"John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Mr. Lincoln was a citizen of the United States, not of the Confederate States. He was at no time a resident of the Confederate States. His Southern sympathies did not lead him to come to the South and make common cause with the South. It was not an ardent love of the South or of the Southern cause that prompted Mr. Booth's crime, but rather a spirit of revenge for the personal wrong that Mr. Lincoln had done in having Captain John Y. Beall, one of Booth's friends, unjustly executed.
"The editor of the Christian Observer was
acquainted with Captain Beall. He was a native of Virginia,
a member of a good family, a college graduate, a brave young man of attractive
In Richmond, Va., we boarded at the same house, ate at the same table and we learned to appreciate his sterling worth. He possessed traits similar to those which, during the Spanish-American war, made Richard Pearson Hobson the idol of the American people, and when in the fall of 1864 a man was wanted to lead a hazardous enterprise and make a diversion on Lake Erie, he promptly responded to the call of his government. With a handful of brave seamen he seized a boat on Lake Erie, made its crew prisoners, converted it into a war vessel, captured or sank one or more other boats, terrorized the commerce of the Great Lakes, produced a panic in Buffalo and the cities on the lakes, and thoroughly alarmed the Northern people. In due time he was captured. He was tried by a court-martial and sentenced to death as a pirate.
"John Wilkes Booth interested himself in his behalf; obtained from the Confederate government at Richmond, Va., the evidence that he was a commissioned officer of the Confederate Navy; he obtained, also, evidence that his acts were only those of legitimate warfare, and that he was acting under instructions from the Confederate government.
Booth went to Washington armed with these documents and secured from President Lincoln the promise that Captain Beall should not to be put to death, but should be treated as a prisoner of war. This promise of Mr. Lincoln's gave offense to Secretary Seward, who persuaded him, in the face of it, to sanction Beall's execution, and Captain Beall was hanged at Governor's Island, N. Y., on Feb. 24, 1865.
"John Wilkes Booth
was not a well-balanced man at his best. Doubtless he inherited a streak
of the insanity with which his father, though a great actor, was from time
to time afflicted. Be that as it may, he was fearfully wrought up by the
death of his friend in such circumstances. He
denounced the killing in cold blood of a prisoner of war after he had surrendered
as 'murder,' and the doing it after the president had given his word that
it should not be done as 'falsehood' and 'treachery,' and vowed vengeance
against the author of this wrong.
"At once he organized a conspiracy for the assassination of President Lincoln and Secretary Seward, and on the night of April 14, only seven weeks after Captain Beall was hanged, the plot was executed. Booth shot Mr. Lincoln at Ford's theatre, Washington, exclaiming: 'Sic semper tyrannis!' and on the same night Paine,
one of his co-conspirators, inflicted severe but not mortal wounds on William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
"The United States was fearfully aroused by the assassination of the President. At first it was suspected that the crime had been instigated by Confederates. Many prominent citizens of the Confederacy were arrested. The most thorough and searching examination was made, and it was conclusively proved that no representative of the Southern Confederacy had any hand in it. It was as sincerely regretted and as severely condemned through the South as in the North. Mr. Lincoln was killed not by a citizen of the Confederate States, but by a citizen of the United States--a partially deranged man, to avenge the wrong he claimed had been suffered by his friend at Mr. Lincoln's hands."
The lamented John Y. Beall ranked as captain
(actually was a Master) 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.
PLAN 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.
RAIDS 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 (actually Master) B. G. Burley and 20 men, all manacled with heavy irons.
Founders note: read the story in the Mobile Register of 1864 regarding this brutal imprisonment---click here
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.
CAPTURE 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.
CAPTAIN 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.
SIGNAL 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 (actually Master) 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 (actually Master) 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.
WAS CAPTAIN BEALL BETRAYED?
Whether 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 him.
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.
CAPTURE 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.
EXECUTION; 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."
HIS MOTHER'S VISIT AND LETTER TO HIS BROTHER.
His mother 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."
ILLEGALITY OF CAPTAIN BEALL'S EXECUTION.
The next ranking officer to Captain Beall was B. G. Burley, who was associated with him in all his daring adventures, hence guilty of the same "offense." Yet Lieutenant (actually Master) 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 adventure), 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.
The following appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial
Gazelle September, 1902:
More than thirty years have passed since the earth was tossed into the last Confederate grave on Johnson's Island. Thirty years have cooled the hot blood of the South and temporized the temper of the North. The bayonets of the Civil war are rusting now; the saber's edge is turned, and the heavy cannon that thundered o'er the battle-field is molded into implements of peace. Thirty years have blotted out the evil memories of the past and brought forth the dawn of the new morn and the new South. The Stars and Bars are amalgamated with the Stars and Stripes. But as the events of those thrilling times are slowly but surely fading from view some little incident now and then recalls, with a vividness that smacks of yesterday, a great epoch in the war, forming the rivet that connects the chains of history.
An old gray-haired man, with his wife leaning on his arm, wandered through the Confederate cemetery, on Johnson's Island, during the recent encampment of the Ohio G. A. R., at Sandusky. The couple passed before each stone and scanned the inscriptions with apparent interest. Three times had the narrow avenues between the graves been traversed. The old man rested wearily upon his walking stick.
"Not here," said he, "not here."
The words had barely passed his lips when his wife, falling on her knees, cried out: "Oh, father! father!"
The old man hastened to her side. She was supporting herself by a marble slab, which bore this inscription:
LIEUTENANT COMPANY G,
JOHN C. HOLT,
Sixty-first Tennessee Infantry.
For thirty years the father and mother, who
live near Nashville, Tenn., have sought their son. They found him during
a reunion of the North and the South, in the graveyard of a northern prison.
John Holt died in 1865, and was one of the three thousand or more officers who looked for liberty through one of the most stupendous plots of the war of the rebellion--an uprising in the North. The finding of his grave by his parents the other day brings back to mind the great conspiracy to liberate 20,000 Confederate prisoners in the North, seize the northern frontier, and put a period to the struggle in the South by one grand stroke of arms. Sandusky was the theatre of these tragic events, and Johnson s Island was to be the first point of attack. As one looks over the peaceful little island to-day, as it lies in the pretty land-locked bay three miles from Sandusky, he can scarcely realize that it was once peopled with troops; that the flower of the Southern armies was imprisoned there, behind a strong stockade, and that it was the scene of one of most sensational events of the late war. Yet the block-house, the powder magazines, the officers' quarters, the old church and the little cemetery are still there, and the earthen embankments of the two forts are forcible reminders that heavy ordnance were once planted there, commanding a sweep of the entire island.
While the people of the North were resting in fancied security, John Holt and his companions were watching and waiting patiently for the signal that would inform them of the capture of the man-of-war Michigan, the throwing open of the prison gates at Camp Douglas, near Chicago, where 8,000 Confederates were confined; at Camp Chase, near Columbus, O., where there were 8,000 more, and at Camp Morton, Indianapolis, with about 4,000. The 3,200 officers on Johnson's Island were to command this army of newly liberated Confederate soldiers and sweep the North across its entire breadth, carrying havoc and panic throughout its course, and possibly turning the tide in favor of the South. The time was ripe for such a gigantic conspiracy. It was in 1864, when the Democrats of the North were preparing to declare in national convention that the war was a failure; when the North was filled with discontent, and Canada was flowing over with Southern sympathizers under the leadership of Jake Thompson.
The time arranged for simultaneously releasing all of these prisoners was to be gauged by General Early's attack upon Washington, so that it would be impossible to send troops to the North.
About this time the Democratic convention was held in Chicago, and it was at first the intention to take advantage of this meeting to make the attack. Four thousand Confederates were in Chicago during the session of the convention, waiting for the word to strike the blow, but Early's delay in attacking the capital caused a postponement of the plans in the West. This delay and the miscarriage of the plot at Johnson's Island saved the North.
The man who figured most prominently in this movement was Major C. H. Cole, a man of wonderful coolness, nerve and courage. He was barely of medium height, but his frame was well-knit and muscular, and his cold gray eye indicated firmness and daring. An estimate of his reckless bravado may be formed when it is known that shortly after his capture, upon being arraigned before Major-Generals John A. Dix, Heintzelman and Hitchcock, he attempted to drop a lighted cigar into the powder magazine of the Michigan, and blow all on board, himself inclusive, into eternity. This was the man selected by Jake Thompson to strike the keynote in the great conspiracy.
Cole was a member of the Fifth Tennessee Confederate Regiment, of which his brother was colonel. He was called to Richmond, and there assigned to the secret service, with orders to report to Jake Thompson, formerly Secretary of the Interior under Buchanan, but at that time supposed to be the Confederate leader, with headquarters in Canada. Major Cole was given command of the Department of Ohio, with headquarters at Sandusky. Major Tom Hinds, afterwards a judge at Bowling Green, Ky., was in command in Illinois and located at Chicago, while Major Castleman had Indiana, with headquarters at Centralia. At all these places Northern allies were working in conjunction with the Confederates. The plan was to make the attack on Johnson's Island, Camp Douglas, Camp Chase, and Camp Morton simultaneously, on Monday, September 19, 1864. Major Cole's part was to capture the Michigan, release the prisoners on the island, cut all the telegraph wires, seize a train, run down to Columbus, help release the prisoners at Camp Chase, return to Sandusky and establish temporary headquarters of the Confederate Department of the Northwest. General Trimble, of Maryland, who was ranking officer on Johnson's Island, was to have been made commander-in-chief. Major Hinds, of Chicago, in addition to attacking Camp Douglas, was assigned to capture one of the iron steamers that ran between Grand Haven and Milwaukee.
Cole went about his work systematically and skilfully. He established himself at Sandusky under the guise of a wealthy oil speculator of Titusville, Pa., and organized the Mount Hope Oil Company. Judge Filmore, of Buffalo, being elected president, and Cole secretary. The day the Major reported to Jake Thompson he received $60,000 in gold, part of which was deposited in a bank at Sandusky, to Cole's credit. Accounts were also kept in Philadelphia with Drexel & Co., in the name of John Bell, and at Belmont, N. Y. The Confederacy had ample means in its secret service, one authority placing the amount at $86,000,000.
With such comfortable bank accounts to his credit, Major Cole at once took rank as a substantial business man. He became noted for his good dinners, his fine brands of cigars, and the excellent quality of his wines. He assiduously courted the friendship of the officers of the man-of-war Michigan. In Sandusky he was known as a jolly good follow. He managed to have two Confederates enlisted as seamen on board the Michigan, and ten were enlisted as soldiers and stationed for duty on Johnson's Island. By this means he kept thoroughly posted as to what was going, on inside the lines of the enemy's stronghold.
Associated with Cole was John Yates Beall, a native of West Virginia, and a college-bred man. When the war broke out Beall was the owner of a large plantation in Jefferson county, W. Va., and was estimated to be worth nearly $2,000,000. He organized Company G, Second West Virginia Infantry, which was afterwards a part of the "Stonewall Brigade." Beall was a man of unquestioned bravery.
Another character who played an important part was Annie Davis, an English woman, who acted as a messenger between Cole and Jake Thompson.
On the morning of September 19, Cole had his plans for striking the final blow all complete. He left Detroit for Sandusky, where he had arranged to dine with the officers of the Michigan on board the ship that evening. The wine was to be drugged, and Beall, at a given signal, was to attack the man-of-war from a steamer which was to be seized that same day. Just before he left Detroit, Major Cole sent the following telegram to Major Hinds' assistant, Charlie Walsh, of Chicago:
DETROIT, September 19, 1864.
Close out all of the stock in the Mount Hope Oil Company before 3 o'clock to-day. Be prompt.
C. H. COLE.
This meant that the attempt to capture the Michigan was to be made that afternoon, and that attacks should be made on Camps Douglas, Chase, and Morton. In company with Beall, Cole boarded the Philo Parsons, which ran between Detroit and Sandusky. She stopped at the various places on the Canada side of the Detroit river. At Windsor and Maiden the Confederates got aboard. At the latter place there were twenty men who brought with them an old-fashioned trunk tied with ropes. This, however, did not excite suspicion, as at that time there were any number of men fleeing into Canada to escape the draft, and others forced to return for want of money.
Major Cole, who had become well acquainted with the commander of the vessel, Captain Atwood, was in the pilothouse. When all was in readiness Beall gave the signal and Cole covered the captain with a revolver.
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.His gravesite has been located and photographed. See the WV gravesites page.