February 24th, 2010 Headsman
On this date in 1865, Confederate John Yates Beall was hanged at Governors Island, New York, as a spy and saboteur.
This Virginian was knocked out of regular service through injuries early in the Civil War, but proceeded to a privateering career harassing Union shipping.
The pinpricks inflicted by Beall’s couple of ships was hardly calamitous for the North, but what he lacked in resources he made up in persistence.
Captured and exchanged midway through the war, he returned to his swashbuckling ways. But sneaking into New York from Canada in a bid to free rebel prisoners, Beall was caught again trying to derail trains — and secretly condemned by a military tribunal.
When the news of his impending execution got out, six Senators and 85 other members of Congress* appealed for leniency.
Despite Lincoln’s reputation for clemency, he did not grant it in this case.
“For days before the execution,” it was said, “the President closed the doors of the executive palace against all suppliants, male or female, and his ears against all appeals, whether with the tongue of men or angels in behalf of the unfortunate prisoner. From the first Mr. Lincoln had responded to all applications for his interposition — ‘Gen. Dix may dispose of the case as he pleases — I will not interfere.’ Gen. Dix on his part replied, ‘All now rests with the President — as far as my action rests there is not a gleam of hope.’ Thus they stood as the pillars of the gallows, on which Beall’s fate was suspended and between them he died.” (Source)
There’s a strange tradition that the hanged man was a personal friend of John Wilkes Booth, and that the actor’s assassination of Honest Abe seven weeks after Beall’s hanging was partly motivated by personal revenge.
Also on this date
- 1942: Five Jews in Sokal
- 1716: Lords Kenmure and Derwentwater but not Lord Nithsdale
- Daily Double: The Fifteen
- 1613: Ivan Susanin, a life for the tsar
- 1953: Emil August Fieldorf, Polish anti-Communist