Captain John Yates Beall, a Southern officer, was captured at the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge in December of 1864 after attempts to capture the USS Michigan on Lake Erie, free Confederate prisoners held at Johnson’s Island, and rescue seven imprisoned Southern generals near Buffalo. For taking the brutal war to the Northern border of the United States in retaliation for Sherman’s and others crimes in his country, he was hung as a “guerilla” on February 24, 1865.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Captain Beall Executed by the Hypocritical Dix
“Mounting the platform, the prisoner takes his seat upon the chair immediately under the fatal rope. The adjutant of the post commences to read the charges, specifications and the orders of General Dix for his execution.
Beall, little dreaming of the test to which he is to be subjected, rises respectfully when the reading is commenced . . . When he hears himself designated as a citizen of the “insurgent State of Virginia” his smile grows intensely sad and significant; he sees now the men before him no longer as his own murderers only, but as the executioners of a sovereign State – his own beloved Virginia, and he smiles not in derision, but in protest and remonstrance.
Again when they denounce his heroic attempt to rescue from a vault the souls of three thousand fellow-soldiers, “piracy,” he smiles; but when the accuse him of an attempt as a “guerilla” to “destroy the lives and property of peaceable, and unoffending inhabitants of said State” (New York), he ceases to smile, and mournfully shakes his head in denial. But finally, when the adjutant reaches the concluding passages of the order of General Dix . . . Beall laughs outright . . .”
The reporters do not understand the joke; the truth is, Beall hears this homily upon the proprieties of war coming from a Federal officer; he hears it, whose home is in the valley of the Shenandoah! There rises up before him his own homestead, its desolated fields, its level forests, the ash heaps which now mark the positions of its once beautiful, and cottage-like out-houses; and the thousand other vestiges of rural beauty despoiled by the brutality of the Federal soldiers, in its unrestrained career of pillage, plunder, wholesale robbery, and wanton destruction.
He hears the protests of his helpless mother, and her appeals for protection heeded only by the God of the widow and fatherless. He remembers the deep burning insults which Federal officers have heaped, in their language, upon his own sisters. He hears in the hypocritical cant of General Dix that officer’s own self-condemnation; and knows that every breath which the commanding general draws is in default of the penalty which he attaches to the violation of the laws of civilized warfare.
He hears a sermon on the “rule which govern sovereign States in the conduct of hostilities with each other,” by the man who, through his unlicensed, ill-disciplined, unrestrained, and unpunished soldiery, laid in ashes William and Mary College, an institution whose associations were hallowed by the literary nurture of the fathers of the Republic, and whose vulnerable walls were whitened by the frosts of a century.
A general who, after an arduous campaign, succeeded in capturing a lunatic asylum, and who is said to have tendered to its patients the oath of loyalty to the United States, and who is known to have treated its refractory and unfortunate inmates with cruelty and inhumanity.
Turning upon the officer of the day, he speaks in a calm, firm voice. “I protest against the execution of this sentence. It is a murder! I die in the service and defense of my country! Thus died in the thirty-first year of his age, on the scaffold, John Yates Beall.”
(Confederate Operations in Canada and New York, John W. Headley, Neale Publishing Company, 1906, pp. 365-366)