Photo by IAN LORD, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — As a part of obtaining sponsors for next year’s St. Albans Raid 150th Anniversary Commemoration, one of the event’s organizers, Warren Hamm, has sought and received St. Albans Town Selectboard’s support.
Hamm, a St. Albans Town resident, told the board Monday night that the September 2014 event comes with an $80,000 budget, and explained the large-scale event.
Moving the celebration up to September from the actual Oct. 19 (1864) anniversary date is intended to increase the chance of good weather for the four-day event, Hamm said.
The focal point of the event will be re-enactments of the actual raid, the northernmost land engagement of the Civil War. In October 1864, Lt. Bennett Young and some 20 other Confederate soldiers, who had slipped into St. Albans posing as visitors, robbed three banks and attempted to burn the town down.
The raiders, after holding hostages in Taylor Park, killing one man and wounding others, escaped to Canada with $200,000 of stolen money (millions in today’s dollars), but failed to do any lasting damage to town buildings.
Hamm, a retired Navy admiral, said he would give the success of the Confederate mission a “five, on a scale of one through 10.”
However, the bold action of the band of Confederates has become part of Civil War lore and local history. The aftermath of the event is tied by some historians to the failure of at least one of the banks robbed.
The re-enactment will be performed in Taylor Park on both Saturday, Sept. 20, and Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, Hamm said. Event organizers have engaged director and screenwriter Richard Rodriguez to write the dialogue, direct the action and narrate the production. The St. Albans Performing Arts Council is a collaborator in the re-enactments.
Although the entire raid won’t be depicted, Hamm said the audience would view about five scenarios or vignettes of important highlights in St. Albans’ most historic event. The number of raiders and the town’s posse who fought back will also be scaled down to fit the staging area, but overall the event.
However, overall, the four-day event will have 80 to 100 total re-enactors on the park.
Hamm assured the selectboard the re-enactments would be as close to the actual raid event as possible, with actors riding horses and using authentic weaponry. Facades of historic buildings that were involved in the raid also will be constructed, he said.
“It will all be factual,” Hamm said of the script behind the presentation. “We’re using actual histories.”
The Vermont Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has already named the commemoration, the Significant Civil War Event in Vermont for 2014. State travel and tourism officials are assisting in publicizing it and advertising, some of which took place during the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg succeeded in attracting added attention.
For the anticipated large crowd at the nationally advertised commemoration, Hamm said a large television screen and loud speakers would be used to make certain all in the crowd would have a view of the action. Plans call for a 17 by 11 foot Jumbotron screen to be placed at the west end of the park facing the Civil War Monument. It is between the two that an audience of as many as 5,000 people may be situated
The 2nd South Carolina String Band, a renowned group of musicians, will also perform. The band, which has numerous recordings, can be heard in Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” documentary series and the 2003 Civil War film, “Gods and Generals.”
Beyond the re-enactments, there will be plenty to do for those attending the commemoration, Hamm said. Organizers are working with local restaurants to have period food available for diners and there will be a number of entertainment activities for kids to enjoy. There also will be lectures by Civil War author Howard Coffin, history walking tours, re-enactor encampments in the park, and Grand Historic Reviews (a parade of participants) within the park following the re-enactments.
The raid commemoration also will include a Mayor’s Ball (with attendees dressed in period clothing). Leading up to the event, Hamm said attendees would have the opportunity to attend instructional dance workshops. A second workshop on how to create period clothing is also planned for the general public.
Colin Conger, of Georgia, whose great-great-great grandfather was Captain George Parker Conger, one of the raids most prominent players in the defense of St. Albans, is to marshal the commemoration.
Hamm said the organizers also have reached out to who they believe is the only living direct descendant of raid leader Lt. Bennett Young. Organizers have offered to arrange for her travel to St. Albans for the event.
The commemoration event planning has been in the works for the past three years, Hamm said, with other events leading up to the anniversary celebration. This weekend will see plenty of Civil War re-enactors in Taylor Park for the Third Annual St. Albans Civil War Heritage Weekend, which is also sponsored by the St. Albans Historical Museum and the Champlain Valley Historical Reenactors. The first annual St. Albans Raid Half Marathon, sponsored by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, is being held on Sunday.
Hamm and other organizers are continuing to garner support and obtain additional corporate sponsorships to cover the high cost of the 2014 commemoration. He said he and St. Albans Raid Commemoration Committee (SARCC) Co-chair Bill Cioffi, a former city manager, are among those speaking with business leaders and local organizations to help with the cause.
Any money not spent on the commemoration will go to a fund for future events, Hamm said.
Selectboard Chair Bernie Boudreau said the town is happy to listen to Hamm and fellow organizers and will do what it can to help with the effort.
Selectman Bill Nihan is already a member of the raid commemoration committee and support also has been offered by St. Albans City officials who have been instrumental in support of Civil War heritage weekends and has assigned Public Works Director Alan Robtoy as its liaison with SARCC.
The raid commemoration event has obtained key financial support for start up planning from the Peoples Trust Company and Rotary Club of St. Albans.
SARCC has created a Web site providing historical information and event updates (www.stlabansraid.com). There is also a St. Albans Raid – 150th Anniversary Facebook page. Those interested in sponsorships, volunteering or who have further questions are asked to call the museum (527-7933) or to inquiry by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).