Richard Lee Turberville Beale was born in Hickory Hill, Virginia on May 22, 1819 to Robert and Martha Turberville Beale, a prominent Westmoreland County family. He entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with the class of 1838 and was elected to the Union Philosophical Society. He retired from the College and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia. He was admitted to the bar in 1839 and started a practice in his home county.
Beale also entered the realm of politics. He was elected as a Democrat to a term in the Thirtieth United States Congress in 1847, was a member of the 1851 Virginia constitutional convention, and served as a Virginia state senator from 1858 to 1860. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, in May, 1861, he was commissioned a lieutenant of cavalry in Lee's Light Horse, a provisional unit which was later organized into the 9th Virginia Cavalry, known as "Lee's Legion," rising to the rank of major by October. In 1862, he was named lieutenant colonel of the 9th Virginia and served in all the cavalry battles of the Army of Northern Virginia including Fredericksburg and the forays into Pennsylvania that led to Gettysburg. He remarked in his memoirs with affection seeing his old College during the brief occupation of Carlisle. He later led his regiment but was wounded in a skirmish in September, 1863 and spent three months on convalescent leave. He returned to duty in January 1864, and soon took command of his brigade and was named a brigadier general. Official confirmation of his rank came in January, 1865. Ironically, Beale never was a "comfortable" soldier; throughout the war he bridled against the pettiness and administration of regular army life and threatened resignation on a routine basis. He offered once to command guerillas or even revert to the rank of private. His superiors always persuaded him to remain at his post and he developed by the end of the war into an outstanding commander of cavalry.
Following the war he went home to Hague, Virginia to practice law and involving himself in editing and local politics. He once again served in the United States Congress, being elected as a Democrat to finish the term of fellow Virginia cavalryman, Beverly B. Douglas, who had died in office. He was reelected to a full term in the next Congress and served from 1879 to 1881. He returned to his practice and the writing of a history of the Ninth Virginia. Before the war, he had married Lucy Brown. Richard Lee Turberville Beale died in Westmoreland County on April 18, 1893 and was buried in the family plot at Hickory Hill. He was seventy-three years old.