in Foremost Line of the Heroes and Martyrs of the Civil War.
John Yates Beall, who served in the Stonewall Brigade Second Virginia Infantry,
before he entered upon his daring career as a Confederate naval officer, stands
in the foremost line of the heroes and martyrs of the Civil War. He met his
pathetic fate with that stern, yet gentle sense of honor that not unwillingly
pays its price without repining or regret.
Captured While on Raid-Kept
in Prison a Year and Then Sentenced to Death by a Drumhead Court-Martial.
He was just 26 years of age in 1861. He had graduated in law at the University
of Virginia. He had been right in the midst of the John Brown insurrection,
and he was ripe for those services to his State by which he was soon distinguished.
He was badly wounded in a charge under Ashby in October, 1861, and possessing
alike the mind, the nerve and the spirit which befit great adventure, he was
soon singled out for "enterprises of great pith and moment."
The story of his ill-fated endeavor to release the Confederate prisoners on
Johnson's Island, is told in the enclosed article by a loving comrade who cherishes
and honors his memory, and who fitly says: "It is a sacred duty to defend those
who sacrificed their lives in the God-given right of self-defence and preservation
Captain Beall stood for the principle which animates the pen of his
loyal friend, and that pen expresses also the duty which a loyal people owe
to those who suffered and died for them.
John Y. Beall ranked as captain in the Confederate Navy, having been appointed
by Hon. S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy, at Richmond, Va.,
in 1863. The integrity of Captain Beall's motives, the incorruptibility of his
principles, and the injustice and illegality of his execution by General Dix,
in February, 1865, on Governor's Island, N.Y., are well known. He was a devout
Christian, a thorough gentleman, and an accomplished scholar. His home was in
the garden spot of old Virginia--Jefferson county--now West Virginia. A few
miles distant of Charlestown is "Walnut Grove," a fine farm owned by Captain
Beall's father, and here the son was born January 1, 1835. His ancestors were
of the best people in the South, and his father was a prominent citizen in that
section. Young Beall was sent to the University of Virginia to study law, and
in the course of due time he graduated in the legal profession.
It was in 1859 that John Brown and his gang of murderers and robbers invaded
Harper's Ferry, a few miles distant from Mr. Beall's home, and it made a serious
impression upon all who resided in that immediate neighborhood. It was but a
prelude of the Civil War. Brown having been aided and abetted by Northern fanatics,
and the irrepressible conflict was fast approaching. Virginia seceded in April,
1861, and John Y. Beall was one of the first volunteers in Virginia, enlisting
in the Second Virginia Regiment, Stonewall Brigade. General Turner Ashby had
a sharp engagement with the enemy at Falling Waters, in October, 1861, and John
Y. Beall led a charge and was seriously wounded, the ball passing through his
breast; but good nursing and strong will power enabled him to survive the injury.
TO RELIEVE CONFEDERATE PRISONERS ON JOHNSON'S ISLAND.
It was during Beall's convalesence at Richmond, Va., that he
conceived the plan to release Confederate prisoners on Johnson's Island, and
he subsequently made known his idea to President Davis, who referred him to
Hon. S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Beall's interview
with Secretary Mallory convinced him that the plan was feasible, but the project
was held in abeyance.
ON THE POTOMAC.
In the meanwhile Captain Beall organized a company to operate
on the Lower Potomac, and he made several successful raids. His daring adventures
on water caused much excitement in the North, and the Federals made extra
effort to capture him, which occurred. He was put in close confinement with
Lieutenant B. G. Burley and 20 men, all manacled with heavy irons. Captain
Beall sent a note to Secretary Mallory, stating his case, and the Secretary
of the Confederate Navy forthwith placed the same number of General B. F.
Butler's soldiers in close confinement. It had the desired effect, and General
Butler soon granted an exchange.
OF THE "PHILO PARSONS" and "ISLAND QUEEN."
Captain Beall yearned to release the Confederate prisoners on
Johnson's Island. September, 19, 1864, he and several Confederates boarded
the Philo Parsons at Sandwich, Mich. When the vessel arrived at Amhertsburgh,
sixteen men boarded her, with one trunk, containing arms. Very soon Captain
Beall exclaimed: "I take possession of the boat in the name of the Confederate
States. Resist at your peril!" Quite a commotion prevailed, but when Captain
Beall explained matters, the prisoners became reconciled to the situation.
They were soon released, and not one cent taken from them. Another vessel,
the Island Queen, met the same fate. Thirty Federal soldiers were aboard and
all of them were paroled. One vessel was deemed sufficient for the purpose
in view, consequently the Island Queen was scuttled and sent adrift.
BEALL'S SCHEME OF OPERATION.
The United States gunboat, Michigan, guarded Johnson's Island,
Lake Erie, and its capture was necessary before Captain Beall could release
the Confederate prisoners. So it was arranged with Captain C. H. Cole to have
the officers of the Michigan at a banquet in Sandusky, Ohio, on the night
of the proposed attack and a signal rocket was to be exploded to inform Captain
Beall that the officers of the Michigan were absent. There were more than
3,000 Confederate officers on Johnson's Island, where they received bad treatment.
Proper food and water was denied them. Several rods from the main prison were
dungeons, each a little larger than an ordinary coffin, in which were confined
Confederate soldiers who had been sentenced to death by drumhead courtmartials.
They were chained hand and foot, with additional iron ball, weighing sixty
pounds chained to their ankles.
OF ATTACK FAILS. MEETING.
On the night of September 19, 1864, Captain Beall steered the
Philo Parsons within distance to observe the signal when given for his attack
on the Michigan. Anxiously he stood upon the deck of the Philo Parsons, looking
for the signal rocket. But in vain he looked for an hour--no signal. Yet he
may still win, though the rocket's red glare failed to beckon him onward,
and he bore on his course cautiously until the lights of the Michigan were
seen making her length on the placid lake. Voices of men could be distinctly
heard upon the Michigan's deck, and the contour of her fourteen guns could
be seen in the moonlight. But at this critical moment a new danger beset him
where least expected--his men meeting. Lieutenant Burley and two others only
stood by him. The remainder positively refused to go farther, alleging that
the signal failed to appear as agreed upon, and that the enterprise must have
been detected. Captain Beall, pleaded, argued and threatened in vain. Then
he ordered them go to the cabin, and exacted their resolution to be reduced
to writing as a vindication of himself and Lieutenant Burley and two men who
were faithful to the last. This being accomplished, he took possession of
the document. There was no other alternative but to retreat and Captain Beall
returned to Sandwich, where the Philo Parsons was scuttled and sent adrift,
the Confederates retiring to Canada. Captain Beall was of the opinion, had
it not been for the mutiny at the critical moment of the adventure, he would
have been successful in releasing the Confederate prisoners on Johnson's Island.
CAPTAIN BEALL BETRAYED?
Captain Beall was betrayed or the plot otherwise discovered, it has never been
definitely ascertained. Captain Cole was arrested by the Federals on the afternoon
of the day, when the proposed attack was to have been made. He was imprisoned
at Fort Lafayette until February, 1866, when a Brooklyn judge released
him on a writ of habeas corpus, and since then nothing has been heard about
War Department records show that the number of Federal prisoners in Confederate
hands were 270,000 during 1861-65, and the number of Confederates in northern
prisons numbered 220,000, the same period, and yet 32,000 Confederates died
in northern prisons, many of whom were shot for slight provocations. During
the same time there were but 22,750 deaths of Federal prisoners in southern
hands, that is to say, more than twelve per cent. of the Confederates died in
northern prisons, and less than nine per cent. of Federal prisoners in Confederate
hands died in southern prisons. The North had unlimited means for medical aid,
but the South was badly in need of medicine and comforts. The Federal Government
declared medicine a contraband of war, which is the only government ever known
to have resorted to such harsh means.
The Confederate Government urged an exchange of prisoners, which would have
relieved much suffering, but the Federal government declined. General Grant
asserted in 1864, that an exchange of prisoners would defeat his plan of attrition,
depleting Confederate ranks; that when a Confederate was captured his place
could not be replenished, whereas the North could easily furnish two men for
every Federal soldier captured by Confederates. Clearly the responsibility rests
with the North in regard to the long confinement of prisoners. Prison life is
not pleasant under the best conditions. The South gave the prisoners what the
Confederate soldiers received. It was impossible to do more.
Captain Wirz was hung in Washington, 1865, the charge being that he maltreated
Federal prisoners at Andersonville, Ga. He was offered pardon if he would certify
that Jefferson Davis prompted cruelty to prisoners; but he spurned the bribe
to defame an innocent man to save his own life. A man possessed of such nobility
of character, could never be guilty of inhuman treatment of prisoners.
OF CAPT. BEALL AND COURT MARTIAL.
Capt. John Y. Beall was captured in December, 1864, while on
a raid to release Federal prisoners en route to Fort Warren. He was kept in
close confinement for more than one year, and when the Confederate
cause was nearing dissolution, General Dix appointed a drum-head court-martial
to condemn Captain Beall to death. James T. Brady, of New York, counsel for
defense, served his client faithfully; but drum-head court-martials sit to
condemn, and not to do justice. Judge Daniel B. Lucas, of Charlestown, West
Virginia, the late James L. McClure and Albert Ritchie, of Baltimore, were
all college mates of Captain Beall, and they were untiring in their efforts
to secure a fair trial for Captain Beall; but it was of no avail. Secretary
Seward's edict had gone forth that "Beall must hang." Mrs. John I. Sittings
and Mrs. Basil B. Gordon, of Baltimore, interceded in behalf of the heroic
Beall. Numbers of Congressmen signed a petition for Beall's pardon, but President
Lincoln turned a deaf ear to all appeals for clemency.
HEROIC BEARING OF CAPTAIN BEALL.
So the fatal day, February 24th, 1865 came, and as Captain Beall
mounted the platform, General Dix's order was read, denouncing Beall's heroic
effort to release Confederate prisoners, which elicited a smile from Captain
Beall; but when unjustly accused of being a spy and guerrilla, he shook his
head in denial. General Dix's homily on the proprieties of war also provoked
a smile, because General Dix's military achievements were confined to burning
William and Mary College in Virginia, and administering the oath of allegiance
to the inmates of an insane asylum and treating them with cruelty. Beall well
remembered the ashes and ruins of thousands of homes in Virginia, which marked
the pathway of Federal invasion, and he also remembered the brutal treatment
inflicted by Federal soldiers upon his mother and sisters. Captain Beall knew
that General Dix's utterance was in default of the penalty which he himself
attached to the violations of the laws of civilized warfare.
Rev. Joshua Van Dyke, of New York, visited Captain Beall the day preceding
his execution, and he said: "I found Captain Beall in a narrow, gloomy cell,
with a lamp burning at midday, but he received me with as much ease as if
he were in his own parlor. Captain Beall's conversation revealed at every
turn, the scholar, the gentleman, and true Christian. There was no bravado,
no strained heroism, no excitement in his words or manner, but a quiet trust
in God and a composure in view of death, such as I have read of, but never
beheld to the same degree before. He introduced the subject of his approaching
end himself, saying that while he did not pretend to be indifferent to life
the mode in which he was to depart had no terror or ignominy for him; he could
go to heaven, through the grace of Christ, as well from the gallows as from
the battle-field; he died in defence for what he believed to be right; and
so far as the particular charges for which he was to be executed were concerned,
he had no confession to make, or repentance to exercise. He calmly declared
he was to be executed contrary to the laws of civilized warfare."
MOTHER'S VISIT AND LETTER TO HIS BROTHER.
visited him several days preceding the execution, and as soon as he saw her
expression, he said: "I knew mother would endure the terrible sacrifice with
courage." Captain Beall was betrothed to an accomplished lady in the South.
In the last letter to his brother, William Beall, who belonged to the "Stonewall
Brigade," he said: "Be kind to prisoners--they are helpless. Vengeance is mine
saith the Lord. I will repay." Captain Beall, illegally executed, and in defiance
of, civilized warfare, was one of the most heroic characters of the South. He
was inspired to serve his State, Virginia, by the God-given right of self-defence
and the preservation of home, and his record as a soldier is without stain or
reproach. After the war his remains were taken to his old home, Walnut Grove,
Jefferson County, W. Va., and buried in accordance with the rites of the Episcopal
Church. He requested to be engraved on his tomb: "Died in Defence of My Country."
OF CAPTAIN BEALL'S EXECUTION.
The next ranking officer to Captain Beall was B. H. Burley, who
was associated with him in all his daring adventures, hence guilty of the
same "offense." Yet Lieutenant Burley was allowed to go unpunished by the
Federal government. Burley was arrested by Canadian authority and surrendered
on extradition papers, demanded by Mr. Henry B. Brown, then assistant United
States attorney for the Detroit District, now one of the associated justices
of the Supreme Court. Burley's chief defense was his commission as an acting
master in the Confederate navy, signed at Richmond, Va., September 11, 1863,
on which was an endorsement, dated Richmond, December 22, 1864, in the form
of a proclamation by President Davis (which referred especially
to Captain Beall's ad- venture), declaring that the Philo Parson's enterprise
was a belligerent expedition, ordered and undertaken under the authority of
the Confederate government, and for which that government assumed responsibility."
July 10, 1865, Burley was brought to trial. Judge Fitch charged the jury "that
a state of war had existed between the Federal government and the Confederate
government, so called, and it made no difference whether the United States
admitted it or not." He held that the prisoner and other persons connected
with him in the capture of the boat, acting for and under orders from the
Confederate government, would not be amenable to civil tribunals for the offense--the
charge was robbery. If the parties who took the boat and money belonging to
Captain Atwood, intended to appropriate it to their own private use, then
the prisoner would be guilty of the offense; but in carrying out the expedition
the parties had the same right, in a military point of view, to take other
articles of properly, or even money, that they had to take the boat."
The jury disagreed, standing six to six. Burley was returned to prison, but
allowed to walk out of jail in broad day-light. The case was nolle prossed
by the prosecution.
L H. CRAWFORD.