John Yates Beall

Source: The South in the Building of the Nation.
Richmond, Va.: The Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909.
Volume XI, pages 61-62

John Yates BEALL

BEALL, John Yates, Confederate guerrilla and sailor: b. Walnut Grove,
Jefferson county, Va., Jan. 1, 1835; hangeded on Governor’s Island, N. Y.,
Dec. 24, 1864. He was descended from an honorable Virginia family and was
educated for the law. The death of his father, however, compelled him to
abandon his profession in 1855. He farmed in Jefferson county until the
outbreak of the war, when he volunteered with his command, the “Botts Grays”
and was mustered into Company G, Second Virginia infantry. After
being incapacitated by a wound, he went West and then moved into Canada.
While in the latter country, he contrived a plan to liberate the Confederate
prisoners at Johnson’s Island. With this plan in mind, he returned South and
solicited the approval of the Confederate authorities. He was commissioned
as acting master in the Confederate navy, but was not assigned to command.
On his own initiative he began a series of exciting privateering enterprises
along the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, but he was captured in November,
1863, and confined in irons at Fort McHenry, Baltimore. This led to reprisals
by the Confederate government and ultimately on May 5, 1864, Beall was exchanged.
Unable to secure the approval of the government, he went to Canada without
orders to carry out his favorite plan of liberating the prisoners on Johnson’s
Island. On Sept. 18, 1864, with a small band of picked men, he captured the
Philo Parsons and the Island Queen and would probably have reached Johnson’s
Island, but for a mutiny in his crew and the miscarriage of other plans.
He was forced to abandon his project and was captured in citizen’s clothing
at Niagra, N. Y., on Dec. 16, 1864. He was hurried to New York, was tried as
a guerrilla and was executed. The Confederacy assumed responsibility for his
actions, but could not prevent the execution of the sentence. His fortitude
and courageous bearing during his trial and death were commended even by his enemies.

Transcribed and submitted by Valerie F. Crook, , 1999.