Sunday, March 1, 2015

150-years-ago -- Execution of John Y. Beall

Richmond Daily Dispatch, March 1, 1865
Execution of Captain John Y. Beall, C. S. N., as a spy in New York.
         Captain John Y. Beall, a Virginian and an officer of the Confederate States Navy, was executed on Governor's island, New York, Friday last [Feb. 24, 1865], as a spy. We find the following account of the execution in a New York paper:
          After his conviction he was taken from Fort Lafayette, where he had previously been confined, and placed in the "garrison," a prison in Fort Columbus, on Governor's island. On Wednesday, before the time first appointed for his execution, he was put into a cell and closely guarded.
         During his imprisonment he has at no time been disorderly, but has treated the officers in charge of him with uniform courtesy, and sometimes conversed freely. He did not at any time waver, but declared that he had done right, and his death would be that of a patriot.
On Saturday last, Beall's mother arrived here from Harper's Ferry, near where the family resided, and obtaining a pass from General Dix, saw the prisoner. She remained with him for a considerable time; but it is understood returned southward immediately, and did not see him afterwards.
Captain John Yates Beall
(President Lincoln and the John Y.
Beall Case, 1911)
          Three clergymen--two of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of the Episcopal (Rev. D. Weston), have visited Beall by his request; and a few other acquaintances or friends have seen him.
          It appears that Beall was a religious man; he belonged to the Episcopal Church, and was once a lay member of the Diocesan Convention of his State.--Twice on Friday he took the sacrament, administered by Dr. Weston.
         In the course of the morning, Beall expressed a desire to have a photographic picture of himself made, and his wish was complied with.
         Shortly before one o'clock Friday afternoon, Captain Tallman, who had charge of the arrangements for the execution; United States MarshalMurray, who was present by request, and the executioner, entered the cell of the condemned man.
        He promptly rose and said he was at their service. He added that he know their errand, and said he wished the work to be done quickly.
       A moment afterwards he remarked: "It is only a question of muscular power — I think I can bear it."
        His arms were then pinioned, a military cape was thrown over his shoulders, a black cap was put on his head, and the officers and the prisoner emerged from the cell and took their places between two lines of soldiers, who formed the guard to the place of execution.
        Beall marched out of the "garrison" by the side of Dr. Weston, who read the "commendatory prayer" from the Episcopal liturgy.
        The Marshal and executioner, and two friends of the prisoner, followed. Beall marched with a firm step in the direction of the gallows, which had been erected on the south side of Fort Columbus.
        As he ascended the brow of a hill, from which the gallows-frame was visible, he looked hurriedly at the instrument, and seemed to smile.
       The preparations had not been completed, and a halt on the hill was ordered. At this point he talked with his spiritual adviser. Looking upward, he remarked that the day was a pleasant one. Immediately he added: "The sun shines brightly; I now see it for the last time. " He was, however, perfectly calm and composed.
       A chair had been placed directly under the rope, and the prisoner at first sat down, the Rev. Mr. Weston standing beside him; but after sitting a moment, he rose and pushed the chair aside with his foot.
       The post adjutant read the record of the charges upon which he had been tried, the findings and sentence of the court, and the order of General Dix approving the sentence and directing the execution. Finding this to be rather a lengthy proceeding, the prisoner drew up the chair again with his foot and sat down. During the recital of the order he smiled derisively at such passages as were condemnatory of his crimes. At its conclusion, he jumped up of his own accord, and stood erect immediately under the rope. It was noticed that when Beall sat down, he studiously turned his back upon the adjutant and faced directly South, in which direction he gazed continuously, always appearing to avoid looking at any one around him.
When the adjutant had finished, Rev. Dr. Weston intend aloud the prayer for the dead, the soldiers listening with breathless anxiety, and many tears running down their cheeks.
Marshal Murray and the Provost-Marshal of the fort stepping up, asked the prisoner if he had anything to say, to which he replied:
          "I protest against the execution of the sentence. It is absolute murder — brutal murder. I die in the defence and service of my country."
          At thirteen minutes past 1 o'clock the black cap was drawn over the culprit's face, the Provost-Marshal drew his sword, a noise was heard from inside the box, and the form of John Y. Beall was dangling in the air. The only movement noticeable in the body was a convulsive movement of the right leg, a shrugging in the shoulders, and a few twitches of the hands.
After hanging just twenty minutes, the body was lowered down, when a medical examination by Dr. Cornner, United States Army, proved that the neck was broken instantly, thus ending the earthly career of Beall without any agony. It was then taken to the hospital, whence it will be given to the friends of deceased for interment.
        Beall was of medium size, had light-colored hair and mustaches, blue eyes, and his countenance wore a pleasant expression. He was a determined rebel. Though a person of much intelligence, he was almost blindly devoted to the cause of Jeff. Davis, and did not scruple to help it forward by any means in his power.

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