General P.G.T. Beauregard

By Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard (Library of Congress)
In April 1865, the Confederacy began to implode. In Virginia, U. S. Grant drove Robert E. Lee out of Richmond and Petersburg and forced his surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled westward in hope of continuing the war from somewhere in the Southern heartland.

Stopping in Greensboro, N. C., Davis met with Gens. Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard, who tried to convince him that the war was lost. Davis disagreed and said he would rally troops to carry on the struggle but granted Johnston permission to meet with Gen. William T. Sherman. Johnston did and surrendered to Sherman on April 26. Davis continued his westward flight but was captured in Georgia a short time later.

The Greensboro conference ended the contentious wartime relationship between Beauregard and Davis. Both were dedicated to the Confederacy, but personal slights and professional disputes turned the two proud men into bitter enemies. Beauregard was one of the South's most talented officers, but Davis often refused to make use of that talent because of his personal animosity.

Born into a prominent Louisiana Creole family on May 28, 1818, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard did not learn to speak English until he was sent to New York City to study under two brothers who were former officers in Napoleon's army. He went on to attend West Point and graduated second in the class of 1838. After serving with distinction in the Mexican War and rising to the rank of captain, Beauregard was made West Point's superintendent in January 1861.

The appointment, however, was cancelled five days later when Louisiana seceded. Like many other Southern officers, Beauregard was a secessionist, and his superiors questioned his loyalty after his native state left the Union. Beauregard resigned his commission soon afterward in order to join the Confederacy and eventually became the South's fifth ranking general.

A dashing and charming man, Beauregard was of medium build with dark eyes and olive complexion, and spoke with a slight French accent. One subordinate remembered that he "had more courtesy of manner than any of the other generals with whom I had ever served."

Beauregard became the South's first hero when he captured Fort Sumter, S. C., won the First Battle of Bull Run, and designed the Confederate battle flag. He also advised Davis to abandon Southern territory in order to concentrate their strength at strategic points and launch decisive counterattacks against the Union. Although Beauregard's plans sometimes had merit, they often were little more than wild fantasies because he tended to overestimate the Confederacy's abilities, and they clashed with Davis' strategy of relying more on the defense.

Beauregard was transferred to the West and joined Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's army.

When Johnston was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, Beauregard assumed command and retreated on the second day of fighting. That decision irretrievably damaged the already fragile relationship between the Creole and the president.

Earlier, Beauregard had claimed Davis prevented him from winning a more complete victory at First Bull Run by not allowing him to pursue the beaten foe. Davis was furious at Beauregard's official report and told the general it looked like "an attempt to exalt yourself at my expense." Beauregard denied such motives but insultingly replied, "I have always pitied more than I have envied those in high authority." At Shiloh, Beauregard misled Davis by sending a telegram on the first day of battle claiming he had won a great victory, so Davis was flabbergasted when he learned that Beauregard had actually been defeated and was retreating.

Afterward, when the general took sick leave without permission, Davis removed him from command and shuttled him off to the Department of South Carolina.

Although bitter at his demotion, Beauregard worked tirelessly to improve Charleston's defenses and successfully turned back several Union naval attacks. He was eventually transferred back to Virginia and performed one of his greatest wartime services when he cobbled together a small force that stopped a Union attack on Petersburg in the spring of 1864. A few weeks later, Beauregard again earned accolades when he held off a much superior Union army and bought precious time that allowed Lee to march his army to the Richmond-Petersburg area.

Despite these important victories, Beauregard was never assigned another army command.

After the war, Beauregard was a railroad executive, a representative of the corrupt Louisiana Lottery Company, and Louisiana's adjutant general. One of the Civil War's more controversial generals, he was a talented officer but often an unrealistic one whose pride and pettiness prevented him from enjoying a cordial relationship with hardly any of his superiors.

Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.