Confederate general of French descent. Beauregard was from the fourth generation of his family to live in Louisiana, an area only acquired by the United States in 1803 (Louisiana Purchase). A career soldier, Beauregard graduated from West Point in 1838, second in his class, and remained in the United States Army until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Like so many senior officers of that war, he gained early experience in the Mexican War. His early service was as an engineer, and it was in that capacity that he was present at the siege of Vera Cruz and the battles of Cerro Gorde and Contreras. He was a keen advocate of the attack on Mexico City, and was wounded twice during the battles around the city.
Post war he continued as an engineer, chiefly in Louisiana. From 1858-61 he was in charge of the drainage of New Orleans. Promoted to captain in 1853, if the war had not intervened he was to have served as superintendent of the academy at West Point. As it was, he had made it clear that if Louisiana seceded, then he would follow. He held the job at West Point for five days in January 1861. Following the secession of Louisiana he kept his word, and on 20 February resigned from the United States army.
Beauregard immediately gained the highest of profiles. He was appointed a brigadier-general in the Confederate army, and sent to Charleston. This made him a key figure in the events that triggered the war. Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbour, was still in Federal hands, but was effectively blockaded. The tension in Charleston had been rising from the moment of secession, predating even the formation of the Confederacy. Beauregard arrived in the middle on an ongoing crisis.
He was dispatched to Charleston on 1 March 1861, partly to head off local pressure for an immediate attack. Once there, he set to work organising the local troops into an effective military force. Whatever else happened, the first Confederate attack had got be a success. That attack became inevitable on 10 April, when Beauregard received orders that gave him permission to attack. The next day he issued a demand for the fort’s surrender, which was refused. At 4:30 am on 12 April the bombardment began.
It took just over one day to force the surrender of Fort Sumter. His success at Charleston made Beauregard a military hero in the south. Accordingly, on 1 June 1861 he took command of the Confederate army at Manassas, Virginia. This army was soon put to the test. General McDowell’s Union army was dispatched into Virginia, to see if the Confederacy could be beaten quickly. Their hopes were dashed at the First Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861).
There, Beauregard’s army was joined by Joseph Johnston’s army from the Shenandoah Valley. Johnston was the senior officer, and took command of the battle, but it was not one where any great tactical skill was needed. The arrival of more and more Confederate reinforcements eventually decided the day. The Union army fled back to Washington, where it quickly re-formed within the strong fortifications of the city.
Beauregard was rewarded for his role by promotion to full General. At the start of 1862 a crisis developed in the west as a result of the actions of U.S. Grant. Beauregard was sent west to help restore the situation. Once there he helped General A.S. Johnston, the Confederate commander in the west, to build up a new army at Corinth, Mississippi.
Their main problem was that a massive Union army was building up to their east, at Pittsburgh Landing. However, this build-up was proceeding slowly, and Beauregard saw an opportunity to launch a surprise attack before it was complete. He was able to convince Johnston to carry out this plan. The result was the Battle of Shiloh (6-7 April 1862). Ironically, on 5 April Beauregard changed his mind, suspecting that the army must have been detected. It had not been, and the attack the next morning was a great success. Grant’s army was forced out of its camp and back towards the Tennessee River. However, Union resistance soon stiffened. Beauregard then succeeded to command of the army after A.S. Johnston was killed. Late in the day, Beauregard ordered an end to the fighting, convinced that the battle was won. This was a great mistake. Union reinforcements were starting to arrive. On 7 April Grant launched a counterattack that forced the Confederates to retreat back to Corinth.
In some quarters Beauregard was blamed for the eventual defeat and Johnston credited with all of the successes. However, Beauregard had done much of the planning for the battle, and in reality had commanded the army for some time before Johnston’s death, after Johnston had gone forward to command on the front line. Beauregard was to get more blame for his actions at Corinth. He held this place for as long as possible. However, when the Union army, now under General Halleck, came close to trapping him at Corinth, he decided to abandon the town. He did this with great skill on 25 May, ensuring that his army survived intact, and took up a new position at Tupelo, Mississippi, fifty miles to the south.
Although Beauregard’s decision to abandon Corinth was sound, it did not please Jefferson Davis. When Beauregard was forced to take sick-leave, Davis replaced his with Braxton Bragg. Bragg went on to prove Beauregard’s point, using the army that had escaped Corinth to invade eastern Kentucky.
This did not end Beauregard’s military career, although he never recovered the same high profile. From 1862 to 1864 he was in command of the defence of the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. He proved very capable at this job, holding Charleston in particular against repeated Union attacks.
1864 saw Union forces begin to close in on the heart of the Confederacy. Beauregard once again had an active command. He played a crucial role in foiling Grant’s plans around Richmond. First he defeated Benjamin Butler’s expedition, sent to attack Richmond from the south east, at Drewry’s Bluff (16 May 1864). Soon after this, Grant achieved a rare strategic victory over Lee, shifting his army south of Richmond, with the intention of capturing Petersburg.
Beauregard now had his finest moment. With a force of no more than 3,500 men he held up Grant’s attack for long enough for Lee to rush troops to Petersburg. On 15 and 16 June his troops fought alone, but by the time Grant was ready to launch his full attack on 18 June, Lee had arrived, and the attack was repulsed.
Beauregard remained around Petersburg, under Lee’s command, until 7 October, when he was appointed to command the Military Division of the West. This was a hopeless command. The west was already lost, and Beauregard’s task was to attempt to hold back Sherman, already in occupation of Atlanta. Just over a month after Beauregard’s appointment, Sherman began his march to the sea. There were no Confederate troops available to oppose this march.
At the start of 1865 the focus of Sherman’s attentions turned to South Carolina. This time Beauregard had some 20,000 men to oppose Sherman’s 60,000, but was thoroughly out-manoeuvred, and forced back into North Carolina. After two years of success there, Beauregard was forced to order the evacuation of Charleston. During the final campaign in North Carolina Beauregard was relegated to second in command by the restoration of Joseph Johnston to active service. However, Johnston could provide no extra troops. Defeat at Bentonville ended Confederate resistance in the state. Johnston surrendered all of his armies to Sherman on 26 April, ending the war for Beauregard.
Post war Beauregard returned to engineering, at least indirectly, as president of the New Orleans, Jackson and Mississippi Railway. He also played a prominent role in Louisiana, first as manager of the Louisiana lottery, and from 1888 as commissioner of public works in New Orleans. As a general his career failed to live up to its early promise, although he always showed great skill when fighting from within fortification, both at Charleston and later at Petersburg.