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The Last Week: Reconstruction and Your Final Projects

Welcome to the final week of HST 304. It has been a pleasure having you in class. I have especially enjoyed following your commentary on each others’ posts. Your insights on the assignments & course themes have been original and thoughtful. You’ve engaged very actively and effectively with each other. Well done.

This week’s lectures and readings focus on the period of Reconstruction. This particular class has been more interested in research on Reconstruction than many of my previous students. Bravo! Personally, I believe the relative success or failure of Reconstruction to address issues of equality, political rights, violence, race, gender, labor unrest, free enterprise, and finance left as lasting a legacy as the Civil War itself. I am not a scholar who considers Reconstruction a complete failure; rather, I see it as an incomplete process that took another 100 years to play itself out (I would see the Voting Rights Act of 1964 as the last act in that long drama). The fact that the issues debated by Americans from 1865 to 1877 remain important to us today indicates that they are at the core of the U.S. experiment in self-government.

Today and tomorrow I will be grading your Assignment 6 papers. I read the blog and am impressed with what you did with the Beall case. It is a tough one to analyze, and you arrive at different conclusions–just as I would expect. It’s a very good exercise in the humbling quality of historical research. Sometimes, no matter how much one learns about an event, one is left wondering what the correct answer is or ought to be. The Civil War and Reconstruction had many such moments, and this is why Americans remain so transfixed by it.

Which brings me to your final projects. A couple of reminders.

  1. Consult the course writer’s guide before drafting your project. The hotlink for it is on the Resources page. The main thing to remember is that your final project needs to be prepared like a formal paper: thesis, quotations, footnotes/endnotes; bibliography; page numbers; title; name. The guide walks you through these and is a good brush up for you after the more casual postings on the Blog and Google Docs.
  2. Use both primary and secondary sources. The former are original documents, images, data, newspapers, and other eyewitness accounts. The latter are interpretive studies by scholars. Primary sources are the building blocks of your study and should be the main source for your own analysis. Secondary sources help you interpret your evidence and, importantly, offer you another scholar’s argument to test, confirm, or revise.
  3. I’ve been pressing you all to use the MSU Library online collections, the Library of Congress, National Archives, and other scholarly depositories that have digitized their materials. Those sites are preferable, as they are professionally curated and vetted for accuracy.
  4. Use digital images, maps, artwork, etc. Why not? The material is there and can be used effectively to help you analyze historical events or developments. For example, if you are writing about the introduction of ironclads in naval warfare, wouldn’t it benefit you to show images of the first ironclads vs. those that were built later? Could you use those images to show how naval architects innovated further to match particular combat or service requirements? [Always cite images, just as you would written sources.]

To close, enjoy finishing your final projects. I look forward to reading them!

Assignment 6 Part 2

Stockton Obermeyer
American Civil War
Assignment 6 Part 2

I believe that the Union was not justified in hanging Beall as a spy. It could be argued that any captured confederate soldier had committed treason, and Beall was captured without a uniform, however he had proof that he legitimate orders directly from the confederate army.
There are conflicting accounts of the incident. The memoir makes Beall seem innocent to the charges, even making him seem heroic; while the official war records are much more damning. Both of these accounts are going to have a considerable amount of bias, but in my mind it is actually the official account that should be trusted less. History is written by the victors, and it is very easy to twist something after the fact to make it seem more justified.
The major problem in executing Beall as a spy in my mind is the fact that there was no concrete proof that he was willingly documenting Union movements, troop numbers etc. and reporting them directly back to the confederacy. His main crime was the capturing of two ships and sinking of one. Those actions in my mind are legitimate acts of war and should not be viewed as the acts of a spy but the acts of a soldier.
I feel that a better case could have been made against Beall for committing acts of treason and a punishment for that would have been more justified. The fact that Beall was under orders from the Confederacy and was reporting to them, but not sending information to them that a spy would shows that Beall was unjustly condemned.

Assignment 6 Part 1

Stockton Obermeyer
Civil War
Assignment 6 Part 1

John Beall Notes:
• Confederate
• Accused of being a spy
• Captured two steam boats and sunk one
• Wanted to launch privateers onto the great lakes to disrupt union ships
• Was dressed as a civilian and therefor charged as a spy
• Escaped prison from Johnson’s island
• Accused of being a spy in Ohio, New York and Virginia
• Argued that his actions were not that of a spy but that he was carrying out legitimate acts of war and therefor should not be hung
• Found guilty of being a spy based on multiple eye witness accounts

Assignment Six

Notes on John Y Beall

  • John Y. Beall was a man from the confederate army who was accused of being a spy
  • Charges and Specifications Against John Y Beall
    • Unlawfully seized and captured the Steamboat Philo Parsons
    • Unlawfully seizes, captured, and sunk the Steamboat Island Queen
    • In September of 1864 he was found acting as a spy  – and then again in December of 1864
      • He was found to be acting as a spy in Virginia, Ohio, and in New York
  • Witnesses / Trial
    • According to Walter O. Ashley, he was dressed with citizen’s clothes and had no baggage with him
      •  He was very laid back and acted as if he did not know exactly he was going to go while on the boat
    • The accusations against Beall were mostly form witnesses at the scene. He was accused of being seen capturing the Philo Parson and also sinking the Island Queen.
    • Eventually Beall was taken to trial where he plead not guilty but in the end found guilty based on eye witness accounts.

I do not feel as if Beall should be considered a spy but I do believe he was guilty of treason.

Beall took orders from the confederate army and followed its instructions. Beall confessed to working for the confederate army and even provided proof. The confederate army took responsibility for Beall’s actions, which I feel like is not something that would have been done if he were a spy. Beall argued that the confederate army forced him to commit all those crimes, making Beall look like the victim in this situation, but in the end, he still committed them. I do believe that Beall committed a crime and should have been put on trial but I feel as if he was charged with the wrong crime.


Looking at the different sources it was difficult to come up with an answer as to what should of happened with this case. I believe there are many possibilities and interpretations about this trial and what Beall was guilty of or if he was even guilty of anything.  Reading different sources provided me with different interpretations which made it a bit challenging to form my own explanation. The memoir was much more positive and made Beall seem as if he almost scarified his life for the confederacy. While the official records of the war, I believe, made him seem as if he were a spy. The official report made comments about how the plans he executed were due to secret communications and how Beall was friendly and inviting to those on the steamer in order to be deceiving.


All and all this case can be represented by one big question mark. I think it is a matter of opinion what Beall is guilty of (or if he is guilty of something). I can see a fair argument arguing that he was guilty of few different possibilities: being a spy, treason, prisoner of war. I can also see the argument that Beall is a victim in this case because he argued that he was forced to act under confederate control, which may be a solid explanation why he provided the letters of communication between the two. My interpretation of this is that yes he is guilty of treason but I wouldn’t conclude that he was a spy.  Regardless if he was forced into his actions, he still betrayed the Union and should have been put on trial for his actions. I do not believe that he should of been executed but he should have received some form of punishment.

Assignment 6 Part 2:

In the case of John Y. Beall, I assume the stance that although his actions proved that he was indeed a spy, the extremes that the United States Government took upon his persons does not equate to the treachery that he conducted.

The most memorable and reliable source of document from this collection of his persons, I would say, would be the memoir itself. In the court documents and the report by the agent, things could have been tampered with before the execution to better justify the execution and charges, but also simply because there isn’t any personal insight into the matters being discussed, making them sound more biased and questionable. That being said, I interpret the most AUTHORATATIVE piece of document as that of The Trial of John Beall because although it is not the memoir which can give us much more personal insight, the recorded trial was government document that was used to convict Beall of his crimes. It is obvious that he was part of the Confederate army and that he had no shame in doing the criminal activities such as sinking ships and capturing other soldiers, but I would consider these acts war “games” and not actual treason because I am quite sure that the U.S army itself had its own fair share of spies and sinking blockade ships, but also keeping prisoners. This in no way means I sympathize with the confederacy, on the contraire I vehemently oppose the idea of the confederacy considering if they would have won the Civil War, the world that we know now would be a drastically different place.

The main thing to gather from the information that we have been analyzing is that, yes John Beall was a spy and can be argued to have committed treason, but although the Confederacy be damned and hated, his actions were not a good causation of public execution, rather the way I interpret it is that the United States government was already infuriated by all the loss that they were facing and the sheer audacity of the War at this point, that they were ready to make an example of anyone that they could get their hands on. The memoir provides further damning evidence of this man being a Confederate and an exceedingly proud one, and therefore I believe the memoir itself would be the best piece of historic evidence as to why John Y. Beall was convicted and executed.

Assignment 6

Notes on Beall

Charges against Beall included that he captured the Steamboat Philo Parsons as well as capturing and sinking the Steamboat the Island Queens, acting as a spy, and carrying unlawful warfare.

Beall pleaded not guilty to the charges, he was testified against saying that he and two other friends came aboard the Philo Parsons in Sandwich and then used hatchets and revolvers to take over the vessel. Beall was not initially part of the effort according to the testimony and was dressed in Civilian clothing. The first testimony references the Confederacy. The talk about location often, citing places in Michigan, Ohio, etc., and talk about how the Philo Parsons was directly next to the Island Queens when it was overtook.

The cross examination again referenced how the men were Confederate soldiers several times. Burley is referenced as well in the beginning much more than Beall.

I think the whole case is a bit shaky and it almost seems as though Beall may be getting framed or set up as it plays out. To me it seems like he was acting on orders and it’s hard to prove whether or not his mission was an ordered attack it seems. I find it interesting how there was such a focus on what the people taking over the vessel. Thompsons report was the best evidence for Beall to show that he was a Confederate soldier. Davis, the Confederate army President testified that the Confederate army assumed all responsibility for the attack. Because of all this I don’t think Beall should have gone on trial as a spy or guerilla but actually as a prisoner of war acting on orders from above.

After reading more material on the case of Beall I only reaffirmed my belief that Beall himself was charged and executed for the completely wrong crime and if the events that occurred were analyzed properly, he may not have been put to death. From each of the pieces I read I believe that there was some vendetta against Beall as there seems to be such a strong bias against him and a clear negligence of the facts.I do think that despite it all Beall did commit a crime and should have been held on trial. I think the charges brought against him were wrong however and based on improper facts. Beall makes valid points saying that he forced to commit these crimes under the Confederacy or that he was possibly used as a “scapegoat” in a sense to cover up others errors.

I think that the memoir of Beall obviously paints him in a better light and tries to show him as more of hero who unwaveringly stuck to his Confederate background despite it all. Other readings that we looked at for this assignment actually question whether he was loyal to the confederacy at all while in my opinion this one had quite a different tone. Because of this, I thought that the memoir was the most informative and reliable source to compare the original details of the case we read to. It casts a completely different shadow on Beall, one that in my opinion was very believable and seemed to have less issues in the details. Most of the other documents each had their own different theory about why or what Beall did which made it difficult to distinguish and actually idea that could hold up. The memoir is effective in that is more so pleads Beall’s case and seems to be the most convincing argument to me.

Assignment 6 Part 2

“He braved, when necessary, the Argus eyes of the whole herd of United States detectives…moving through the Provinces without disguise, wherever his scheme demanded his presence.” This passage can be found on page 46 of John Yates Beall’s memoir and, through this information, there is a strong bias towards Beall, interpretation implying this was written by one of his fellow rebels. Although meant to romanticize his efforts in an attempt to show the work of the model Confederate during the U.S. Civil War, I find this document to be most reliable source inversely to its original intent, for it shows Beall and his associates not only taking credit for their actions, but showing pride in them.

In the previous texts, Beall is depicted as a person who is not only questionably guilty in his actions, but a person who is in question of being a Confederate at all. In his memoir, however, he is meant to be perceived in a positive light and, thus, is depicted as a person who roughed the adversity of U.S. detective work in a manner most confident, unafraid of response by the Union. Therefore, I feel that the audience this is comprised for is those still deeply rooted in the ideology of the Confederate South, making an effort like this valiant and something to live up to for fellow rebels. Although the previous documents evaluated were questionable and a bit misinforming as to whether or not Beall was being set up by the Confederacy, I feel as though this portrays him as a martyr; a model citizen of the Confederacy who is willing to stick to his cause and, therefore, affirms the claims made against him in regards to the Union.

Assignment 6

In my opinion, Beall shouldn’t charge as a spy. But he may be executed as treason or wanted to start the flames of war.

Most of the evidences provided by the witnesses, and from Beall’s memoir:

  • Beall and his partners were dressed as civilians when they in actions.
  • Beall and Burley seized and captured the Philo Parson, and sank the Island Queen.
  • Beall was escaped prisoner from Johnson’s Island.
  • Beall was executed tasks under commands of Confederate military.

In my impression of all the information in this case, what Beall did was more tend to be a Confederate soldier but not a spy. He confessed he was acting under confederate orders by providing letters from the Confederate military. I may consider his behaviors of capture the Philo Parsons and capture the train were trying to create strives on the areas controlled by Federate military. And we can imagine the results of his actions. Consequently, the crime for him to executed as the prisoner of war can be draw through the answer.

In another angle to analysis the crime for his as treason, I think it is more subjective. Also it is objective. All of us know the result of the Civil War, Federal government won it. So no doubt that Beall acted under the Confederate orders should be considered as treason. This is the reason I said for objective. However, Federal and Confederate governments had their different political views at that time. The soldiers of both governments were just fighting for their leaders, for their ideals. But history was always written by the winner. So that why I say consider Beall as treason was subjective.

Assignment 6: Post Analytical Essay of The Government’s Case Against Beall

In my opinion, Beall was charged and executed for the wrong crime and should have been charged for treason along with is Confederate commanders.  On pages 40 – 41 of the memoir, it explains that Beall believed up until the time of his death that it was the mutiny of his crew that caused his capture.  He also believed that because the Michigan officers did not want their indiscretions while on duty known, the proceeded to use Beall as a scapegoat.  The fact that Beall was able to get as far as he did should call for some Union officers to explain that fact.  Although I’m hesitant to agree with anything that is from a traitor’s point of view, I would also like some answers to the question as to how Beall was able to capture the vessels without being fired upon, and what exactly were the Union marines doing at the time of the captures?

The reports are important to have a better understanding of what actually occurred and I feel that the official Records should be amended with the actual facts, but it does not change the way that I view his case.  Beall should have been on trial but he should have been charged as a Confederate soldier and prosecuted for treason for going against the constitution of the United States.

While I do believe that there was some strange happenings on the lake that allowed Beall to take over the vessels, it is still my belief that Beall and his crew were against the United States.  I am not a fan of executions but I am a fan of imprisoning criminals for reform.  The military handles their own within Federal Court and has an iron fist when it  comes to crimes against the United States especially when it comes from within.  The evidence that I consider most authoritative is the Official Record, because it is an official record proof of some untruths that were told during the trial.

The criteria that I have used to decide which documents are likely to be the most historically useful are the criteria that I have learned in this class.  Official documents are important but personal testimony from multiple sources also are important if they fit the time period and provide a reasonable answer or alternative to the unexplained questions.  The fact that Beall’s letters, the letters of his friends and others within the  community were not allowed in the Official Record during the trial, is the evidence that reveals that General Dix wanted nothing but an execution for Beall.

Beall’s last words before he was executed, was the most telling as he stated his belief of his innocence and that he was being wrongfully executed for defending his country.



Assignment 6 Part 1

John Yates Beall


  • The trial is about a man of the Confederate army acting as a spy and is on Trial in New York City
  • Was in the infantry in Virginia and issued a plan to launch Privateers at the Great Lakes.



  • Seize and capture the steamboat Philo Parson near Kelly’s Island in Ohio
  • Seize capture and sink the boat Island Queen near Middle Bass Island
  • Acting as a spy in both Virginia, New York, and Ohio

Ultimately committing treason


Government evidence

The government used witnesses that claimed Yates and cohorts to be dressed as civilians and had manipulated others so as to make sure they weren’t associated with the confederate cause

Main piece of evidence was thompson’s report on what Yates should do, alongside the analyzation of what other confederates were doing in the North for the Confederate Cause.


All in all Beal does not seem like he deserved the death penalty, rather he was being executed for all the hardships that the war brought on, it almost seemed. The crime he committed should have been taken seriously no doubt, but the issues with him trying to free prisoners and sinking boats align more with war games and he should have been handled as a prisoner who served a sentence rather than executed.