John Yates Beall was born January 1st 1835 on his family’s farm; Walnut Grove, in Jefferson County, Virginia the son of George Brooke and Janet (Yates) Beall. He began the study of law at the University of Virginia, but after his father’s death in 1855 he left school to take up farming. Beall joined the militia company known as “Bott’s Grays”. They would be present at the hanging of John Brown December 2nd 1859.
When the Civil War started “Bott’s Grays” became Company G of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. Beall was wounded in chest at the Battle of First Manassas, and deemed unfit for service. Beall then took up the roll of privateer. He tried to talk the Confederate government into giving him a commission to operate on the Great Lakes, but they declined fearing its effect on relations with England. So with two boats and 18 men as crew he operated on the Potomac River and in the Chesapeake Bay. Beall was captured in November of 1863 and after being exchanged in May 1864, he moved to the north shore of Lake Erie in Canada where he plotted to release Confederate POWs being held on Johnson’s Island.
When that plan failed Beall moved onto a plan to free some Confederate officers by derailing a train they were on. This time Union authorities captured him and his companion George S Anderson at Niagara, New York December 16th 1864. Anderson agreed to testify against Beall for a lesser sentence. Union General John Adams Dix ordered Beall’s trail to begin on January 17th 1865. He was found guilty of guerrilla activities and spying against the Union by the military commission on February 8th 1865, and transported to Fort Columbus on Governors Island in the New York Harbor. Appeals were made to save his life all the way up to Abraham Lincoln but no stay of execution was coming Beall’s way. He was hung February 24th 1865. He is buried in the Zion Episcopal Churchyard, in Charlestown, West Virginia.