Military Holdings ~
Dubuque County in the Civil War
Contributed by Julia Krapfl ~
|Cascade Shelters a Confederate Spy
Extracted from: Cascade, Iowa, the
First 150 Years
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.