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Dubuque County in the Civil War

 ~ Contributed by Julia Krapfl ~


Cascade Shelters a Confederate Spy
Extracted from: Cascade, Iowa, the First 150 Years
  1834 - 1984

Sweethearts they were, back in the late 1830s. She was a Southern belle, Margaret Bemis, one of three daughters of a prominent Maryland family. The young gentleman was John Beall, son of an equally prominent family. Fate had brought them together, but fate also separated them when the Bemis family moved to St. Louis, Mo.

Margaret met and married a man named Carter in St. Louis. Carter made his living trading with the Indians and thus was required to make long expeditions into the wilderness. On one such expedition, Margaret accompanied her husband and both fell deadly ill many miles from home.
Carter died and Margaret was forced to make her wearisome way back to St. Louis as best she could. Friendly settlers helped her to travel from cabin to cabin accepting food and lodging as she went on for almost a year before reaching home.

Her family, in the meantime, had moved on to Dubuque. When Margaret finally regained her health and strength, she traveled to Dubuque to rejoin her family, arriving there in 1854. She established a private school there, operating it successfully before she was married in 1861 to Thomas Chew, a native of New Haven, Conn., who settled in Cascade in 1845 as a farmer, later making his fortune as operator of a sawmill on the west bank of the river, site of our present city park.

Chew began building a huge mansion of native stone for his bride. The majestic residence with its steep gothic roof, picturesque gables and long narrow doors quaintly adorned, overshadowed by age-crowned oaks and surrounded by thick grass in which bloomed countless wildflowers, was truly a beautiful sight as it rested on a knoll overlooking glistening waters of the Maquoketa. It was completed in 1861 and soon became the hub of the new town's social activities.

Margaret's friend, Beall, had meanwhile grown to manhood in his home state, had joined the Confederate navy at the outbreak of the Civil War and was soon promoted to Lieutenant.

His daring exploits against the Union soon made him a marked man. In a raid in 1863 he was almost captured, but managed to escape to the South.

He next undertook to harass Union shipping along the Canadian border. Making his way successfully to the border, he met his old friend and confederate, Bennett Burley, and together they laid the diabolical plan to wreck the New York and Erie train between Dunkirk and Buffalo.

The then Captain Beall revealed to Burley his plan to capture the Michigan, to free Johnson's Island prisoners of war, and to burn the cities of Sandusky, Cleveland and Buffalo. Had this plan succeeded, our history would have taken on a much different tone.

However, Beall was detected and shot as he attempted to cross the Union lines to rejoin his friends in Windsor, Canada. His luck held, however, and he escaped once more. Remembering his friend, Margaret Bemis, he headed for Cascade and arrived there June 1, 1864.

Margaret was now faced with a serious decision. Should she harbor a wanted Confederate spy and betray her new friends of the North, or should she betray a childhood friendship and remain loyal to her native South?

Her husband is reported to have told her to tend the wounds of the man, but never to mention the fact that he was a rebel.

As a consequence, Margaret nursed Beall for three months in the Chew Mansion. When guests called he would retire to his room on the third floor. A house guest, a cousin of Margaret, arrived to spend the summer, and hearing moans and groans overhead from her room on the second floor, she decided to investigate.

Before she could carry out her plan, however, an incident occurred which allayed her suspicions. Coming in from a ramble, she met Mr. Chew in the drawing room talking to a stranger whose speech carried a strange quality unfamiliar to her Yankee upbringing. He was introduced to her as an applicant for the vacancy at the academy.

She never questioned why he would be spending the summer or how he came to be a boarder there, but seemed to take delight in discussing all the latest in war news and extol the bravery of the boys in blue. The stranger would listen politely, but never offer a comment.

Strange did it seem, that he never attempted to visit the townspeople or attempt to join any guests that called.

Then one night curiosity got the better of Ada Collier, the house guest, and she mounted the stairs to the room whence came the groans. She found her cousin, Margaret, bending over the bared right arm of the stranger, from which trickled a stream of blood. Bandaging the gaping wound, Margaret sought to reassure Ada and finally told her the whole sad story of how John Beall had come to her wounded and half dead, and of how she had cared for him for three months.

That very night on learning the Union Army knew of his whereabouts, John Beall, the spy, rode his horse out of Cascade and out of the lives of his devoted friends.

Making his way back to Windsor to carry out his dastardly plans at last, fate decreed he again be captured. It was at Niagra City on the night of December 16, 1864, that he was taken. After a trial before a military commission begun on February 1, 1865, which lasted four days, Beall was found guilty and sentenced to be hung on February 18th.

He was removed to Fort Columbus, Governor's Island, the appointed place of execution. Throughout the days intervening, Beall studied one plan after another for escape. In he shoes were found two small saws fashioned from watch springs to help in his escape.

Finally at 2 p.m. he was marched to the gallows, and vehemently protesting his innocence, he declared he was dying in the service and defense of his country.

Visitors to a little chapel in Richmond, Virginia, where once Patrick Henry uttered those famous stirring words, "Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death", may find, on visiting the cemetery surrounding it, a slab bearing the inscription: "Here lies the body of John Beall." The attendant might explain, on being questioned, that Beall is remembered as a spy for the Southern cause, caught in New York and shot, his body brought back to Richmond.

Thus ends the life of the notorious Confederate spy in whose eyes once glinted the contempt for the patriotic young men of the vicinity as he watched from atop a knoll in East Cascade, their marching off to join the Union forces.

The Chew Mansion, as it became known, was later sold to the school district and became known as the "East Cascade School".  This school, successor to what became known as the "Adademy," grew and improved to become an accredited high school. Because of lack of attendance, it was finally forced to drop the high school grades and become simply an elementary school to be known as East Cascade Elementary.

Time and progress decreed the school be replaced by a new, fireproof, modern building. The historical mansion was burned to the ground to make room for the beautiful modern building now gracing the knoll.



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