1942: Boris Vilde, linguist 1922: Henri Landru, French Bluebeard

1865: John Yates Beall, well-connected Confederate

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)

Here’s the capture-trial-and-execution portions of a homemade documentary on Beall (also check the preceding parts 1, 2, and 3)

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.

* One of Beall’s clemency supporters was future assassinated U.S. President James Garfield.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,New York,Pirates,Power,Soldiers,Spies,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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8 thoughts on “1865: John Yates Beall, well-connected Confederate”

  1. Ken Robinson says:

    I have information on ” Acting Master , John Yeates Beall
    on the Maryland and Virginia sides of the Chesepeake bay.

  2. Helen Cawyer says:

    In the cover picture for the film, there are several Confederate “raiders” pictured. The center man with the brimmed cowboy style hat looks to me like Marcellus Jerome Clark, aka “Sue Mundy” . I could not find where these gentlemen are identified. Is there a list? I am looking for a Samuel Beale (Beall) of Kentucky, who might be the man on the left of “Sue Mundy” in this picture; at least he sure looks like me if I was a guy, that is!!!

  3. KYGB says:


    It’s Dahlgren, not DAHLBERG.

    Interesting affair, that one. Ulric Dahlgren was only 21, a bit young to be a Colonel. There is still a LOT of debate whether Lincoln or any other higher ups knew what Dahlgren and Kilpatrick were up to that spring. I take it by your “tyrant” comment that you think Dahlgren raced out on his mission at the personal behest of Ol Abe.

  4. Kevin M. Sullivan says:


    By chance, you wouldn’t still be fighting the Civil War, would you?

  5. JosephineSouthern says:

    This article if more partisan biased South Hatred and distortion of our history. Capt. Beall was a Confederate Soldier and should have been given all the rights of a military captured in War Conflict. Capt. Beall had many supporters in the North, in Washington, and in Maryland, but the tyrant Lincoln decided not to do the right thing! If espionage and guerilla missions during war are considered as reasons for hanging then why is DAHLBERG who tried to burn Richmond down and murder Jefferson Davis such a big hero to the yankees.

  6. KYGB says:

    The reason that there is a “strange tradition” that some Civil War historians think that Booth may have murdered Lincoln as revenge for Beall’s execution is that may well be true, in part, anyway. . Beall was involved with John Surratt and John Wilkes Booth as a Southern operative based in Canada The paymaster for Confederate Spy and guerilla operations was Brig Gen Edwin Gray Lee. Lee was the nephew of Robert E Lee.

    Lee was a very able military commander who fought effectively in many battles in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia as aide to General Stonewall Jackson. EG Lee was one of the most trusted and competent Generals in Virginia. With the war going badly for the Confederacy, Lee ran the blockade and went to Montreal on an intelligence mission in December of ’64.

    From a Canadian base, Lee functioned as a coordinator and paymaster for CSA spy and guerrilla missions. Lee entered Canada with several million dollrs in CSA gold. One of his chief operatives was John Surratt. Surratt functioned as a spy, courier, and ran drug smuggling operations for the South. One of Surratt’s operatives was the popular actor John Wilkes Booth. Beall also was an operative of Lee’s

    Lee and other Southern operatives engineered a plot to kidnap Lincoln from this Northern outpost in Canada. Lee paid the money for the operation to John Surratt. Surratt met with Booth and gave him funds to accomplish the kidnap mission. Beall was hung on Feb 24, 1865. When the war ended, the many of the same operatives Booth hired to kidnap Lincoln participated in the plot to kill him. Lincoln had steadfastly refused to pardon Beall for his espionage and guerilla missions.

    Was part of Booth’s motive revenge for Beall’s execution? Quite possibly it did play a part in Booth’s desire to see Lincoln dead.

    Lee remained in Canada after the war ended until ’66, when he got assurances that the coast was clear.

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