John Yates Beall (1840-1865)
John Yates Beall was born at his father’s plantation, Walnut Grove, in what was then Virginia, in 1835. In the wake of John Brown’s attack on nearby Harpers Ferry, he enlisted in the Bott’s Greys militia, and was present at John Brown’s hanging. In the early days of the war, he was wounded in the chest, and unable to serve in the regular army.
At this point, different sources place him in different places. There are stories of attacks on Union vessel near the Chesapeake Bay and reports of him hiding out as far west as Iowa. He did marry in Florida, and eventually became aligned with the Confederate Secret Service in Canada. He was tasked with commandeering the USS Michigan, the Union’s only military ship on the Great Lakes, using it to liberate 3000 Confederates held prisoner on Johnson Island in Lake Erie, arming them, and leading them in an attack on Buffalo. To that end, he led a group to seize the ferry Philo Parsons, but his crew mutinied and the plan failed.
He was captured near Buffalo after trying to derail and rob a train. Convicted of espionage, he was hanged on February 24th on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor.