September 5, 1862
A Daring Attempt to Rob the Government Safe at the Custom House.—Burglars foiled.—A most daring attempt was made during Wednesday night and yesterday morning to rob the Government vault at the Custom House, which contained at the time one million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The vault is built of bricks, cement and iron. The walls of the Custom House form two sides of the vault which stands in a corner of the room occupied by the Collector of Customs. The vault is strongly constructed. The walls are about fourteen inches thick and between every layer of bricks there is also a layer of crossed and riveted iron firmly imbedded in the cement. The vault contained all the money belonging to the Pay Department as well as a large sum to be disbursed by Major Hill who is acting as mustering officer here. The burglars, though amply provided with tools, could not open the heavy iron door of the vault so they set to work with crow-bar and chisel to dig a hole through the only exposed side. The succeeded in digging out the bricks and making a large aperture in the wall, but the iron still remained and could not be removed. The portion of the money not contained in small iron safes, but in packages and bags, was located at a [unreadable] some four or five feet from the aperture in the vault. Not being able to get into the vault, the burglars improvised a hook with which they attempted to drag the bags up to the aperture, but again the iron bars interfered. They could see and [unreadable] the money, but could not get at it. The work accomplished by the rascals must have occupied several hours, and it is thought that the early dawn must have caught them in the state of progress we have described, and thus they were compelled to abandon their work without taking away a single red cent. The rascals passed through from the Collector’s room into the Adjutant General’s office, through the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth and to the Auditor’s office. Here they raised a window, tied a rope with which they were provided, to the fire grate and let themselves down into the back yard, a distance of about thirty feet, and thus escaped. In the passage from the Collector’s and Auditor’s office they must have passed through three or four doors, all of which it is supposed, were unlocked by [unreadable] made for that especial purpose. A [unreadable] rudely and apparently, hastily constructed, was left behind. Also a crow-bar, three chisels, a handkerchief, and a bottle containing about one good drink of whisky. The latter was left in Auditor Crane’s office. A Guard was stationed about the Custom House as usual, but none of the soldiers heard anything or saw anything.
From certain evidences discovered in the [unreadable] of the building, there is no doubt but that the burglars secreted themselves in the building in the early part of the [unreadable] and did not commence their work until all the heavy doors had been securely locked and the occupants of the different offices had gone away.
The burglars worked like beavers, or like desperate scamps as the[y] are, who could undertake an enterprise attended by so much danger. One hour more time would have enabled them to carry off more money than they wanted. One thing is apparent to all who have witnessed the work accomplished and the evidences left behind. The enterprise was conducted by men perfectly familiar with the whole building and perfectly cognizant of the location of the money and the means by which to get it.
[unreadable] of the guards on duty during the night reports having seen a man come out of the Custom House yard about four o’clock in the morning.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: September 1862