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EDITED BY John Ely Briggs

Volume IV February 1923 No. 2

Copyright 1923 by the State Historical Society of Iowa

(Transcribed by Debbie Clough Gerischer)


     A glamour of romance and mystery still clings to the old Chew mansion in Cascade. The very appearance of the house with its massive walls of solid stone, high gable roofs, and huge chimneys has always inspired interest and wonder. Built in Civil War days by Thomas J. Chew, a pioneer of southern nativity, the edifice was constructed on the generous design of a plantation home.
     Enormous blocks of limestone for the thick walls were quarried from the bluffs along the North Fork of the Maquoketa River, while the studding, rafters, and heavy joists were of native oak cut to proper dimensions in the Chew sawmill. The spacious living room was finished with highly polished cherry, oak was used for the woodwork in the large library, the dining room, and the hallways, some of the chambers were finished in cherry and some in oak, while unvarnished walnut and cherry were used in the rooms on the third floor. In every room of the house there was a great stone fireplace.
     Too spacious for a dwelling, the mansion proved to be an expensive and unsatisfactory possession for its various owners after the Chews moved away, and more than once the suggestion was made that the great house should be converted into a hospital. At last the property was obtained by the school board and now the stately old residence is the home of the East Cascade High School.
     But not even transformation into a schoolhouse has been sufficient to dispel entirely the atmosphere of former glory. The children notice the evidences of the magnificence of sixty years ago, and they are reminded of days that are gone and of the stirring times that the old house has witnessed. In one of the rooms, where the boys and girls of to-day follow the campaigns of Caesar in Gaul or of Sherman in Georgia and Lee in Virginia, John Yates Beall, master in the Confederate navy and picturesque marauder, once found refuge and care while he was recovering from a wound received in piercing the Union lines on his dangerous trip to Canada.
     This is the story of the Cascade spy.
     Weary and wounded, John Y. Beall, in the spring of 1864, crept to the Chew home for refuge. His brother had come to Cascade some time before to engage in the milling business with Thomas Chew, whose wife's people, the Bemis family of Maryland, and the Bealls of Virginia had been friends in the South. For these reasons the sick and travel-worn Confederate hoped to receive aid and concealment at the Chew homestead until he recovered sufficiently to continue his journey.
     He arrived just at dusk about the first of June and stopped in a dark corner at the rear of the house. Mrs. Chew came outside for a bucket of water and he called to her, saying, " It's John Beall, I'm wounded and I've come to you for protection. " She replied that she would be glad to aid him but that she must first obtain the consent of Mr. Chew. She took him inside, gave him his supper, and led him upstairs to a bedroom. Then she laid the case before her husband and asked what she should do. "Maggie", he said, "attend to his wound as a man, but I do not want to know anything about him as a rebel."
     Mrs. Chew dressed his bullet wound herself, and removed some small pieces of bone. During the long hot summer of 1864 she nursed the Confederate refugee back to health and strength, and his presence at the Chew home was known only to a few intimate friends of the family.
     Beall was a quiet guest who spent much of the time in reading the Bible which Stonewall Jackson had given him. Every night he went over part of the Episcopalian service, while at other times he browsed through the books belonging to his host. His early schooling in Virginia and his studies in England had made him a gentleman of culture and refinement—the chivalrous type of southerner so well known in fiction. He never revealed to his benefactors the real reason for his trip north, and after his departure they were surprised and shocked at the swift-moving events of his subsequent career.
     Before coming to Cascade the spectacular exploits of John Y. Beall had made him a marked man. With a small band of kindred adventurers he had led an attack upon Union gunboats on the Rappahannock River and effected their capture. He had directed the destruction of light houses along the Virginia shore, and his command had succeeded in capturing Union transports off the Atlantic coast.
     On the eighteenth of September, 1863, Beall, with a small party of picked men, had crossed the bay from Matthew's Point, Virginia, and on the following day he captured the United States schooner, Alliance, loaded with cutler's goods. Two days later his small force seized the schooners, J. J. Houseman, Samuel Pearsall, and Alexandria, captured the crews, and, lashing the helms and setting the sails, turned the vessels adrift. Five days afterward a Union blockade sighted the Alliance, with the Confederates on board, stuck on a sand bar at Mifford Eaven. The Yankees opened fire, but the rebels set fire to the vessel and escaped.
     For almost a month Beall and his men continued their activities along the Virginia coast, swooping down here, striking there, and hovering at times dangerously near the Union pickets and coast guards who were alert for their capture. Finally, however, part of the command, in making a landing on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, were met by an equal number of coast guards, and after a spirited engagement the Confederates surrendered. The next day the reckless leader himself and nine more of his men were captured by a determined force from one of the Union coasting vessels. Both groups of prisoners were taken to Fort McHenry, where they were put in chains and regarded as pirates rather than as prisoners of war.
     This treatment brought forth a vigorous protest from Robert Ould, Confederate agent of exchange, who informed the Union agent that the Confederate government had placed an equal number of officers and seamen of the United States navy in close confinement in irons as a retaliatory measure and that they were held as hostages for the proper treatment of Beall and his men. This protest succeeded ultimately in accomplishing its purpose, for in January, 1864, the Confederate prisoners were removed from Fort McHenry to Fort Norfolk, their irons struck off, and their status made that of prisoners of war.
     Then Beall escaped.
     In May, 1864, he wrote to the Secretary of War of the Confederacy offering to raise a small company of trustworthy men for special service along the northern boundary of the United States. President Jefferson Davis had already sent Jacob Thompson, who had been Secretary of the Interior under President James Buchanan, to Canada to direct a campaign of terrorization whereby the morale of the Union might be broken. This work called for courage and intelligence, the type of service for which Beall was admirably fitted and to which his love of adventure allured him. His offer was accepted and he and his men in civilian garb set out for Canada as individuals and by separate routes.
     Ill fortune, however, marked this adventure from the start. In making his way through the Union lines Beall received the bullet wound which forced him to seek refuge with friends at Cascade and delayed his arrival at Windsor, Canada, for over three months. This inauspicious beginning of his new effort in behalf of the lost cause was a portent of ill omen, but with characteristic bravery he pushed on as soon as he had recovered from his injury and regained his strength.
     In the meantime, the audacious plot in which Beall was destined to play a leading role had assumed definite form and the preliminary work had been accomplished. Jacob Thompson, from his headquarters at Windsor, sent Captain Charles H. Cole, formerly of N. B. Forrest's command, around the lakes as a lower deck passenger with instructions to become familiar with the channels, the approaches to the harbors, the strength of each prison camp, and especially to obtain all possible information about the war steamer Michigan on Lake Erie. Cole was given about four thousand dollars in gold which he was to spend in establishing friendly relations with the officers and crew of the gunboat. When he succeeded with this part of the plot, Thompson planned to send Beall and his men across the lake on a passenger steamer which they would seize en route, and with it they were to capture the gunboat in the harbor of Sandusky. With the Michigan in their possession the Confederates hoped to overpower the guards at Johnson's Island near Sandusky and liberate nearly three thousand southern officers confined there who, mounted, armed, and guarded by the boat, would march along the lake to Cleveland. From Cleveland the Confederate officers proposed to turn south to Wheeling, thence to Virginia, and rejoin their commands. Such a bold coup, it was thought, would strike terror into the hearts of the Yankees, and at the same time revive the hopes of the South.
     Cole reported progress to Thompson; he felt that his part of the job was succeeding and that the officers who could not be bribed could be rendered helpless by being drugged at a wine party on board the gunboat on the night of the capture. Accordingly, the night of September 19,1864, was selected for the attempt. Prearranged signals were to let Beall know when Cole's part of the plot had been accomplished.
     Some details of the plot leaked out, however. On Saturday night, the seventeenth of September, a stranger called upon Lieutenant Colonel B. H. Hill, acting assistant provost marshal of Michigan, at his hotel in Detroit and introduced himself as a former Confederate soldier then a refugee in Canada. He told Hill that some of the officers and men of the steamboat, Michigan, on Lake Erie had been tampered with by one of Thompson's agents and that it was Thompson's intention to send a party from Windsor to capture the gunboat. The informant said that he had been asked to join the party and had consented to do so in order to learn the details of the plot. He added that he would return on the following night with more information. Hill did not fully credit the story because rumors of projected enterprises to commit depredations on the lake coasts of the United States by Confederate refugees in Canada had been current for more than a year, yet the man's earnestness led Hill to telegraph Captain J. a. Carter, the commanding officer of the Michigan, to be on his guard.
     True to his word the stranger returned on the following evening and told Hill that a man by the name of Cole was the Confederate agent at Sandusky who had attempted to bribe the officers of the gunboat and that he planned to drug those who could not be bought. He said, furthermore, that the attacking party planned to take passage on board the Philo Parsons, a passenger packet which made regular trips between Detroit and Sandusky, to take possession of the vessel out on the lake, and then to capture the Michigan. This more detailed information of the plot was telegraphed immediately to Captain Carter who had Cole seized and imprisoned at once and the boat cleared for action to bag the marauding party. Provost Marshal Hill thought it advisable to let the enterprise proceed so that the entire party might be captured in the harbor of Sandusky rather than to arouse the suspicions of the plotters by placing soldiers on board the Philo Parsons to prevent the start of the expedition. To do this, he thought, would simply postpone the attempt to another time when he might not be forewarned.
     Beall and his men, never dreaming that the details of the plot were already in the hands of their enemies, proceeded with their part of the scheme. About eight o'clock on Sunday night, September 18th, a fashionably dressed young man came on board the Philo Parsons which was lying at the docks at Detroit. He asked the clerk if the boat would stop in the morning at Sandwich, three miles below on the Canadian shore, to pick up a party of his friends who wanted to go to Kelley's Island on a pleasure trip. The clerk replied that the boat did not stop at Sandwich regularly but would do so for passengers. This satisfied the caller who then departed.
     This man was Bennett G. Burley, an acting master in the Confederate navy and Beall's assistant. The next morning the Philo Parsons steamed away from the dock at Detroit with some forty passengers on board. Shortly after the vessel got under way the visitor of the night before came to the clerk and announced that his friends were waiting for the boat at Sandwich. The clerk reported this to Captain Sylvester F. Atwood, master of the boat, who called the stranger and asked why his friends had not come to Detroit to catch the steamer. Burley replied that one of them was lame and found it inconvenient to take the ferry.
     Accordingly, the boat made the landing at Sandwich and four young fellows, one of whom limped, came on board. A]1 of them were stylishly dressed in English clothes, and one carried a small hand satchel, the only baggage of the party. They were soon on intimate terms with the passengers and made themselves agreeable traveling companions. One of them, a young man of medium height, with brown hair, fair complexioned, and smooth shaven, was Beall himself. His evident culture and polished manners made him a favorite.
     At Malden, about twenty miles below Detroit out the Canadian side, the steamer made its regular stop. Here a party of about twenty men came on board. They were all poorly dressed in ragged clothes that had apparently seen hard service, and two of the roughest looking in the lot lugged a heavy, old-fashioned, rope-bound trunk. All of the group were young except one who said he was a surgeon, and they explained that they were bound for Kelley's Island on a fishing trip. They paid their fare in greenbacks and no sign of recognition passed between them and the four who came on board at Sandwich. Their number was not unusual and consequently excited no suspicion.
     The steamer continued on its way, making the usual stops at North Bass, Middle Bass, and South Bass islands to discharge and take on passengers and freight. These islands lie about twenty- eight miles almost directly north of Sandusky. Captain Atwood left the boat at Middle Bass Island to spend the twenty-four hour interval before its return with his family, and the steamer proceeded under the command of DeWitt  Nichols, mate and pilot.
     Nothing suspicious had been observed up to this point although afterwards it was remembered that ten or twelve of the Malden crowd stayed on the upper deck and just after dinner the wheelman noticed two of them by the pilot house, two more by the wheelhouse, and two aft on the hurricane deck. One of the well dressed group asked the wheelman some questions about the course he was steering and borrowed his glass to look around.
     From South Bass Island, the steamer proceeded to Kelley's Island, seven miles farther on, and made the regular landing there. When the boat drew up to the wharf four men came on board and one of them addressed a member of the Sandwich party, saying, "We have concluded to go to Sandusky."
     None of those who had come on board at Sandwich and Malden left the boat at Kelley's Island and one of them told the clerk that they had decided to go on to Sandusky with the four who had just come on board.
     The Philo Parsons left Kelley's Island about four o'clock in the afternoon and fifteen or twenty minutes later passed the Island Queen, another sidewheel steamer which made regular trips between Sandusky and the Bass islands The boats passed at a distance of about twenty rods and no signals were exchanged.
     Shortly after the Philo Parsons passed the Island Queen Beall accosted Nichols, then in command of the boat, and asked, "Are you captain of this boat ?"
  " No, sir;" Nichols answered, "I am mate."
     "You have charge of her at present, have you not?"
     "Yes, sir", replied the mate.
     "Will you step back here for a minute I want to talk to you."
     The two men walked aft to a place near the smokestack on the hurricane deck where Beall stopped and said, "I am a Confederate officer. There are thirty of us, well armed. I seize the boat, and take you as a prisoner. You must pilot the boat as I direct you, and", pulling a revolver out of his pocket and showing it, "here are the tools to make you. Run down and lie off the harbor." He meant the harbor of Sandusky then about twelve miles distant.
     In the meantime four of the party had come up to the clerk who was standing in front of his office and, drawing revolvers, leveled them at him and threatened to kill him if he offered any resistance. He surrendered. In a flash the old black trunk which had been carried aboard at Malden was opened and the marauders armed themselves with the revolvers and hand axes which it contained. They fired a few shots and drove the frightened passengers forward to the cabin where they searched them for arms. Leaving the women and children in the cabin, the boarding party drove the men and crew down to the main deck and thence to the hold.
     When the attack began the wheelman who was standing in the saloon heard a shot on deck, a yell, and then another shot. We hastened out on the main deck and saw a man with a cocked revolver in his hand chasing the fireman and shouting to the fugitive to go down the main hatch or he would shoot The fireman escaped temporarily and the man turned to the wheelman repeating the same command. The latter told him to go to hell and started quickly to climb from the main deck to the upper deck. The pirate fired but missed, the ball passing between the legs of the fleeing wheelman.
     Within a short time, however, Beall and his men had complete possession of the boat, and although several shots had been fired no one was injured. The fireman, engineer, and wheelman were left at their posts under guard and commanded to obey the orders of the leader. Beall ordered the mate to head the boat east and to keep on this tack until a good view of the harbor of Sandusky was obtained. At about five o'clock a position was reached where the United States steamer, Michigan, was plainly visible. After a careful examination of the harbor from the point outside the bar, and after ascertaining the position of the gunboat, Beall learned from the mate that the wood supply was low. Therefore, he ordered the wheelman to turn back to the wooding station at Middle Bass Island, and the boat drew up to the wharf between seven and eight in the evening, just at dusk.
     The Confederates fired two or three shots at the owner of the wood yard, then released some of the deck hands to help wood up. The captain of the Philo Parsons who had spent the afternoon at home did not see his vessel return but was informed of its arrival by a little boy who came running up to the captain's house much frightened and shouting that they were killing his father. The captain hurried to the dock and seeing several men running to and fro, approached them and asked what was up. There upon three or four of the men leveled their pistols at him and he was ordered aboard. Upon his refusal he was rushed up the plank and made a prisoner in the cabin of his own vessel.
     About this time the
Island Queen whistled for the wharf and came steaming up to the dock alongside the Philo Parsons. It was now eight o'clock and moonlight. Immediately all the Confederates who could be spared rushed on board the new arrival and, yelling and firing their revolvers, they drove the passengers and crew aboard the Philo Parsons. Among the former were twenty-five Union soldiers —one-hundred-day men from Ohio returning to Toledo to be mustered out. They were unarmed and without a leader and so offered no resistance. The men were crowded into the hold, the women and children left in the cabin.
     The engineer of the Island Queen was busy with his engines after he brought his vessel alongside the wharf and the first he knew of the attack was when he heard some one yell. As he looked around one of the attacking party fired and the ball, whizzing past his nose, entered his cheek and passed out at his ear. Although Beall's men fired several shots no one was wounded except the engineer, though some of the passengers were knocked down with the butt end of revolvers and with hand axes.
     Before putting out on the lake again Beall paroled the passengers of both boats, the Union soldiers, the crew of the Island Queen, the captain and part of the crew of the Philo Parsons, and secured their promise not to leave the island nor to speak of what had occurred for twenty-four hours. He kept on board the captain, clerk, and wounded engineer of the Island Queen, and the mate, wheelman, and part of the crew of the Philo Parsons. Most of the baggage of the passengers was piled on the dock and the cargo of pig iron, furniture, and tobacco was thrown overboard.
     Beall then headed the Philo Parsons out on the lake with the Island Queen in tow. A few miles out from Middle Bass Island the captors opened the sea valves of the towed vessel and cast her adrift to sink. Fortunately, before filling she drifted onto a sand bar and was removed a few days later without having suffered serious injury. The Confederates then shaped a course for Sandusky, hiding the red and blue signal lights of the boat so that its course could not be detected. When the steamer reached a point opposite Marblehead Light outside the Bay of Sandusky the pilot told Beall that it was dangerous to attempt to run the channel at night for it was so narrow there was danger of running aground. Moreover, the signals by which Cole was to announce the success of his part of the plot had failed to appear. Beall called his men forward. After a brief consultation the Confederates decided to abandon the attack on the gunboat, Michigan. It was fortunate for them that they did, for both the commanding officer at Johnson's Island and Captain Carter of the Michigan were ready and waiting for the attack. Beall ordered the pilot to turn about end head the boat for Maiden, Canada.
     They passed the Bass islands under a full head of steam about one o'clock in the morning, slipped by side of the Detroit River. A few miles above Malden the captors sent ashore a yawl boat loaded with plunder. Beall stopped the Philo Parsons also at Fighting Point to put the crew ashore, keeping on boat only three- the engineer, the wheelman, and one other- for the rest of the trip. The boat arrived at the dock at Sandwich, Canada, about eight o'clock Tuesday morning.
     One of the gang compelled the engineer to help smash the injection pipes of the vessel, while others carried ashore some cabin furniture and other plunder. Then, leaving the boat to sink, the Confederates, loaded down with bags of plunder, set off up the street of Sandwich. None of them were molested except two who were detained for a short time charged with violating the customs regulations by unloading goods without a license. The magistrate dismissed their case, however, and the entire group scattered throughout the country, most of them returning to the Confederacy. The Philo Parsons was saved by some of the crew before she filled and in a few days both of the captured vessels were making their regular trips again.
     This audacious attempt by Beall and his men to capture the Michigan and to release the prisoners at Johnson's Island aroused the authorities to keep a careful watch for this bold plotter.
     The County Crown Attorney at Windsor assured the United States District Attorney of Michigan that he had received instructions from his government to spare no pains in bringing to justice those concerned with the plot. Burley, Beall's lieutenant, was arrested a few days afterward in Canada and later extradited to the United States. Cole, who was confined on Johnson's Island and later at Fort Lafayette, was finally discharged on February 10,1866. Thompson, the arch conspirator, seems to have escaped. He was afterward implicated in the assassination of President Lincoln.
     On December 16,1864, nearly three months after the lake episode, John S. Young, chief of the Metropolitan Detective Police, found and arrested Beall near the New York end of the suspension bridge over the Niagara River. He was fully identified by a witness who picked him out of a crowd in one of the rooms at police headquarters in New York. The witness stepped up to Beall and called him by name much to the discomfiture of the Confederate captain. After being thus identified the prisoner was confined in a cell at police headquarters, but having attempted to bribe one of the turnkeys by offering him $3000 in gold for a chance to escape, he was removed to Fort Lafayette.
     The military commission appointed to try his case convened on board the steamer, Henry Burden, while she was conveying Beall to Fort Lafayette, but as he desired a week's delay to procure counsel and to prepare his defense, it was granted him. The court martial met at Fort Lafayette on the morning of January 17, 1865, and adjourned until two days later, giving the prisoner that much more time to prepare his case. He asked that a fellow prisoner, Roger A. Pryor, be allowed to defend him, and this request was forwarded by General John A. Dix to the Secretary of War. A reply was received two days later that under no circumstances could a prisoner of war be allowed to act as counsel for a person accused of being a spy. Hence another postponement of the trial was necessary while Beall secured other counsel.
     Having engaged the professional services of James T. Brady, Beall's trial began February 10, 1865, with Brigadier General Fitz Henry Warren, formerly colonel of the First Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, as president. He was arraigned and tried under two charges: first, violation of the law of war, and second, acting as a spy. Under these charges it was specified that he-seized and captured the Philo Parsons and Island Queen without lawful authority and by force of arms; that he acted as a spy near Kelley's Island, at Middle Bass Island, and at the suspension bridge; and that as a guerrilla he attempted to destroy lives and property by trying to wreck a train coming from the west to Buffalo. Beall attempted to justify his maneuvers on Lake Erie and his deeds in New York by showing that he was acting under the orders of Jefferson Davis and authorized agents of the Confederate government.
     After a careful hearing of the evidence, the court found Beall guilty of both charges and on all the specifications save one in which the date had been stated erroneously. He was sentenced to be hanged and General Dix approved the sentence, directing it to be executed on Governor's Island, Saturday, February 18th. Later a reprieve was granted until Friday, the twenty-fourth.
     In desperation Beall wrote the following letter to the Confederate agent of exchange:
February 21, 1865.
Col. R. OULD,
Commissioner of Exchange, Richmond, Va.:
     Sir: The proceedings of a military commission in my case published in the New York papers of the 15th instant made you and my Government aware of my sentence and doom. A reprieve, on account of some informality, from the 18th to the 24th was granted. The authorities are possessed of the facts in my case. They know that I acted under orders. I appeal to my Government to use its utmost efforts to protect me, and if unable to prevent my murder, to vindicate my reputation. I can only declare that I was no "spy" or "guerrilla," and am a true Confederate.
     Acting Master, C. S. Navy.
     This letter, however, was not received until February twenty-seventh. Three days before, between noon and two o'clock in the afternoon, the commanding officer of Fort Columbus had carried out the sentence of the court and the spectacular career of John Y. Beall was ended.



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