Confederates Raid Calais

If you happen to be driving on Route 39 through Salineville Ohio you might notice the above marker which claims that the northernmost engagement of the Civil War, Morgan’s Raid, occurred at this site. This is not technically correct and, of course, one may quibble about what constitutes a “raid”.  Nonetheless Civil War historians have noted two later Confederate raids, far north of Salineville, which vie for that distinction. One Civil War historian noted “Minimally, this marker requires an asterisk which should indicate ‘Morgan’s Raid was the northernmost engagement of Confederate forces when it occurred in July of 1863.’  In fact, the distinction of being the northernmost point in the country attacked by Confederates during the Civil War belongs to Calais and had the raid gone as planned it would have been a most serious affair indeed.

The Calais Bank after it became a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, Main Street Calais
The Calais Bank, raided by Confederates on July 18, 1864 just to the right of Kramer’s Clothing

The photos above show the “Calais Bank” which after the Civil War became a branch of the “Bank of Nova Scotia”. The bank was located on Main Street about five store fronts toward North Street from the corner of Monroe Street. In the longer view above Monroe Street is to the far right and just the side of the Boston Shoe Store can be seen. Today the bank lot is next to the jewelry store and was once part of the J.J. Newberry Store. On July 18, 1864 Confederate raiders attempted to rob the “Calais Bank” and burn the city, hoping to obtain funds to finance the war and divert Union troops from the southern battlefields to defend against Confederate raids in the North.

There was a good deal of unrest on the border in late 1863 and early 1864. Confederate agitators were thick on the ground in both New Brunswick and Quebec and there was a good deal of sympathy for the Confederate cause in both St. John and Montreal. In December of 1863 sixteen New Brunswickers under the command of a Confederate officer seized the steamship Chesapeake off Boston and took it to Nova Scotia where it was eventually recaptured. One of these sixteen was David Collins, brother of William Collins of whom we will hear much more later.

James Q. Howard, the U.S. Consul in St. John was constantly at odds with the municipal authorities over Confederate plotting. Howard found it necessary to establish a coterie of informants to keep up with the Confederates passing through or living in St. John.  As early as December 1863 Howard was warning of raids by Confederates and their sympathizer against Calais:

Evening Express-Lancaster Pennsylvania-December 28, 1863:

Great excitement exists in Calais, Maine, in consequence of fears that rebels in St. Johns, N.B. contemplate a raid into Maine. The citizens of Calais have formed into companies of Horse Guards, and are ready for any attack.

On July 14, 1864 Consul Howard warned the Governor of Maine-

A small raiding party left St. John last night to commit depredations on the Maine Frontier.

Later that same day he sent an additional dispatch warning specifically about Confederate officer William Collins, who, said Howard, was organizing a raid on the frontier:

Collins is well known here and although a man of energy, is such an eminent fool as to suppose he can march a small force through the Northern States to Kentucky. He affirms that he is authorized by Confederate authorities to burn and destroy and show no mercy”

The Consul’s information was accurate and more definite intelligence came his way over the next several days, some from Joseph Collins, William Collins brother and some from a Union Navy defector who had decided to sit out the hostilities in New Brunswick. At 10:00 on the morning of July 18, 1864 Howard sent an urgent telegraph message directly to Joseph Lee, the cashier of the Calais Bank:

14 men left here in a lead-colored sail and rowboat for Calais, would touch at Robbinston. Intention was to rob your bank in the daytime. If they have not been alarmed, you can apprehend them quietly in the bank. William Collins is the leader.

Cashier Lee acted quickly, alerting the local guard unit which thankfully counted among its members several hard men with experience in such situations. Lee was replaced behind the counter of the bank by Lt. J. E. Gates and three other militia men also took up stations in the bank while several others unobtrusively patrolled the Main Street.

At exactly noon, two hours after Joseph Lee had received Howard’s warning, Collins and three men entered the bank. The Calais Advertiser published the first account of the attempted robbery: 

On Monday last the usually quiet city of Calais was thrown into a state of  usual excitement by a most bold and daring attempt to rob the Calais Bank by a party of rebels from St. John, NB., but fortunately the authorities were apprised of their coming, and had placed a guard of four good smart fellows consisting of Capt. Wm. B. Taylor, Lt J. E. Gates, Lt. F. Waite, and private Wm. Gilmore, in the Bank, to receive them in military style, as they had seen some service, and knew how the thing was done,-for our citizens always make it a point to receive distinguished strangers from a neutral, friendly government in a manner becoming their rank and standing.

 So about.12 o’clock the four gentlemen stepped into the Bank and asked the Cashier, Mr. Gates-who was acting in that capacity for the time-to change a couple of gold pieces which they held in their hands, but before Mr. G. could wait upon them, one of them made a movement as if to draw a weapon of some kind-that instant they were  confronted by the guard with loaded  pistols, and told not to move at the peril of their lives, which order all but one obeyed to the letter, he being near the  door made his escape good.

The three were then secured and searched; on the leader of the gang was found a revolver loaded and capped, a sharp dirk, and a rebel flag. The others had each a loaded revolver and a dirk, all of which were taken from them and they were marched to the City Rooms under guard of a file of men, where, in presence of a large number of person from both sides of the river they had a hearing before Judge Corthell, and ordered to recognize for trial for attempting to rob the Calais Bank, at the next term of the Supreme Judicial Court, to be held in  Machias, in October next, in the sum of $20,000 each, in default of which, they were sent to Machias jail to await their trial there.

On examination they gave their names as Andrew Jackson Knapp, Lieut. in General Polk’s Scouts; Edwin Moore, one Mosby’s men; Wm. Phillips, 2d Louisiana; the one that got clear was named Joseph Vidoque. One hailed from Tennessee, one Londonderry, Ireland, and one, the ringleader, from St., John, N. B. They said their intention was to procure money by robbing the Bank, destroy what public property they could, then pass through the country towards Bangor and pick up what men they could by the way, and go on to New York and try to get hold of a steamer. Said they expected to find some twenty of their gang here, but they had not come to time. It was just as well they didn’t, for had there been twice twenty they would have found us prepared to receive them.

They were asked if there were any more of their gang in St. John, they said yes, plenty; there were plenty in all the provinces. They were asked if they received much sympathy from the people of the provinces, said yes, but that was all they did receive, and they would not give a d—n for such sympathy.

They are now safely lodged in separate stone dungeons in Machias jail, where they will be kept from raiding for some time to come.

The St. Croix Herald, another local newspaper, described Collins as

“a tall keen-eyed man with a countenance indicative of treachery and baseness. A large crowd collected around the courthouse and there was talk of dealing summarily with the prisoners on the grounds they had been ready to plunder the town and murder the inhabitants.”

The New York Times  described the scene as follows:

The excitement was intense. There was good grounds for believing the robbers had accomplices in the vicinity, and the State Guards and citizens were soon at hand in a body to repel any invasion or depredation. The prisoners were some chopfallen at first but soon put on a very defiant air, claiming that if their 25 associates had been on hand as expected, they would not only have robbed the bank but committed other depredations and burned the city. The ringleader had a Confederate flag in his pocket which he said he intended to hoist on the heights near the city. Thank your stars that the other men did not come up or your town would have been burned.

Confederate Flag carried by William Collins during raid on Calais

Of course, the names given by the raiders at the bank were false and it was soon determined that the leader was indeed William Collins who produced from his pocket the Confederate flag shown above. The flag is now in the collection of the Maine Historical Society. Collins said he “had planned to hang it on the heights of the town” after they had robbed “the bank or post office” and “would have succeeded if the additional 25 men they had in the country had reached Calais in time.”

Had they managed to fly the Confederate flag over Calais there is little question the citizens of Calais, whose cemeteries  and those of the surrounding communities were fresh with the graves of local men who had died fighting that flag and all it stood for would probably have acceded to the wishes of the citizens of Eastport. The Eastport Sentinel in an article of July 20th felt the citizens of Calais had been too lenient:

We are sorry that punishment was not dealt out summarily. There was no doubt of their criminal intentions for they confessed their purposes. Their immediate execution would have done much to put a stop to such fiendish projects, and that is what we especially need at the present time. The others of the gang will not be deterred from carrying out their projects in consequence of the failure of these three, nor will their imprisonment serve any better purpose, but if they had been put to death at once, shot down on the spot where they intended to take the life of a man who never wronged them, the lesson would have had an effect upon the remainder of the gang.

Three of the four men who entered the bank were Confederate soldiers. The fourth, William Draymond was a Union Navy deserter who according to the Advertiser “being near the door made his escape good.” In fact, Draymond was one of Consul Howard’s informers and within a few months of the robbery he was given a pardon by the U.S. government in recognition of his services.

Collins, the ringleader, was an Irishman born in Scotland in 1836 and brought to New Brunswick as a child. As a young man he left for New York and became acquainted with a southern plantation owner who hired Collins as a manager on one of his plantations in Mississippi. When the war began Collins enlisted in the 15th Mississippi Regiment, scouted and spied for Confederate General Polk in Union territory and eventually joined the Confederate “secret service”, operating behind Union lines.

He was sent to New Brunswick by the Confederate spy services in late 1863 to engage in raids and depredations in the North. As he later described his role he was on “special duty”, assigned to cause “disruption in Maine.”

Frances X. Jones was perhaps the most experienced of the raiders. He enlisted in the Missouri Volunteers and engaged in guerilla warfare in the western theater claiming he was motivated by the death of his wife and child at the hands of Union soldiers. After joining the South’s “Secret Service” he crossed the Union lines 32 times on secret missions including two prior missions to Canada. He said he was acting under orders of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

All we know about William Phillips is that he was a sailor of Irish descent.

The three were tried at the October 1864 term of the Washington County Superior Court in the still relatively new and very impressive courthouse. There was a good deal of controversy regarding the prisoners possible status as prisoners of war, a status vehemently pressed by the raiders. Collins claimed Confederate President Jefferson Davis was expected to demand their release within days. In the end the three were charged with bank robbery and sentenced to three years in Thomaston which all three considered a great affront to their true status as Confederate officers engaged in a legitimate military action.

In November 1864 they were transported to Thomaston.

Burlington Vt Daily Times November 5th, 1864:

Bank Robbery In Maine:

 It will be seen from the following extract that Calais, Maine, was, on the 20th Inst, the scene of a robbery very similar to that committed at St Albans

Yesterday morning, Wm. Collins, Francis X. Jones and William Phillips were taken to Thomaston to serve three years in the Maine State Prison. Deputy Warden Maxey took them from jail at Machias and brought them through this city, where they took the steamer Katahdin. These three men were arrested when the raid was made on the Calais Bank, and were the only ones secured.

When they were taken from the jail at Machias, a large crowd collected around the stage. The prisoners commenced hurrahing for Jeff. Davis, much to the satisfaction of the copperheads, who expressed their sympathy as openly as they dared to. These prisoners were quite talkative and pretended to expect to be released as soon as Jeff. Davis made a demand for them, which he would do at once, as they were prisoners of war. The captain or ringleader, Collins, said they were regularly in the Confederate service, and were sent there to take the place, a feat which they should have accomplished had it not been for treachery. He said the St. Albans affair was by his men and that he had plenty of friends on the other side of the line and that they had friends on this side who would assist them if they dared. He knew who to call upon in this city for help, and it would not be refused. He evidently knew his copperhead friends in this city. One of the men claimed to be from St. Louis, Mo., the captain from Mississippi, and the other from New Orleans.  

By way of explanation the St. Albans Raid was a bank robbery committed in St. Albans Vermont by Confederates after the raid in Calais. The raiders may well have been under the command of Collins before he was captured at Calais. The St. Albans folks at one time claimed the raid was the northernmost action of the Civil War but had to abandon the claim after it was pointed out that St. Albans sits at 44.81 North while Calais is at 45.18 North latitude. Salineville Ohio first mentioned above is far south of both at 40.60 North.  The reference in the article to Machias “Copperheads” refers to local residents who opposed the war. Unlike the eastern end of Washington County Machias folks were more ambivalent about the war largely because the publisher of the Machias Union newspaper was an ardent “Copperhead”- a southern sympathizer. The editors of the Calais Advertiser, the Eastport Sentinel and the Machias Republican fought pitched editorial battles with Machias Union’s editor throughout the war.

Collins was not long a guest of the State.

Courier Louisville Kentucky Dec 1864:


The Bangor Whig has the following account of the outbreak at the Maine State Prison, by which William Collins, the ringleader of the Calais bank raiders, made bis escape: Just after the ringing-up bell, five convicts, viz: William Collins (one of the Calais bank-raiders), Thompson (in for twenty years), Calvin Smith (five years to stay), William Merritt and William Devine (each less than one year to serve), started out of the carriage-shop, ran to one of the guard-posts, and commenced throwing stones and brickbats, etc., at the guard, Mr. Thompson, hitting him in the face a severe blow from the first volley, which they followed up rapidly, and at the same time threw a flight of steps, which they tore away from the shoe-shop, up against the wall and went over. The guard fired three rifles at them without effect, owing to his inability to get deliberate aim, so rapid was the firing of stones by the raiders. Other officers went to his assistance immediately, and the consequence was that Smith was taken, after being seriously wounded on the head from blows inflicted by rifles. The others ran to the river nearby, and taking off shoes and jackets, three of them attempted to swim across. Merritt was drowned in the river. Collins and Devine got across, but Devine was so chilled that he felt obliged to go into a house to get warm, and there he was detained by the public-spirited lady thereof until the officers in pursuit were informed of his whereabouts, and arrested him. Thompson was taken on this side of the river, secreted in a limekiln. Diligent search has been made for Collins, but up to this time (Sunday evening) he has not been found or heard from.

Collins was not recaptured and somehow managed in early January 1865 to return to Calais, cross the bridge back into St. Stephen and thence move on to St. John where his sister Mary hid him until he could find his way through the blockade of the South and return to Mississippi. Mary’s situation illustrates the family conflicts the Civil War created. One of the reasons Consul Howard was so well informed about the William Collins plans was that Collins, while not being specific, had told his sister enough about his intentions to cause her alarm. She notified their brother John, a minister in York Maine, of her concerns and he proceeded immediately to St. John to confront William. The two argued until daylight but on parting it was clear to John that William was intent on committing depredations on the border. Before returning to York John went to Consul Howard and divulged all he knew. Later in life when John and William met William often pondered on the identity of the person who had informed Howard of his plans. John never enlightened him.

After the war William returned to Mississippi and later moved to Florida to invest in growing oranges. At the end of his life he returned to Richlands, Mississippi and died in March of 1887, probably of malaria. As to Francis X. Jones we find him as an applicant for a room in a Confederate Veterans Home in Missouri in 1901. He was then 65 years of age. Of William Phillips we know no more.

Much of the above information and some of the photos with captions come from Confederates Downeast, a book well worth reading, written by Mason Philip Smith. It can be purchased through Amazon.

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