Pierre G. T. Beauregard
Pierre G. T. Beauregard
Born May 28, 1818
St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
Died February 20, 1893
New Orleans, Louisiana
Pierre G. T. Beauregard was a key figure in many of the South's early Civil War victories. He led the conquest of Fort Sumter that actually started the war, and he helped guide the Confederacy to victory in the first major battle of the conflict in July 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as the First Battle of Manassas). But his war record ended up being a controversial one. For example, some critics believe that his decisions at the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862) prevented the South from gaining a major victory. In addition, Beauregard's arrogance and political scheming made him very unpopular with Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808–1889; see entry) and some other Southern military and political leaders.
Raised in a Creole household
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was born on May 28, 1818, on his family's plantation just south of New Orleans, Louisiana. His family, the Toutant-Beauregards, were Creoles—persons descended from or culturally related to original French settlers of Louisiana. Beauregard was thus raised in a household that continued to honor the customs and language of France, even though the country was an ocean away. Beauregard even grew up speaking French. In fact, it is believed that he did not learn to speak English until he was at least twelve years old. This environment led Beauregard to develop a deep fascination with Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821), a famous French general and emperor.
As Beauregard grew older, he decided that he wanted to follow in Napoléon's footsteps and make his mark as a professional soldier. When Beauregard was sixteen years old, he convinced his father to arrange his enrollment in the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York state. Once he arrived at the school, though, the young Creole cadet became very self-conscious about his French name and background. He quietly dropped the hyphen from his last name, though he kept Toutant as an extra middle name. He also abandoned his French-sounding first name and began signing his name as G. T. Beauregard.
A top engineering officer
Beauregard was a very good student, especially in the field of engineering (a discipline that uses mathematical and scientific principles in the design, construction, and operation of equipment, systems, and structures). When he graduated from West Point in 1838, he ranked second in a class of forty-five students. One of his classmates was Irvin McDowell (1818–1885), who Beauregard would later defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run. He received a lieutenant's commission in the army's Corps of Engineers, and spent the next several years helping build harbors and defensive fortifications along the eastern coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Beauregard also started a family around this time. In 1841, he married Marie Laure Villere, the daughter of a wealthy Louisiana planter.
In the late 1840s, Beauregard served in the Mexican War (1846–48), a conflict between Mexico and the United States over possession of territories in the West. By the time the war ended in 1848, American military victories had forced Mexico to cede (give up) its claims on Texas, California, New Mexico, and other lands in the West. Beauregard performed very well in the war with Mexico. Wounded twice, he earned two awards for gallantry (heroic courage) and impressed U.S. general Winfield Scott (1786–1866; see entry) with his scouting abilities and strategic suggestions. But Beauregard became bitter about his Mexican War experiences when his superior officers did not single him out for special praise.
After the war ended, Beauregard returned to Louisiana and resumed his work engineering fortifications and drainage systems along America's Southern coastline. In 1850, his wife died in childbirth. A few years later he married Caroline Deslonde, another woman from a wealthy Louisiana family.
By the late 1850s, Beauregard had built himself a reputation as an excellent army engineer. But his anger at the army over the Mexican War never really went away. He began to think of career possibilities outside the military. In 1858, he even launched a campaign to become the mayor of New Orleans, but he was defeated. Beauregard continued his engineering work until 1860, when he used his political connections to get himself appointed as the new superintendent of West Point.
A short stay at West Point
Beauregard officially became superintendent of West Point on January 23, 1861. The position of superintendent was a prestigious one. After all, West Point had provided almost all of the nation's leading military figures with their educations, and the cadets who welcomed Beauregard to the academy were regarded as America's military leaders of the future. As it turned out, however, Beauregard held the position for only five days before being fired.
By the time that Beauregard took over at West Point, long-standing disagreements between America's Northern and Southern regions threatened to spill over into violence at any time. The two sides had become angry with one another over a wide range of issues, from the balance of Federal and state authority to the economy. But the issue that most divided the two sides was slavery. Many Northerners believed slavery was wrong and wanted to abolish (put an end to) it. But the economy and culture of the South were closely linked to slavery, and Southerners resented Northern efforts to end the practice.
When Beauregard arrived at West Point, several Southern states had already announced their intention to secede from (leave) the United States and form their own country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. Beauregard announced his support for the secessionist cause. He also let it be known that if Louisiana seceded from the Union, he would immediately return to his native state and defend it against Federal troops. Beauregard's remarks infuriated his superiors, and on January 28 he was dismissed from his post at West Point.
Assault on Fort Sumter
On January 26, 1861, Louisiana legislators voted to leave the United States and join the Confederacy. Beauregard resigned from the Federal Army a few weeks later and returned to Louisiana, where he hoped to command that state's forces. When that appointment went to General Braxton Bragg (1817–1876; see entry), Beauregard viewed the choice as a great "injustice." He remained angry until February 27, when Confederate president Jefferson Davis named him a brigadier general and gave him command of South Carolina rebel (Confederate) forces at Charleston Harbor.
By March 1861, Charleston Harbor had become one of the best known places in America. A Federal military outpost called Fort Sumter was located in the middle of the harbor. This fort continued to be controlled by U.S. troops, even though the Confederacy had taken control of most other Federal military outposts and offices in the South. By the time that Beauregard arrived in Charleston, the continued occupation of Fort Sumter by Federal troops had become a source of great anger to the people of South Carolina and the rest of the Confederacy. They viewed the garrison (troops) at Fort Sumter as a foreign military presence that should not be permitted to operate in their territory, especially since it was located right in the middle of one of the Confederacy's most important harbors.
Beauregard made several attempts to convince Major Robert Anderson (1805–1871), the commander of Fort Sumter, to give up control of the outpost. At the same time, Confederate officials warned President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) to relinquish (give up) the fort. But Lincoln believed that if the Federal government surrendered Fort Sumter, Northern morale would suffer, and Southern confidence in the Confederacy's ability to break away from the Union permanently would increase. Lincoln thus ordered Anderson to stay put.
When it became clear that Anderson did not intend to withdraw his troops from the fort, Beauregard opened fire on the fortress with artillery guns that lined the harbor's shores. This attack, which was launched on the morning of April 12, is regarded as the beginning of the American Civil War. Anderson and his men resisted Beauregard's assault for thirty-four hours, but they finally surrendered on April 13. The capture of Fort Sumter transformed Beauregard into the first war hero of the Confederacy.
First Battle of Bull Run
In June 1861, Beauregard assumed command of Confederate forces around Manassas Junction, Virginia. This rebel encampment along the shores of the Bull Run River was an important one because it blocked the rebel capital of Richmond from Union attacks. In July, though, a Union army led by General Irvin McDowell marched into the region. The Union hoped that McDowell could smash Beauregard's force and seize control of Richmond, thus putting an end to the Confederate rebellion before it really got rolling.
McDowell attacked Beauregard's army on July 21, and at first it appeared that his offensive might succeed. But Beauregard received vital reinforcements from Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891; see entry) in the middle of the clash, known as the First Battle of Bull Run (First Battle of Manassas). Boosted by these additional troops, Beauregard defeated McDowell's army in one of the most sloppy and disorganized battles of the entire war.
Beauregard's victory at Manassas made him even more popular in cities and farmhouses all across the Confederacy. It also convinced Jefferson Davis to give him even more authority. Davis promoted him to full generalship, describing the Creole officer as "full of talent and of much military experience." But Beauregard's relationship with Davis turned sour when the general started complaining about the Confederate president's leadership to Southern legislators and newspaper editors.
Battle of Shiloh
In early 1862, Beauregard's lack of respect for his leaders and constant political scheming led Davis to ship the troublesome general out to the war's western theater (the region of the South west of the Appalachian Mountains). He became second in command to General Albert Sidney Johnston (1803–1862), commander of the South's Army of Mississippi. Soon after his arrival, Beauregard helped plan a major assault on a large Union army led by General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; see entry).
Grant's troops were camped at Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee, near a small church called Shiloh. Over the previous few weeks, they had achieved major victories in the region, battering Johnston's army in the process. But Johnston and Beauregard believed that if they attacked Grant before he received additional reinforcements, they might be able to hand the Union a major defeat. They decided to launch a surprise attack on the camp and push the Federal soldiers back into the nearby Tennessee River.
On the morning of April 6, Confederate troops charged out of the woods surrounding Shiloh. Just as Johnston and Beauregard had hoped, the Yankee (Northern) soldiers were completely unprepared for the assault. But Grant rallied his troops, and the clash became a bitter struggle for survival. As the battle progressed, Johnston was killed, and Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate troops.
Beauregard nearly succeeded in driving Grant's army into the river. But as nighttime approached, he decided to break off the attack and resume the battle the next day. This decision remains a very controversial one. Many of his officers felt that if they had continued the fight on April 6, the South might have been able to finish off Grant's forces. But the rebel troops were desperately weary. Beauregard decided that if he gave them a break from the brutal fighting, they might be able to claim victory the next day.
During the night, however, Grant received thirty-five thousand fresh reinforcements and organized his army for a dawn assault on Beauregard's position. In the early morning hours of April 7, Grant led a ferocious strike against the rebel army. This assault took a fearsome toll on the Confederates. Beauregard was finally forced to order a retreat all the way back to Corinth, Mississippi. A few days later, the threat of an approaching Union army forced Beauregard to flee from Corinth as well.
Stripped of command
Beauregard's defeat at the Battle of Shiloh tarnished his reputation, but the general's self-confidence never wavered. A few months later, he traveled to Mobile, Alabama, in hopes of receiving treatment for a nagging throat ailment. He left General Braxton Bragg in temporary command of the army, believing that he would soon return. But Beauregard had made these decisions without receiving authorization from Jefferson Davis or anyone else. When Davis learned about the general's actions, he permanently stripped Beauregard of his command and ordered him to take over the defense of the Atlantic coastlines of Georgia and South Carolina.
Defending the Confederate coastline was an important responsibility, but everyone knew that Beauregard's new assignment was a demotion (moving down to a lower rank). Beauregard's dislike for Davis thus became even greater. In fact, the two men remained hostile toward one another for the remainder of the war.
Beauregard reluctantly reported to his new command on September 15, 1862. Over the next eighteen months he successfully fended off repeated Union assaults against the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. But despite his skillful direction of the South's coastal defenses, Davis refused to give him another opportunity to command a Confederate army in the field. Beauregard's vanity and egotism, meanwhile, prevented him from accepting offers to serve under the command of other Confederate field generals.
Serves under Lee
In April 1864, Beauregard finally left his coastal command. He was reassigned to Virginia, where he took command of a rebel force that was responsible for defending Richmond against attacks from the North. Beauregard performed well in his new responsibilities, defending both Richmond and neighboring Petersburg from Union attacks in May and June. He then settled in to help Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry) in his defense of Petersburg, even as he traded insults with Davis and other political enemies.
In October 1864, Beauregard was assigned to command a new department called the Military Division of the West. But his new job turned out to be an advisory position with very little direct authority over Confederate armies. Around this same period, Union general William T. Sherman (1820–1891; see entry) and his army smashed its way through the Southern heartland with little resistance from Beauregard or anyone else. This "March to the Sea," as it became known, demoralized Confederate citizens and soldiers alike because it proved that the South could no longer defend itself.
In April 1865, the Confederacy finally admitted defeat, as the remnants of the various Southern armies surrendered to pursuing Union armies. Beauregard spent the final days of the war as second in command to Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. When Johnston surrendered his army to Sherman on April 26, Beauregard's involvement in the war came to an end.
After the Civil War concluded, Beauregard returned home to Louisiana. Several foreign governments tried to persuade him to accept leadership positions in their militaries, but he ended up turning down all of these offers. He worked as a railroad company executive until the mid-1870s, when he became involved in state government as supervisor of the Louisiana State Lottery and adjutant general (officer in charge) of the state's National Guard. In 1888, he was elected commissioner of public works for New Orleans. Beauregard died in New Orleans on February 20, 1893, after a brief illness.
Where to Learn More
Davis, William C. The Commanders of the Civil War. San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1999.
Williams, T. Harry. P. G. T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1954, 1995.
Woodworth, Steven E. The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990.
Beauregard's Opinion of Lincoln
When Pierre G. T. Beauregard took command of the Confederate army guarding Manassas, Virginia, in mid-1861, he immediately took steps to rally local citizens to his side. One way in which he did this was to make false and insulting statements about the Union and its army. Such statements, while unfair and misleading, were often issued by both sides in the war in efforts to increase public support for their actions. In the following proclamation, released on June 1, 1861, Beauregard characterizes U.S. president Abraham Lincoln as a terrible dictator and Northern soldiers as a pack of murderers, thieves, and rapists:
A reckless and unprincipled tyrant has invaded your soil. Abraham Lincoln, regardless of all moral, legal, and constitutional restraints [controls], has thrown his Abolitionist hosts among you, who are murdering and imprisoning your citizens, confiscating [seizing] and destroying your property, and committing other acts of violence and outrage, too shocking and revolting to humanity to be enumerated [described].
All rules of civilized warfare are abandoned, and they proclaim by their acts, if not on their banners, that their war-cry is "BEAUTY AND BOUNTY." All that is dear to man—your honor and that of your wives and daughters—your fortunes and your lives, are involved in this momentous contest.