Alternate Version of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln


An Alternate Version of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Most of us know the story of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Or do we know the real reason that John Wilkes Booth slipped into Ford’s Theater and shot the President in the back of the head at point blank range. One Dublin man, Robert A. Beall, had his own version of Booth’s motive. The story is not a new one. It has been around for many years, but few people have heard the Beall’s family story about why John Wilkes Booth fired the shot that changed the future of America.

Robert Andrew Beall was born in Sparta, Georgia on January 31, 1836. He enlisted in Company K of the 15th Georgia Infantry (The Hancock Confederate Guards) on July 15, 1861. He transferred to Co. A of the 48th Georgia Infantry (The Gibson Guards). He was elected Junior Second Lieutenant on January 30, 1863. During the battle of Gettysburg, Beall led his company’s charge up the slopes of Cemetery Ridge in an attack on the Union center. The 48th Georgia, attached to Wright’s Brigade, managed to break the northern lines late in the afternoon of the second day of the battle. The brigade suffered horrific casualties when adjoining Confederate forces failed to cover their flanks as the Union army recovered and surrounded them. Beall was shot in his leg just above the knee and taken to a field hospital, where he was later captured and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland. Lt. Beall was exchanged on October 14, 1864. He surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865, just five days before the assassination. Robert Beall moved to Dublin, where he died on May 20, 1920.

Eight years before his death, Beall reminisced about his service in the Confederate army and his experiences in prison. He also related a fascinating story of the true reason that John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln. The story revolved around John Young Beall, a relative of Lt. Beall, later called Capt. Beall, because he was a captain in the local unit of the United Confederate Veterans.

John Young Beall, a 30 year old Virginian, was one of the first in his native county of Jefferson to enlist in the 2nd Virginia Infantry, which was attached to "The Stonewall Brigade" under the command of Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. At the time of the beginning of the war, he was studying law at the University of Virginia. At the Battle of Falling Waters in October 1861, Lt. Beall was seriously wounded when he was shot in the chest during a charge on a Union position. While Beall was convalescing in a Richmond hospital, he came up with an idea to release Confederate prisoners who were being held on Johnson’s Island. Lt. Beall met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who gave temporary approval of the plan pending the approval by S.R. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Secretary Mallory conceded the plan might work, but tolled its execution.

Beall transferred to the Navy and was given command of a vessel which operated in the waters of the lower Potomac River. Captain Beall led several successful raids on Union positions. Beall’s mind returned to his plan to liberate his fellow Confederate soldiers being held prisoner at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie. On September 19, 1864, Beall and several other men boarded the Philo Parsons, a vessel out of Sandwich, Michigan. At the first stop, Beall and his comrades commandeered the boat. One Federal gunboat, the U.S.S. Michigan, guarded the prison at Johnson’s Island. Beall arranged to have the officers of the Michigan to attend a party in Sandusky, Ohio. The plan was eventually called off when the signal of the officer’s absence failed to materialize. Beall and his men returned to the safety of Canada.

Three months later in December 1864, Capt. Beall was captured while leading a raid to release Confederate prisoners being transferred to Fort Warren. Beall was tried for his actions and found guilty by a military court martial. Despite the fact he received letters of support from several influential citizens and congressmen of West Virginia and Maryland, as well as some northern congressmen, Beall was sentenced to death by the court, which was affirmed by Secretary of State William Seward. On February 24, 1865, Captain Beall was escorted to the gallows of a prison in New York City. He was calm with full faith that he would go to Heaven under the grace of Christ. He declared in a calm but firm voice that his execution was "contrary to the laws of civilized warfare."

In the decade following the death of Abraham Lincoln, a story began to circulate through the newspapers of the country of a strong personal bond between John Young Beall and John Wilkes Booth. The story goes that the two men were best friends, and that upon Beall’s capture, Booth arranged to have Beall released from prison. Booth, a southern sympathizer who spent most of the war acting in the northern states, purportedly contacted three men, including John P. Hale, a United States Senator from New Hampshire, to go to President Lincoln and plead his case for a stay of execution. The story goes on to say that Booth went with the men to the White House during the middle of the night to meet with the President. After Booth plead his case, it was said that there was not a dry eye in the house. Lincoln acceded to Booth’s request and agreed to pardon Captain Beall. Then, at the instance of Secretary Seward, who supposedly wanted to make an example out of the captain, convinced Lincoln to proceed with the execution. Incensed at Lincoln’s betrayal, Booth began his plan to kill the President.

The story seems to have originated in a weekly newspaper "Pomeroy’s Democrat." There is extant evidence to prove that Booth began his plan to kill Lincoln and Seward even before Captain Beall led the failed raid on Johnson’s Island. No evidence has ever been found to indicate the longtime friendship between Beall and Booth. A week after the assassination, Booth wrote in his diary that he "knew of no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone."

The story of John Young Beall and his connection to John Wilkes Booth is an interesting one, but it also indicates that not all articles written in newspapers, especially old ones, are always true. Sometimes the stories are based on speculation or out of a desire to make a political point. In this case, the story is alleged to have come from an attempt to sensationalize the death of Lincoln and of course sell newspapers in the process. In a way, it may have only been a story comparable to those found in "The National Enquirer" and other tabloids of that ilk.

Nevertheless, the heroism and dedication of Captain Robert A. Beall, should not go disappear into oblivion. This man survived the horrors of war and imprisonment and returned to rebuild his state, a task made even more difficult by the senseless execution of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, one hundred and thirty eight years ago.