EDITED BY John Ely Briggs
Copyright 1923 by the State Historical Society of Iowa
(Transcribed by Debbie Clough Gerischer)
A CONFEDERATE SPY
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
charge of her at present, have you not?"
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
Beall wrote the following letter to the Confederate agent of exchange:
FORT COLUMBUS, February 21, 1865.
Col. R. OULD, Commissioner of Exchange,
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
JOHN Y. BEALL,
Master, C. S. Navy.
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.
BRUCE E. MAHAN