Beauregard’s Slow Fade Into Oblivion

By the time the smoke cleared at Bull Run, one thing was certain for P.G.T. Beauregard. He was now the South’s premiere military hero. In the months after songs and poetry would be written about him. Letters from admirers, many of them female, flooded in. His image was everywhere, and many a Confederate named their child after him.

Soon those honors faded. Beauregard found himself second in command to Joseph E. Johnston, posted on the very field where he had won glory. His advice was ignored and in time his good relationship with Jefferson Davis turned into one of mutual suspicion. Davis tired of the bickering and knew his political enemies and rivals were rallying to Beauregard. The Creole general was tired of his plans being ignored. When he asked for a transfer to New Orleans he was denied, told he was needed in Virginia.

General P. G. T. Beauregard

Still, Beauregard remained popular. When sent west to help Albert Sidney Johnston, he was greeted with cheers everywhere he went. He then oversaw a concentration of troops at Corinth and planned an offensive aimed at Shiloh Church, where Ulysses S. Grant had his Army of West Tennessee. One bold stroke could turn the tide.

From there, much went wrong. The march to Shiloh was delayed by weather, terrain, a complicated plan of march, and the inexperience of the army. The attack, meant to happen on April 4, was delayed to April 5 and then April 6.  Beauregard advised Johnston to turn back, but to no avail. The next day the Rebels attacked, a battle Beauregard did not want. He then got command of the army when Johnston bled to death after leading a successful assault. By then it was almost too late. The sun was dipping in the west and Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio was on its way, its soldiers arriving just as the first day’s battle was ending. The next day Grant and Buell struck. After a few hours of fierce fighting the Confederates withdrew south. Shiloh, the bloodiest battle to that point, was over.

Albert Sidney Johnston, still wearing the blue.

Beauregard had been unlucky. He found himself leading an army in a battle he did not want and when the chance for victory was diminished. A rebel attack on April 4 or 5 could have succeeded. By April 6 Buell was too near and enough Federals were wary of a Confederate attack to ensure that April 6 was not a complete surprise. Just as bad, Beauregard replaced Johnston, Davis’ ideal of a soldier and friend. Davis and many would forever think that if Johnston had lived then Shiloh, and possibly the war, would have been won. The analysis was dubious, but the sentiment was sincere.

After losing Corinth in a near impossible situation, Beauregard was removed. By then Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and “Jeb” Stuart had become the new darlings. Beauregard was out of fashion, a relic of 1861, when the war was still a grand pageant, the bloodshed of Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, and Belmont notwithstanding. Sent to Charleston, Beauregard held the city in 1863, winning the Confederacy’s only major strategic victory in a year defined by defeats at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Port Hudson, and Chattanooga. Beauregard returned to Virginia and won battles at Drewry’s Bluff and Ware Bottom Church, but not enough to impress Davis. He held Petersburg in a four day battle, most of it fought against terrible odds. A few noticed, but Davis’ antipathy remained. After losing a close fight at Globe Tavern, he was sent to oversee the western theater, a nearly hopeless task. Beauregard had the impossible job of trying to stop William Tecumseh Sherman as he tore through Georgia and South Carolina. Beauregard was partially blamed and found himself under the Joseph Johnston again. His last contribution to the war was telling Davis the Confederacy was lost.

The memory of Beauregard was uneven. Some of it came down to personality and background. In an army made up mostly of Protestants of British descent, he was a Creole Catholic. He was not modest in dress or manner, coming off to some as an overheated Creole, his plans painted as unreasonable, his proclamations often gaudy. This caricature came right down to the host of nicknames he was given in his lifetime: Little Creole, Bory, Little Frenchman, Felix, Gus, Hero of Fort Sumter, Bogar, Cock Robin, and Little Napoléon. Historians continued the trend, dubbing him The Great Creole, Napoleon in Gray, The Creole, and the Hero of 1861.

A sober military assessment of Beauregard showed he was not incompetent. He won more battles than he lost and had more success in independent command than Braxton Bragg, John C. Pemberton, John Bell Hood, Kirby Smith, and both Johnstons. His strategic ideas, if not his planning, were sound. He was a brilliant engineer, something not even Davis would deny him. He was popular with his men and often got the best out of his subordinates. His battlefield heroics were effective, and staved off complete disaster at Shiloh. He was tactically flexible, perceptive about his foes, and energetic. Overall, Beauregard was a gifted commander marred by an occasional lack of judgment and propriety and bouts of poor health.

Despite the above, Beauregard would never ascend to the sacred Virginia Pantheon of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart. Davis meanwhile valorized the death of Sidney Johnston and accused Beauregard of losing a battle already won, a sentiment echoed in Confederate Veteran from its foundation until the publication ceased. Making it worse was Beauregard’s association with the corrupt Louisiana Lottery. While he only read out the names of winners, it made him appear at worst complicit or at best bafflingly ignorant. While he did not commit James Longstreet’s sin and become a Republican, he did support reconciliation with the North and equal civil and political rights for black men. Both made him suspect to many white Southerners. In a time when Dixie was defined by poverty, his work with the lottery and on railroads made him wealthy. As such the Lost Cause had little use for him save a flashy character who who shells Fort Sumter, wins Bull Run (with a healthy assist from Jackson) and fades away after Shiloh, like a shooting star.

Beauregard remained for a time was at least a Louisiana hero of sorts, its most famous military commander. He was honored with his name attached to streets, schools, parks, buildings, a fort, and a parish. Museums and homes carried his image. He received two monuments. Newspapers would print short descriptions of Beauregard’s life even into the 1920s. In 1921, Grace King wrote, “THE great name of Beauregard rises out of and floats above the limits of city and State, like the genii of the ‘Arabian Nights’ out of the fisherman’s vase, never to be recaptured and put back into the small receptacle.”[1] King was wrong. In the 21st Century the reputation of even Confederates of Beauregard’s stature, collapsed in enough hearts to see the statues removed to junkyards and storage sheds, the schools renamed, and the paintings taken down. Where once his grand statue guarded City Park, is now fittingly a bed of flowers. Most of the remaining honors will be stripped away. Whatever good Beauregard did is gone, subsumed under the waves of war and treason, the later a bitter hypocrisy coming from a nation founded in treason in 1776.

There is one Beauregard monument still standing, one more touching if less grand than the rest. It lies down where his boyhood home once was, near St. Bernard Cemetery, the resting place of much of Beauregard’s family, there is a pyramid. It is dedicated to Beauregard and his family, naming his children, first wife, parents, and grandparents on each step. The massive oaks trees date back to Beauregard’s childhood. Here, in the backwoods of Louisiana, one is reminded of the closing of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The Monument

[1] King Grace, Creole Families of New Orleans. (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 452.

22 Responses to Beauregard’s Slow Fade Into Oblivion

  1. An outstanding look at Beauregard’s record, reputation, & memory. Your Beauregard talk at the ECW symposium was very memorable and looking forward to your next ECW talk. I read something brief about Lee being ill at the North Anna (worn down by Grant’s attrition) and perhaps Beauregard should be called up from Richmond to replace him. Can you give any more insight to that thought?

    1. Lee held Beauregard in high regard, likely dating back to their service together in Mexico. He tried to get him to serve under him several times.

  2. Where once his grand statue guarded City Park, is now fittingly a bed of flowers. Why “fittingly?” New Orleans without history is just a ghetto with music.

    1. Flowers have diverse meanings. They are left at graves, carried in weddings, and a host of things. The feelings about Beauregard’s removal are diverse, so the flowers can mean anything to anyone.

      New Orleans is hardly just a ghetto with music, although we struggle with poverty and have a great musical tradition for sure.

  3. thanks, great article about the “Napolean in Grey” — i had forgotten about that nickname … Beauregard reminds me of the NFL’s #1 draft pick who never amounts to much — talented, with fleeting flashes of brillance, but never a good fit no matter what team he’s own … and then there’s his other fatal flaw — could not get along wiht his boss … no amount of talent makes up for that.

  4. The article says that “Most of the remaining honors will be stripped away. Whatever good Beauregard did is gone, subsumed under the waves of war and treason, the later a bitter hypocrisy coming from a nation founded in treason in 1776.”

    I am guessing it is PGT’s willingness to kill in defense of slavery and White Supremacy that have led to the disappearance of his “honors.” Beauregard’s ideological scions could only secure his reputation as long as they could keep African Americans from voting and speaking out without fear of the White League knocking down their doors.

    1. Mr. Young,

      There is much wrong with the Confederacy. However, when treason is listed among its sins, I balk. We were founded in treason and rebellion and it explains much about American culture and politics. The Confederates chose secession and rebellion because it worked for George Washington. After 1783 a civil war was inevitable, although what would cause such a war was undetermined. But in time one cluster of states would resort to the means of 1776.

      Beauregard was never an easy symbol for what you dub his “ideological scions.” He was a wealthy Catholic Creole who openly after the war supported equal voting and civil rights. He never joined or endorsed the White League. That said, nor was he a true civil rights leader. His forays into politics always left him the worst, and part of his motivation was getting back at the Republican Party. He did support Democrats who pursued a moderate racial policy. By the time segregation came along, Beauregard was elderly and it seems wholly consumed with making money he could leave his family.

      The “honors” he was left were done so for a variety of reasons. No doubt some were motivated by white supremacy. I am not here to defend or attack those honors. That has already been decided. Yet, I would add that those honors were also about reunion and reconciliation. Their departure is a sign that the union hardly matters anymore.

      I at any rate await the day we start stripping away the honors granted to Sherman, Sheridan, and the other Union commanders who conquered the indigenous in the west.

      1. The revolutionaries side of the Revolution is in no way morally equivalent to the secessionists side in the Civil War. The respective causes were completely different, and can be judged each on their own merits. Southern partisans are the only ones who try to equate the two.

    1. I Longstreet was right when he observed that Beauregard had considerable talents but they were not cultivated by Davis. Being fair to Davis, Beauregard was never an easy subordinate, likely his cardinal flaw.

  5. Good article, showing how complex and controversial his legacy was even during the war. Also prophetic in the.modern parallels with essentially life’s non performers attempting to gain significance by tearing down an accomplished, if flawed, individual. I suggest those who throw out facile insults about Beauregard (or Mahone, or Breckinridge, or a host of others) to actually bother investigating their post war records.

    1. I do wish these people were considered individually, but the time for nuance is gone and unlikely to return. As to “life’s non performers” those who were for removal won the debate and have pushed ahead to new realms. We can argue over their motives and means, but for “non performers” they have certainly had a lot of success.

  6. I inferred a touch of vanity in him by EP Alexander’s taking the time to comment that Beuaregard’s black hair went silver as the blockade took hold. Thank you for the new to me information, a well written good read, above, and interesting to learn that Lee tried to get him.

  7. Dan,

    The American Revolution and Confederate cause have certain differences and similarities. I discern among the Confederate a tension between true elitists and those for universal white male suffrage. The former saw a chance to turn back democracy and even the American Revolution. Trouble is most of these men, such as George Fitzhugh, were not politicians and had limited influence. Jefferson Davis, who was firmly in the democracy camp, was president and elitists such as Alexander Stephens were politically isolated. Most Confederates harkened back to 1775 for inspiration. As such they placed Washington and others from that era on Confederate iconography. The soldiers in letters looked back to the American Revolution, no surprise for a rebellion led by a man named after Thomas Jefferson.

    On a deeper level both were fueled by paranoia over a loss of rights and political rule although the British of 1775 were no more oppressive than the “Yankee legions” of 1861. What was more important was the fear that rights and privileges (elite rights mostly) would be taken away and must be defended. Both were over-heated, paranoid, and pointless rebellions against fake conspiracies buttressed by a defense of rights, among them being a right to property. The Confederates were overtly defending slavery, it being the chief cause of separation. The American revolutionaries were defending slavery once the British started freeing slaves for military service, even as emancipation became more popular in the northern colonies. The thread that tied 1775 and 1861 most together though was a belief in the right of rebellion and self-determination. I happen to think both rebellions were uncalled for, although I grant the British acted with a heavy hand in 1775 and ignored all offers of peace. Lincoln was a bit more tactful and shrewd, putting the Confederacy in a bind that encouraged them to shoot first. And like fools they did just that.

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