetery. His bereaved wife Mary was left alone with their four children, who ranged in age from 7 to 21.
The raid on St. Albans was the northernmost land action of the Civil War. In a genealogy of the Morrison family published in 1880, the authors lamented, “It seemed a strange providence that he should have fallen by an act of war while engaged in peaceable pursuits, hundreds of miles from any known hostile force.”
The dramatic story of the St. Albans Raid was the inspiration for the 1954 Technicolor movie, “The Raid,” that starred Van Heflin, Lee Marvin, Peter Graves, and Anne Bancroft. The movie’s plot line wandered far from the historical record, however, and the story of Elinus J. Morrison was not part of the screenplay. A New York Times reviewer expressed at the time, “If one is satisfied with a shootin’ and connivin’ type of entertainment, ‘The Raid’ probably will do. But it could, and should, have been much better.”
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the raid on St. Albans. A three-day commemoration is planned in St. Albans from September 18-21, 2014. The schedule includes dramatic reenactments of the raid, walking tours, lectures, period music, and a Civil War costume ball. Details of the event are available at www.stalbansraid.com. The website also includes several excellent articles about the raid and its aftermath.
Next Week: Mary Elliot and the founding of Elliot Hospital in Manchester..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org