ST. ALBANS – Lost for over a decade, the sword of Capt. George P. Conger, a local hero who chased after Confederate raiders during the St. Albans Raid, has returned to St. Albans courtesy of a donation from two of the captain’s relatives.
Two of Conger’s great-great-grandchildren – Colin Conger and Arthur F. Bell, Jr. – will be presenting the sword to the St. Albans Museum during a ceremony tonight, where the two will also speak about the discovery of the sword after its disappearance from the family over a decade ago.
It was a donation from Colin Conger and Bell that ultimately allowed the museum to buy the sword from a dealer near Gettysburg, Penn., where the sword was eventually rediscovered by one of Colin Conger’s and Bell’s contacts.
For George P. Conger’s two descendants, the donation of the sword to the museum is a homecoming of sorts.
“We found it,” Conger told the Messenger. “It’s where it belongs.”
“A token of respect”
Captain George P. Conger, a St. Albans native who grew up in a house on Fairfield Street, was a storied military man well before Confederate raiders brought the Civil War to Vermont.
In the years building up to the Civil War, when tensions between the Northern and Southern U.S. were reaching a tipping point, George P. Conger raised a volunteer militia dubbed the “Ransom Guard,” an action that Colin Conger said was likely very unpopular at the time.
“Even though Vermont was one of the first states to outlaw slavery, even then I don’t think it was a popular thing to go around starting militias,” Conger said.
The men of the Ransom Guard elected George P. Conger as one of its lieutenants, a rank also awarded to George S. Stannard, a Georgia native known for his decisive role in the Battle of Gettysburg.
When the war finally did break out in 1861, George P. Conger raised another unit, Company B of the 1st Vermont Cavalry Regiment, which awarded him the rank of captain and brought Conger to the earliest battlefields of the Civil War.
Conger’s unit was sent to Virginia and, through much of 1862, participated in the bloody campaign that culminated in the Second Battle of Bull Run, where Confederate forces routed the Union’s Army of Virginia.
By the end of the year, Conger would resign and return to St. Albans to care for his sick wife.
Before Conger’s honorable discharge from the army, his men presented him with an officer’s saber.
An engraving on its scabbard read: “Presented to Captain Geo. P. Conger by the Officers and Privates of Co. B. First Vermont Cavalry as a token of respect for him as an Officer and a Man, Sept. 16, 1862.”
A missing saber
The war would unexpectedly follow George P. Conger home.
Confederate raiders led by Lt. Bennet Young stormed into St. Albans on Oct. 19, 1864. The raiders, armed with handguns and a liquid phosphorous concoction known as “Greek fire,” herded residents together at gunpoint and robbed a trio of banks along Main Street.
The raiders also attempted to burn down the city, though a light-but-steady rainfall guaranteed their “Greek fire” couldn’t catch.
During the raid, a captured George P. Conger reportedly slipped away from the raiders and, with his son Stephen Conger, rounded up a posse that chased Young’s gang out of St. Albans and into Canada. A smaller posse, also led by Conger, followed the Confederates into Canada, eventually capturing Young before Conger was convinced to hand the Confederate officer over to local Canadian authorities.
“He was a bit of a hero,” Bell told the Messenger. “There aren’t many books or articles that don’t mention his name in relation to the raid.”
George P. Conger left St. Albans after the war, moving to Georgia after his wife died in 1867. In 1870, he purchased a plot of land on what’s now the corner of Conger Road and Route 7 and established what’s now known in Georgia as the Conger farm.
Though George P. Conger died in 1895, the sword gifted to him by Company B remained in the family long after his death. According to Colin Conger, the saber was passed on to Stephen Conger, who would, in turn, give it to his son.
Both Colin Conger and Bell say they remember seeing the sword as kids, when it was preserved in a shadowbox at the family farm.
“I remember first seeing it at the farm there,” Bell said. “It was in the parlor room, in a nice case with a glass door front. We weren’t allowed, as children, to touch it or do anything, but we did admire it.
“I remember thinking even then that it should be someplace other than tucked back into a parlor room.”
George P. Conger’s grandson later passed it on to his great-granddaughter, which is when, according to Colin Conger, the history of the sword gets a little “muddy.”
The last time Colin Conger saw the sword was in 1997, when he was allowed to wear it at his side during an event commemorating the St. Albans Raid. After that, the sword was returned to a member of the family before reportedly disappearing.
Colin Conger began looking for the sword a few years before the 150th Anniversary of the St. Albans Raid in 2014. The search eventually connected him to Bell, a distant family member who, Conger discovered, was also looking for the sword.
“That’s one of the positives that came out of this,” Conger said. “I hadn’t met Arthur before the sword search started. We teamed up and I got to know him.”
Colin Conger and Bell are distant cousins, descending from Stephen Conger’s oldest and youngest sons, respectively. Before the search for the sword, Colin Conger said he only knew of Bell through his genealogical research of the Conger family tree.
The two began advertising a reward for the sword’s discovery in Civil War-related publications. Colin Conger would also conclude any presentation he gave on the raid with a slide offering that same reward: $500 for a verifiable discovery of the sword.
They connected with family, collectors and museums, though few leads ever turned up.
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