Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Astounding Life of Bennett H. Young

I. Introduction

            Wednesday, October 19, 1864 was a quiet day, cool and overcast from a recent rain in the small Vermont town of St. Albans. The little town of 2,800 people was located only fourteen miles from the Canadian border. The day before the town was crowded due to the weekly “market day” but today there were few people on the streets.  The town clock had just struck 3 o’clock as a group of townsmen were talking in front of the American House Hotel on Main Street when a man rode up on a fine black horse and dismounted. Some of the men may have recognized the tall handsome young stranger who had been in town several days. Some had taken him for a minister as he was often seen reading his Bible and conversing on religious topics. Now they were astonished when he drew a pair of Colt Navy pistols and announced to them in a cool even voice, “Gentlemen, I am a Confederate officer, my men have come to take your town. Anyone who resists will be shot.” At that moment small groups of Confederate raiders were entering the town’s three banks and taking “in the name of the Confederate States Government and in retaliation for the treatment of Southern citizens by the Federals forces under Sherman and Sheridan” what later was declared to be over $200,000.00 in gold and silver coin, greenbacks and bank securities. The three groups of “bank robbers” then converged on the village green where their leader and other raiders held townsmen under guard. As other aroused citizens now realized what was happening they began to fire at the raiders with shotguns and squirrel rifles from doors and windows. The raiders returned fire, one raider would be wounded, one citizen killed and two wounded. The raiders began tossing bottles of incendiary “Greek fire” in an attempt to set fire to buildings as they galloped out of town on the toll road headed north to the border. They thundered through the toll gates, bringing the gatekeeper out screaming that they had not paid the toll. In less than thirty minutes it was over. Lt. Bennett H. Young and his twenty-one rebel raiders had brought the war to New England and fought the northern most land action of the Civil War.
             It is a difficult task to condense the life, character and accomplishments of Bennett Henderson Young into a manageable length for a short article. He was such a talented, many sided man of so many different activities. His biographer Dr. Oscar Kinchen called him “a man of many adventures”. Certainly he was.

II. Youth

            Born in Jessamine County, Kentucky on May 25, 1843 he was one of seven children of John Young and Josephine Henderson. His father was the successful owner of a hat factory in Nicholasville. Both grandfathers were veterans of the Revolutionary War. One of his great uncles was credited with killing Col. Patrick Ferguson, the Tory commander at the Battle of King’s Mountain. Bennett grew up on a large farm about six miles west of Nicholasville and attended nearby Bethany Academy. The Young’s were devout Presbyterians, his older brother Daniel was a prominent minister and Bennett was expected to follow him in the ministry.
            In the spring of 1861 Bennett was involved in an altercation at Bethany Academy over the flying of a Confederate flag at the school. In September 1861 he enrolled in Centre College in Danville. In October 1862 his studies were stopped by typhoid fever. After his recovery he left home to enlist in the Confederate Army. 

III. Morgan’s Cavalry

            In early 1863 Young left home slipping through enemy lines into middle Tennessee where he found the command of General John Hunt Morgan. The command had recently returned from a spectacular raid through Kentucky which would be known as the “Christmas Raid”.  Young enlisted as a private in Co. B of the 8th Kentucky Cavalry commanded by Col. Roy Cluke. This regiment had been raised in central Kentucky during the 1862 Kentucky Campaign and many of Company B’s men were Bennett’s friends and neighbors from Jessamine County.
            On February 14, 1863 Col. Cluke led a force of about 750 mounted men including his 8th Kentucky into south central Kentucky to disrupt enemy communications and destroy supplies. Despite the freezing temperatures and blinding snowfalls the raid was a success with Cluke’s force destroying over a million dollars of Federal supplies. Col. Cluke later described the raid as a game of cat and mouse with the Union forces.  Cluke’s force captured Mt. Sterling twice paroling nearly 300 Union troops. Young was learning how to operate inside enemy lines, lessons he would put to good use later. Cluke’s force returned to middle Tennessee in late spring and took part in the operations of Morgan’s command patrolling and skirmishing with Federal cavalry through the early summer.

IV. The Great Raid

            In the early summer of 1863 General Morgan was ordered by Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg to make a diversionary raid into Kentucky to keep Union forces from interfering with Bragg’s move from middle to eastern Tennessee. Morgan asked for permission to extend his raid into Indiana and Ohio to be more effective. Bragg would not authorize Morgan’s foray north of the Ohio River but Morgan was determined to take the war into enemy territory. His division of two brigades of 2500 men headed north into south central Kentucky on July 2nd
            When the 8th Kentucky reached the Cumberland River near Burkesville they found the river near flood stage with a swift moving current.  Loading their arms and equipment on a ferry boat the men allowed their horses to swim and stripped off their clothes to keep them dry. Shortly after reaching the far bank they were confronted by a force of Union cavalry. Quickly retrieving their weapons the still naked rebels charged the Federals who quickly retreated, apparently the sight of hundreds of naked men firing and yelling was too much for them.
            The next day Bennett’s regiment, this time fully clothed, fought a skirmish at Columbia, Kentucky and moved on to the Green River. On July 4th, Morgan’s command reached Tebb’s Bend and was confronted with a well fortified stockade manned by the 25th Michigan Infantry. Morgan decided to attack instead of bypassing this force. Furious attacks by the Confederates which left over forty of the command dead were unable to take the stockade and Morgan was forced to move on toward Lebanon. The next day Morgan again attacked Federal infantry at Lebanon stationed in buildings near the railroad. Here Bennett witnessed the death of popular Thomas Morgan, the younger brother of General Morgan who was killed in one of the assaults. In one of the attacks Bennett’s best friend Vincent Eastham was severely wounded. Under fire, Bennett carried him back to a field hospital where he left him to return to the fight. Later he found that his friend had died from his wound.
            Morgan turned west bypassing Louisville and reached the Ohio River at Brandenburg on July 8 where he crossed his command into Indiana on two captured steamers. After defeating Union home guards at Corydon Morgan turned northeast toward the Ohio line. Bypassing Cincinnati on the north the Confederates were continuously in the saddle and being pursued by thirty thousand Federals. The command rode almost the entire width of the Buckeye State to Buffington Island on the Ohio River where Morgan intended to cross the river into Virginia. The men and horses were exhausted by 17 days of continuous riding and fighting.  Cluke’s regiment was part of the force that was assigned to hold back the Union pursuers to allow the rest of the command to cross to safety. After a brief but fierce fight the Confederates were scattered, a few crossing the river, many others captured and several hundred escaping north led by General Morgan. Young was among this group with Morgan and was in the vanguard for the next six days until finally the exhausted remnant of Morgan’s command was surrounded near Salineville, Ohio and surrendered on July 26. 1863. The longest cavalry raid of the war had come to an end. During the raid Young had demonstrated the courage and leadership skills which were noticed by his officers.
Prison and Escape
            Young was confined briefly at Camp Chase then moved to Camp Douglas in Chicago in August. Many of his comrades from Morgan’s command were imprisoned here. Conditions at Camp Douglas were among the worst of the Northern prisons. Bennett soon attempted an escape but failed and received a 30 day sentence in the underground dungeon as punishment. Later he was successful in bribing a guard and escaping in early 1864, making his way into Canada.
Secret Service
            In Canada Young went to Toronto where he enrolled as a student in the University of Toronto. He contacted Confederate agents there and met with Confederate commissioners Jacob Thompson and Clement C. Clay.  Clay was impressed with Young and his ideas and gave him letters of endorsement to the Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin.  Young left Halifax, Nova Scotia in June for Bermuda where he obtained passage on a blockade runner bound for the last open port of the Confederacy at Wilmington, North Carolina. At the mouth of the Cape Fear River the blockade runner came under heavy fire from Union gunboats. Young volunteered to take the place of a lookout that refused to stay at his post because of the danger. Bennett helped guide the ship to safety under the guns of Fort Fisher. Traveling to Richmond he met government authorities and received from Secretary of War James A. Seddon a commission of first lieutenant in the regular army and approval of his plans for retaliatory strikes in the North. Young returned to Wilmington and catching the same blockade runner outbound he sailed to Bermuda. Before leaving he met Capt. Moffitt, commander of the Confederate raider CSS Florida which was refitting in the port of St. George. Moffitt offered Young a place on his ship’s staff which Bennett turned down to return to Canada.
            Arriving in Toronto with his orders Young began gathering a group of escaped Confederate prisoners of war for his missions. Most of them were Kentuckians of Morgan’s command. Since inflicting retribution on the North for its treatment of the Southern people seemed one of the main reasons for his planning he named his unit the “5th Company Confederate Retributors”. While this band was forming in Canada in August and September, Lt. Young was sent on other missions where he worked with two former members from Morgan’s cavalry, Capt. Thomas Hines and Captain John B. Castleman. Hines had escaped with General Morgan and was now the leader of a network of agents whose plans included working with the Copperhead movement in the North and attempts to free Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas, Johnson’s Island and Camp Chase in Ohio. Young now became a secret agent carrying funds and information to Hine’s agents in Chicago and New York. These missions were dangerous and his fate had he been captured would have been execution or a long imprisonment. None of these operations were successful most of it due to Federal agents infiltrating the organization and discovering its plans and arresting Hine’s men.
The St. Albans Raid
            In September Young returned to his plans to raid the towns in Vermont. The objects of the raid were not only retribution but to scare the New England populace into asking for military protection which might divert troops from the front, to sow seeds of doubt in the Northern voter’s minds on the Lincoln administration’s handling of the war that might influence the coming presidential election and to use the money taken from Northern banks to finance Confederate operations in Canada.
             Bennett carefully chose twenty-one men, almost all Kentuckians from Morgan’s command, men he knew he could trust. He did not want a repeat of the problems that had plagued Hines operations. Young’s men began referring to the raid as the “Vermont Yankee Scare Party”. St. Albans was chosen because it was an important rail hub and for its proximity to the border. Young and his men began traveling in small groups to St. Albans beginning about a week before the raid. The raid was a desperate affair, many years later Young in reflection expressed that it was the reckless escapade of a youth burning with patriotism for the South and wondered that he ever undertook it. The raid did cause uproar along the border and for a while a tense situation between the United States and British governments brought the prospect of trouble. The raid had no lasting effects on the course of the war.
             But tactically the raid was a great success. It was as well planned and executed as any modern “special ops” mission such as the one that killed Osama Ben Laden. And as bank robbers Young and his men succeeded in doing something the James-Younger or Dalton gangs never did; the successful robbery of three banks simultaneously without losing a man. The amount of money taken would be equivalent to over 3 million dollars today. There were several comic incidents during the raid. In one of the banks a nearly deaf ninety years old sat complacently behind a newspaper during the robbery. After Bennett’s men left the man asked who those “rude young men” were. In one of the banks Young’s second in command Thomas Collins forced the bank tellers to raise their hand and swear an oath to the Confederacy. The town photographer mistook the firing for the celebration of a Union victory. Coming out of his business just as Young rode by he asked the raiders about the “celebration”. His answer was a shot over his head from a raider’s pistol. The Greek fire was great disappointment. Whether due to a faulty mix of ingredients or the damp condition of the buildings and bridges they attempted to burn only a single structure, an outhouse, was destroyed.
             The raiders rode north breaking into smaller groups and dividing the money as they crossed the border. Bennett left the others before they reached the border to take the one wounded raider, Charles Higbee to a local woman who that was either a Southern sympathizer or was paid to hide him. Young and his men were mistaken in the belief that any pursuit would halt at the border and they would be safe. The stubborn Vermonters formed two posses of citizens and discharged Union soldiers and pursued the raiders across the border. They alerted Canadian law enforcement officers who began arresting the exhausted raiders in the places they had stopped for the night. After leaving Higbee Young made his way by back roads, crossed the border then stopped at a farmhouse near Freligsburg. While warming himself at the fireplace he was surprised by the Vermonters. After a brief struggle Young was captured. The posse was preparing to take him back to St. Albans when he was rescued by Canadian constables who took into custody saving him from a possible lynching. Fourteen of the raiders were captured by Canadian authorities along with a considerable amount of the stolen money.
            United States authorities claimed the raiders were criminals guilty of murder and robbery. Young claimed that he and his men were Confederate soldiers involved in an act of war ordered by their government and had broken no laws in Canada.  The prisoners were removed to a British garrison at St. John’s to await an extradition trial. They were removed to Montreal in November. Canadian public opinion was very favorable to them as Young as his men were perceived not as the thugs represented by the US authorities but as articulate, courteous well bred gentlemen from good families in Kentucky. The prisoners became celebrities and were treated more as guests than prisoners by their captors.
            The trial was front page news. Eminent Canadian attorneys were hired by the Confederate commissioners. Ironically, much of the $40,000.00 turned over to the commissioners by the raiders who escaped capture was used to pay for the captured raiders’ defense. Young kept up the spirits of his men with tongue in cheek letters to St. Albans. In one letter, he requested copies of the town’s newspapers be sent to them since they so enjoyed their editorials on the raid. In another letter sent to the hotel where he had stayed he apologized for having left without paying his bill. He enclosed his payment in cash from the Bank of St. Albans.
            When the extradition hearings resumed on December 13th the defense lawyers had found a legal loophole. The extradition treaty between the Canadian government and the United States stated that only a warrant signed by the Governor General of Canada could be used to arrest and extradite the accused. Since the warrants were local, the court had no legal authority to try the defenders. Unexpectedly and over the angry objections of the U.S. attorneys the judge agreed and ordered the defendants released immediately. However Bennett Young and four of his men were arrested two weeks later under a charge of conducting “uncivilized warfare” during the raid. After documents received from the Confederate government were received which confirmed their status as Confederate soldiers under orders of their government the charge was dismissed but they were held under a new charge of violating Canadian neutrality. Young himself now acted as their attorney and claimed his men had no part in the planning of the raid, only himself. His men were released in April. Young was released on bond and spent the next six months awaiting trial in Toronto. The charge was finally dropped after the war’s end for lack of evidence in October, 1865.

Post War Career

            Young was finally free but was a man without a country. He could not return to the United States due to the St. Albans charges. During his time in Canada he had met and fell in love with Mattie Robinson. She was the daughter of Rev. Stuart Robinson of Louisville, a Presbyterian minister who had fled to Canada to avoid being arrested for his anti-administration and pro-Confederate views. They were married at Niagara Fall (on the Canadian side) in 1866. His wife died in 1881. They had one child, a girl Josephine who died at the age of 20.
            While in Canada Bennett Young had found another love; his legal struggles had kindled a desire to study law. Fearing he would not safe from the United States government who had offered a large reward for him he decided to move to Great Britain to study international law. He studied for two years at Queen’s University in Ireland and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Returning briefly to Canada in 1868 he read law under another pro Confederate exile from Kentucky, Judge Joshua Bullitt.  He was finally able to return to Kentucky under the amnesty offered by President Andrew Johnson in the summer of 1868. Bennett settled in Louisville and began his law practice.
            Bennett Young’s rise in the legal profession was extraordinary; in five years he was among the most prominent and sought after attorneys in Louisville. He would be in active practice for fifty years and would have one of the largest law practices in the South. Later at the turn of the century he would be legal counselor to Governors William Goebel and John C. Beckham. Young was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1890 and was instrumental in its construction.
            In 1872 Young partnered with another Louisville attorney and went into the railroad business. Buying a defunct line they turned it into a profitable business. In the 1880s he formed the Louisville and Southern Railway. He was often in conflict with the L&N railroad who was his bitter rival. Under his leadership two notable railroad bridges were built. One bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville was the largest of its kind at that time. It was instrumental in increasing Louisville’s commerce and prosperity in the next decades. The other bridge was an engineering marvel over the Kentucky River at Tyrone which still stands and has always been known as “Young’s High Bridge”.

Family Man and Author

 Young remarried in 1895 to Eliza Sharp. They had two children Eliza and Lawrence. They purchased an old estate south of Louisville naming it “Youngland”. During his spare time Young loved to garden and collect prehistoric Native American artifacts. He began writing, having countless articles published in magazines and journals on religion, law and history. He was the author of several books including his best known “Confederate Wizards of the Saddle”. His last book published posthumously was a collection of children’s stories about “Dr. Gander”, the goose who ruled the barnyard at Youngland. He was a founding member of the Filson Club. In his personal life he continued to be a devout Christian, serving as superintendent of his church’s Sunday School for fifty years. It was said of Bennett Young that he was never seen to drink intoxicating liquor, use tobacco in any form or utter a word that would offend a lady.


            Despite his success in the business and literary fields it was his charity work that shows the true greatness of his character. He took the lead in establishing the Colored Orphan Home in Louisville 1879 and served as its president for twenty-five years. He also helped establish and promote the Booker T. Washington Community Center for the social welfare of the city’s African American children. He was a leader in improving race relations and was concerned with the legal rights of African Americans, sometimes offering his services pro bono if they were too poor to obtain his services. He helped establish and served as finance manager of a Presbyterian school for orphan girls in Anchorage. He served as president of the Kentucky School for the Blind for many years and often entertained its young students with his stories of the Civil War and Dr. Gander. He helped rescue the Louisville Free Public Library from bankruptcy in the 1870’s.

Confederate Veteran

            In 1889 Bennett Young joined the United Confederate Veterans and for the rest of his life was active in all Confederate veteran affairs throughout Kentucky. He served as Commander of the Kentucky Division several times and became known as one of the great orators of the Lost Cause. S. A. Cunningham, the editor of the Confederate Veteran Magazine said, “no other speaker could move the Confederate heart as this Kentuckian”. He was the architect of the hugely successful reunions of the UCV which he brought to Louisville in 1900 and 1905 when the city received thousands of gray clad old veterans with great fanfare. Lt. Young now became “Colonel” and then “General” in the ranks of the UCV. In 1912 he was elected Commander in Chief and was reelected each year until he voluntarily stepped down in 1916. He was then made honorary Commander in Chief for life.
            He was constantly sought after as a speaker for veteran and memorial occasions. He was chosen to be the speaker for the South at the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the greatest gathering of Blue and Gray veterans ever held. His message was always one of reconciliation and a reunited country. He partnered with the United Daughters of the Confederacy on many memorial projects throughout Kentucky. Just some of the projects in which he was the driving force were: the Zollicoffer monument at the Mill Springs battlefield, the Nicholasville Confederate monument, saving the Jefferson Davis Home in Todd County and turning it into a state park, building of the Jefferson Davis Highway and his greatest monument work the Jefferson Davis monument at Fairview. This 351 foot high obelisk is second only to the Washington Monument.
              The establishment of Kentucky’s Confederate Soldiers Home in Pewee Valley would have not been possible without his efforts. During his lifetime Bennett Young was always concerned with those in life who could not help themselves. Seeing many of his former comrades in declining heath, financially unable to support themselves and many with no family to care for them he was determined to establish a home for them. In 1899 he proposed to the Kentucky Division of the UCV to establish such place. He was appointed chairman of a committee to raise the funds and secure the legislature’s approval for a state operated institution. Young used the success and enthusiasm from the 1900 UCV reunion as the springboard for establishing the Home. The Home opened in 1902 and until its closing in 1934 it provided comfort for over eight hundred needy Confederate veterans. From its opening till his death Young served as the President of the Board of Trustees. No group mourned his passing more than his comrades of the Home. He can certainly be called the “Father of Kentucky’s Confederate Soldiers Home”.
Last Days
            Bennett Henderson Young never retired. He was active in his career and his charities until his death. By his 76th birthday in 1918 he had accomplished more than most people will in several lifetimes.  In failing health that autumn he and his wife traveled to Florida for the winter but his health continued to decline. He felt the end was near and told his wife and doctor “I want to die in the Bluegrass State”. He returned to his home in Louisville where on the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 23, 1919 he spoke his last words, an affirmation of his Christian faith; “I am ready. I am ready to cross the border and be with him I love so well.”
            There was a great outpouring of grief from the many people whose lives he had touched in his city, state and all over the South. One who knew him expressed it well,
            “The passing of General Young from our midst removes a mighty power, a pillar of strength and a man among men. His life was full of good deeds. He was a friend of the high and the mighty, saint and sinner, poor and humble. His heart went out to all men. His deeds of kindness will live in the hearts who are left to feel his loss… We shall never see his like again.”
            Upon his marker in Cave Hill Cemetery is the simple inscription “I have kept the faith”.

Sam Flora
Speech before Orphan Brigade Kinfolk Association Reunion at Pewee Valley, Kentucky on June 8, 2013.

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