An American army officer and Confederate general, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818-1893) became a hero in the South with his capture of Fort Sumter and his victory at the First Battle of Bull Run. He was one of the Confederacy's eight full generals.
During the Civil War, P. G. T. Beauregard held six independent commands, ranging from Virginia to Tennessee to South Carolina. He proved to be a good but not a great general; his contentious personality brought him into conflict with Jefferson Davis and led to appointments in secondary theaters later in the war, where he failed to develop as a field commander. He won brief praise for his successful defense of Charleston, S. C., from naval assault in 1863 and of Petersburg, Va., from Grant's first attacks in 1864. Beauregard's life involved a series of paradoxes. Although he was considered an ardent Southerner, his Creole appearance and style seemed alien to the Confederacy. Before battle he indulged in visionary plans, but in action he became a calm, effective officer. He affected the manners of the antebellum South, yet after the war he helped develop a "New South" of business and industry.
Beauregard was born on May 28, 1818, in St. Bernard Parish, La., and was raised on a sugar plantation. He received his education at private French schools in New Orleans and New York City and at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., from 1834 to 1838. He served as a second lieutenant of engineers on coastal surveys and defenses in Rhode Island, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland between 1838 and 1846.
Mexican War Service
When the Mexican War began in 1846, Beauregard helped fortify the captured port of Tampico, Mexico. In 1847 he served with the engineer company that acted as a staff for Gen. Winfield Scott during his campaign against Mexico City. Through reconnaissance reports Beauregard influenced Scott's choice of strategy in his victory at Cerro Gordo in April and in two of his later successes that resulted in the capture of Mexico City.
Between 1848 and 1860 Beauregard commanded the Louisiana coastal defenses and the construction of a new customshouse in New Orleans, and he received a promotion to captain. Marie Laure Villère, his wife since 1841, died at the birth of their third child in 1850. Beauregard later married Caroline Deslonde, who died in 1864. He lost his race for mayor of New Orleans in 1858 against the dominant Know-Nothing party. In January 1861 he was appointed superintendent of West Point, only to be immediately removed as a secessionist.
Early Civil War Prominence
When Beauregard resigned from the U.S. Army in February 1861, the Confederate government gave him command of the batteries surrounding Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. He began the bombardment on April 12 which led to surrender of the fort the next day. In June he was sent to Manassas, Va., to defend it against a Union advance from Washington, D.C. He planned to attack the Federal forces across Bull Run on July 21, but Union general Irvin McDowell struck first against the Confederate left flank Beauregard and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose troops arrived from the Shenandoah Valley during the fighting, drove the Federal army from the field in the afternoon to win the first major battle of the war.
Shiloh Campaign and Defense of Charleston
In January 1862 Beauregard, after months of disagreement with Confederate president Jefferson Davis over strategy and Beauregard's own status as a subordinate under Joseph E. Johnston, agreed to become second in command to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, west of the Appalachians. After Johnston was killed during the first day of battle at Shiloh, Tenn., on April 6, 1862, Beauregard halted the Confederate attack in the evening because of confusion and fatigue among his troops. Since Union reinforcements had arrived already, his decision did not cost a victory, as some persons later charged. Beauregard withdrew the Confederate Army on April 7 in the face of counterattacks from the larger Federal force.
When Beauregard left his army in June to recoup his health, President Davis replaced him with Gen. Braxton Bragg and in August sent Beauregard to command the coastal defenses of South Carolina and Georgia. In January 1863 Beauregard temporarily drove off the blockaders at Charleston and in April defeated an attack on the harbor by Federal ironclads. His garrison lost Battery Wagner after a lengthy defense but withstood a heavy bombardment and a boat attack on Fort Sumter during the summer and fall.
Defense of Richmond and Petersburg
In April 1864 Beauregard received command of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. He had concentrated his troops by May 16 to drive back a Union force near Richmond, Va., and trap it between the James and Appomattox rivers. From June 15 to 17 Beauregard defended Petersburg, the railroad center for Richmond, against units of Gen. Ulysses Grant's army until the Confederacy's Robert E. Lee realized Grant's intentions and moved his troops to save the town.
In October, Beauregard accepted direction of Confederate military affairs in the West. He tried with little success to gather troops and oppose Gen. William Sherman's advance through Georgia and the Carolinas, until he was replaced by Joseph E. Johnston in February 1865. Beauregard, as Johnston's second in command, surrendered in April.
After the war Beauregard considered several foreign military offers but remained in the South to serve as president of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad and of the New Orleans and Carrollton streetcar line, which he revitalized. He lost control of both companies but continued until his death as a commissioner of the highly profitable Louisiana lottery. Through articles and memoirs he engaged in postwar disputes about wartime events with Davis and several Confederate generals. He participated in an abortive attempt to create a third political party (an alliance of businessmen and African Americans) during Reconstruction in Louisiana and served as state adjutant general from 1879 to 1888. He died on Feb. 20, 1893.
Further Reading on Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
The fullest and most analytical biography is T. Harry Williams, P.G. T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray (1955). Older volumes are Hamilton Basso, Beauregard, the Great Creole (1933), and Alfred Roman, Military Operations of General Beauregard (1894), written primarily by Beauregard. See also Douglas S. Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants (3 vols., 1941-1944).