Book Review: Confederates from Canada: John Yates Beall and the Rebel Raids on the Great Lakes

Confederates from Canada: John Yates Beall and the Rebel Raids on the Great Lakes. By Ralph Lindeman. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2023. Softcover, 240 pp. $39.99.

Reviewed by Robert Grandchamp

A significant amount of scholarship has appeared over the years covering several of the Confederate operations in Canada during the Civil War. Canada, a British possession until Confederation in 1867, witnessed some 50,000 of its citizens serve in either the Union or Confederate forces during the conflict. Although the soon-to-be nation had been a beacon of freedom for enslaved people escaping north to freedom throughout much of the first half of the 19th century, a measure of sentiment for the South and the Confederacy also existed and made Canada attractive as a base of operations for some Confederate-led excursions, notably the October 1864 raid against St. Albans, Vermont; Confederate operations around Calais, Maine; and the attack against the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing.

While most previous studies of Confederate-led operations in Canada have focused on those in Quebec and eastern Canada, author Ralph Lindeman’s book, Confederates from Canada: John Yates Beall and the Rebel Raids on the Great Lakes, tells the intriguing story of Beall, who led Confederate operations in modern-day Ontario.

Beall, a native of Jefferson County, Virginia, first went to war serving as a member of the 2nd Virginia Infantry in the famous Stonewall Brigade. After also riding with Turner Ashby’s cavalry and receiving a serious wound that required a significant amount of recovery time, Beall eventually became an officer in the Confederate Navy. Inspired by Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s land-based quick-strike cavalry raids in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, Beall planned to launch privateers against the Union Navy. Captured while operating in the Chesapeake Bay, he was released in mid-1864 and then proceeded to Canada to start launching attacks against Union forces on Lake Erie.

At various times, Beall attempted to attack Union shipping on the lake and free Confederate prisoners at Johnson’s Island. He even sought to derail a train in attempt to free Rebel captives. It was during this last effort that Federal authorities arrested Beall in Niagara, New York. Taken to New York City, he received a trial. Found guilty, he was executed. While not materially successful in his plans to attack Union forces from Ontario, Beall’s efforts did tie up Union forces in the area, leading to a significant buildup of Federal troops along the United States-Canadian border during the period of excitement. Lindeman also provides a significant amount of coverage in the book to the overall state of United States-Canadian relations at the time and how both sides tried to leverage the situation on the border to their own advantage.

Confederates from Canada offers readers a modern study of Beall’s fascinating career in Confederate service, detailing how he attempted to lead covert operations in Ontario. Despite his brief and largely unproductive ventures, this study provides keen insight into Confederate operations in Canada at the time. Lindeman succeeds marvelously in separating fact from fiction while covering Beall’s life and military career. Relying heavily on primary sources, it is well-researched and provides sound analysis. However, Lindeman’s book is also easy to read. This is not a dry, stuffy academic study. With its rich details and close examination of the many turns in Beall’s life, it reads almost like a spy novel.


Robert Grandchamp is the award-winning author of fifteen books on American military history. A former National Park Service Ranger, he is currently a senior analyst with the government and resides in Jericho Center, Vermont.

5 Responses to Book Review: Confederates from Canada: John Yates Beall and the Rebel Raids on the Great Lakes

  1. Never even heard of this fascinating fellow! Sounds as if his major accomplishments were indirect, as a distraction.

  2. As a follow up, I quickly Googled up Beal, and found some additional marvelous information about Brady, his brilliant defense attorney, and Burley, an adventurous Scot, his chief accomplice, who went on to be a highly successful correspondent!

  3. Thanks for the article! John Yates Beall is the closest personality to Jason Bourne of the Confederacy that your going to get but unlike the movies it doesn’t end very well him! His exploits are great tales of the Civil War! I ve been studying and searching for years about information that he was given a large sum of money sanction through Jefferson Davis from the Confederate Government to help John Wilkes Booth assassinate Abraham Lincoln and the money (maybe gold and maybe $1,000,000) was somehow lost when transported from England to Beall! What’s certain he was one of the Confederate spies in Canada!

  4. Great review …. every week i learn at least 10 new things about the Civil War on ECW… this week it’s Virginia’s John Yates Beall — infantry soldier turned cavalryman turned sailor. Thanks!

  5. Knowing how cold Johnson Island can get in the middle of winter, one could argue that Beall was on a humanitarian mission.

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