John Yates Beall
|John Yates Beall|
John Yates Beall on the day of his execution
January 1, 1835|
Jefferson County, Virginia
(now West Virginia)
|Died||February 24, 1865
Fort Columbus, Governors Island, New York
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/branch||Confederate States Navy|
|Years of service||1861-1865|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
John Yates Beall (January 1, 1835 – February 24, 1865) was a Confederate privateer in the American Civil War who was arrested as a spy in New York and executed at Fort Columbus, Governors Island, New York.
Early life and education
He was born in Jefferson County, Virginia, now West Virginia, on his father's farm, Walnut Grove. He attended the University of Virginia to study law but on the death of his father he left his studies to take up farming in 1855.
Inspired by John Hunt Morgan, he conceived a plan to launch privateers on the Great Lakes. He presented his plan to Confederate authorities, who were interested, but declined to act since it might endanger relations with neutral England. However, Beall was commissioned as acting master in the Confederate States Navy, though not given a command. He then proceeded on his own as a privateer, active in the areas of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. He assembled a crew of 18 men, and commanded two boats called The Raven and The Swan. His second in command was a 22-year-old Scotsman named Bennett G. Burley. Beall was captured in November, 1863, and was jailed at Fort McHenry, in Baltimore until he was exchanged on May 5, 1864.
On his release, he returned to the north shore of Lake Erie, to Canada West, part of the Province of Canada, in order to implement a plan to free Confederate prisoners on Johnson's Island. On September 18, 1864, a small group of volunteers embarked from Sandwich and Amherstburg, Canada West, and, with Beall, captured the ship Philo Parsons off Kelley's Island, and then the Island Queen, which was scuttled. The plan included capturing the U.S. gunboat Michigan. However, at this point the crew refused to proceed further without outside assistance. Beall reluctantly agreed, and together they sailed back to Sandwich (the former name of and now a neighborhood of Windsor, Ontario), where they scuttled the Philo Parsons and separated, all escaping arrest except for Bennett G. Burley, whose extradition was demanded by U.S. authorities.
Beall then decided to free some captured Confederate officers by derailing a passenger train, but he and a companion, George S. Anderson, were arrested in Niagara, New York, on December 16, 1864. They were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, New York. Anderson agreed to testify against Beall in return for leniency.
General John Adams Dix ordered a military commission for Beall's trial, which began on January 17, 1865. He was represented by James T. Brady. The arrest of Beall had not been published in any newspaper, and Confederate authorities were unaware of his status. On February 8, the commission found him guilty on all charges and sentenced him to death. Beall was then transported to and held at Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York Harbor to await his execution.
The story of Beall's arrest and trial then appeared in the newspapers, and efforts were made to save him. Appeals were made to the President by many prominent people, including six U.S. Senators and ninety-one members of Congress, but Lincoln refused to intervene, not wanting to undermine Dix's authority, and Beall was executed on February 24, 1865.
There is a legend discussed by Lloyd Lewis that Lincoln was approached by John Wilkes Booth, who was a friend of Beall's, to save his life, and that the President agreed to do so. But Lincoln changed his mind (the legend goes) when he was approached by his friend and Secretary of State William Henry Seward, who insisted that Beall's activities had been dangerous to the citizens of New York State (Seward's state). Supposedly a furious Booth determined to kill Lincoln and Seward for this betrayal after Beall was executed.
- Headley, John W., Confederate Operations in Canada and New York, p. 243.
- Headley, p. 251
- Headley, p. 361
- Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 696. ISBN 9781451688092.
- Baker, W.W., Culbertson Charles (foreword) (2013). Memoirs of Service With John Yates Beall, C.S.N. Kindle Edition (Amazon.com).
- The South in the Building of the Nation, The Southern Historical Publication Society, Richmond, VA, 1909, Volume XI, pgs. 61-62.
- Beall, John Yates & Daniel B. Lucas, Memoir of John Yates Beall: His Life; Trial; Correspondence; Diary; and Private Manuscript Found Among His Papers, Including His Own Account of the Raid on Lake Erie, J. Lovell, 1865
- Trial of John Y. Beall: As a Spy and Guerrillero, by Military Commission, United States. Army. Military Commission, D. Appleton and Co., 1865
- Headley, John W, Confederate Operations in Canada and New York, Neale Publishing Co., 1906. Reprint ed. 1981 Time-Life Books Inc.
- Horan, James D. Confederate Agent, A Discovery in History, Crown, 1954.
- Lewis, Lloyd. Myths After Lincoln, New York: Grosset & Dunlap - Grosset's Universal Library, 1929, 1957, p. 169-170.
- John Yates Beall at Find a Grave