Synopsis: Victim of Honor, the Story of John Yates Beall and the Northwestern Conspiracy

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Victim of Honor: the Story of John Yates Beall and the Northwestern Conspiracy
by James E. Duffey

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 John Yates Beall did what any other patriotic southerner would do. He joined the Confederate army, believing it was his duty to defend his beloved home state of Virginia. Little did he know that four years later he would face execution for the crimes of acting as a spy for the Confederacy.

Seriously wounded early in the war, Beall was unable to continue serving in the army under Stonewall Jackson. However, as the son of a wealthy planter, he had numerous political contacts in the Confederate government, and soon found service as a privateer on the Chesapeake Bay. There he captured Union ships, destroyed telegraph communications, and confiscated Union supplies amounting to over a quarter of a million dollars.

In September of 1864 Captain Beall led an attempt to free prisoners held at Johnson's Island prison, near Sandusky, Ohio. While the plan failed, Beall was not daunted. He became involved in a mission to stop a train outside of Dunkirk, New York to rescue Confederate generals being transferred from Johnson's Island prison to Fort Warren in Boston. Later, while waiting in Niagara Falls for a train back to Toronto, Beall and one of his associates, George Anderson, were arrested by Federal detectives. Unknown to Beall and his men, a spy in the midst of the Confederate command in Toronto, Canada had exposed them to Union authorities.

Beall refused to divulge any further plots by Confederates in Canada. Unfortunately, this was not the case with his friend. George Anderson, fearing execution for his actions, turned states evidence, and accepted a deal to save himself by testifying against Beall. Captain John Yates Beall, bound by a strict code of honor, refused any and all offers of clemency if it meant compromising the Confederate cause.

Was Captain John Yates Beall really a spy and a guerilla? Or was the Union government using him as an example, so that the Confederates would not widen the scope of the war and delay the end of the rebellion? Did Lincoln bow to political pressure from within his cabinet to execute Beall? Did Beall's friends or the Confederate government have any chance at all to convince President Lincoln to grant clemency? Or was John Yates Beall destined to die, a Victim of Honor?

John Yates Beall
Charles Town, West Virginia
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