American Civil War: General P.G.T. Beauregard

Pierre G.T. Beauregard during the Civil War
General P.G.T. Beauregard. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

General P.G.T. Beauregard was a Confederate commander who played a central role in the opening months of the Civil War. A native of Louisiana, he saw service during the Mexican-American War and, in 1861, received command of Confederate forces in Charleston, SC. In this role, Beauregard directed the bombardment of Fort Sumter which opened hostilities between the Union and Confederacy. Three months later, he led Confederate troops to victory at the First Battle of Bull Run. In early 1862, Beauregard helped lead the Army of Mississippi at the Battle of Shiloh. He career stalled as the war progressed due to his poor relationship with the Confederate leadership.

Early Life

Born May 28, 1818, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was the son of Jacques and Hélène Judith Toutant-Beauregard. Raised on the family's St. Bernard Parish, LA plantation outside of New Orleans, Beauregard was one of seven children. He received his early education at series of private schools in the city and spoke only French during his formative years. Sent to a "French school" in New York City at age twelve, Beauregard finally began to learn English.

Four years later, Beauregard elected to pursue a military career and obtained an appointment to West Point. A stellar student, the "Little Creole" as he was known, was classmates with Irvin McDowell, William J. Hardee, Edward "Allegheny" Johnson, and A.J. Smith and was taught the basics of artillery by Robert Anderson. Graduating in 1838, Beauregard ranked second his class and as a result of this academic performance received an assignment with the prestigious US Army Corps of Engineers.

In Mexico

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Beauregard gained an opportunity to see combat. Landing in near Veracruz in March 1847, he served as an engineer for Major General Winfield Scott during the siege of the city. Beauregard continued in this role as the army commenced its march on Mexico City.

At the Battle of Cerro Gordo in April, he correctly determined that the capture of La Atalaya hill would allow Scott to force the Mexicans from their position and aided in scouting routes into the enemy rear. As the army neared the Mexican capital, Beauregard undertook numerous dangerous reconnaissance missions and was brevetted to captain for his performance during the victories at Contreras and Churubusco. That September, he played a key role in crafting the American strategy for the Battle of Chapultepec.

Battle of Chapultepec. Photograph Source: Public Domain

In the course of the fighting, Beauregard sustained wounds in the shoulder and thigh. For this and being one of the first Americans to enter Mexico City, he received a brevet to major. Though Beauregard compiled a distinguished record in Mexico, he felt slighted as he believed that other engineers, including Captain Robert E. Lee, received greater recognition.

Fast Facts: General P.G.T. Beauregard

Inter-War Years

Returning to the United States in 1848, Beauregard received an assignment to oversee the construction and repair of defenses along the Gulf Coast. This included improvements to Forts Jackson and St. Philip outside of New Orleans. Beauregard also endeavored to enhance navigation along the Mississippi River. This saw him direct extensive work at the river's mouth to open shipping channels and remove sand bars.

During the course of this project, Beauregard invented and patented a device dubbed a "self-acting bar excavator" which would be attached to ships to aid in clearing sand and clay bars. Actively campaigning for Franklin Pierce, whom he had met in Mexico, Beauregard was rewarded for his support after the 1852 election. The following year, Pierce appointed him superintending engineer of the New Orleans Federal Customs House.

In this role, Beauregard helped stabilize the structure as it was sinking into the city's moist soil. Increasingly bored with the peacetime military, he considered departing to join filibuster William Walker's forces in Nicaragua in 1856. Electing to stay in Louisiana, two years later Beauregard ran for mayor of New Orleans as a reform candidate. In a tight race, he was defeated by Gerald Stith of the Know Nothing (American) Party. 

The Civil War Begins

Seeking a new post, Beauregard received aid from his brother-in-law, Senator John Slidell, in obtaining an assignment as the superintendent of West Point on January 23, 1861. This was revoked a few days later following Louisiana's secession from the Union on January 26. Though he favored the South, Beauregard was angered that he was not given a chance to prove his loyalty to the US Army.

Leaving New York, he returned to Louisiana with the hope of receiving command of the state's military. He was disappointed in this endeavor when overall command went to Braxton Bragg. Turning down a colonel's commission from Bragg, Beauregard schemed with Slidell and newly-elected President Jefferson Davis for a high post in the new Confederate Army. These efforts bore fruit when he was commissioned a brigadier general on March 1, 1861, becoming the Confederate Army's first general officer.

In the wake of this, Davis ordered him to oversee the escalating situation at Charleston, SC where Union troops refused to abandon Fort Sumter. Arriving on March 3, he readied Confederate forces around the harbor while attempting to negotiate with the fort's commander, his former instructor Major Robert Anderson.

Fort Sumter after its capture by the Confederates. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of First Bull Run

On orders from Davis, Beauregard opened the Civil War on April 12 when his batteries began the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Following the fort's surrender two days later, Beauregard was hailed as a hero across the Confederacy. Ordered to Richmond, Beauregard received command of Confederate forces in northern Virginia. Here he was tasked with working with General Joseph E. Johnston, who oversaw Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, in blocking a Union advance into Virginia.

Assuming this post, he began the first in a series of squabbles with Davis over strategy. On July 21, 1861, Union Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, advanced against Beauregard's position. Using the Manassas Gap Railroad, the Confederates were able to shift Johnston's men east to aid Beauregard.

In the resulting First Battle of Bull Run, Confederate forces were able to win a victory and rout McDowell's army. Though Johnston made many of the key decisions in the battle, Beauregard received much of the acclaim for the victory. For the triumph, he was promoted to general, junior only to Samuel Cooper, Albert S. Johnston, Robert E. Lee, and Joseph Johnston.

Sent West

In the months after First Bull Run, Beauregard assisted in developing the Confederate Battle Flag to aid in recognizing friendly troops on the battlefield. Entering winter quarters, Beauregard vocally called for an invasion of Maryland and clashed with Davis. After a transfer request to New Orleans was refused, he was dispatched west to serve as A.S. Johnston's second-in-command in the Army of Mississippi. In this role, he took part in the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. Attacking Major General Ulysses S. Grant's army, Confederate troops drove back the enemy on the first day.

A.S. Johnston
General Albert S. Johnston. Library of Congress

In the fighting, Johnston was mortally wounded and command fell to Beauregard. With Union forces pinned against the Tennessee River that evening, he controversially ended the Confederate assault with the intention renewing the battle in the morning. Through the night, Grant was reinforced by the arrival of Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. Counterattacking in the morning, Grant routed Beauregard's army. Later that month and into May, Beauregard squared off against Union troops at the Siege of Corinth, MS.

Forced to abandon the town without a fight, he went on medical leave without permission. Already angered by Beauregard's performance at Corinth, Davis used this incident to replace him with Bragg in mid-June. Despite efforts to regain his command, Beauregard was sent to Charleston to oversee the coastal defenses of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In this role, he blunted Union efforts against Charleston through 1863.

These included ironclad attacks by the US Navy as well as Union troops operating on Morris and James Islands. While in this assignment, he continued to annoy Davis with numerous recommendations for Confederate war strategy as well as devised a plan for a peace conference with the governors of the western Union states. He also learned that his wife, Marie Laure Villeré, died on March 2, 1864.

Virginia & Later Commands

The following month, he received orders to take command of Confederate forces south of Richmond. In this role, he resisted pressure to transfer parts of his command north to reinforce Lee. Beauregard also performed well in blocking Major General Benjamin Butler's Bermuda Hundred Campaign. As Grant forced Lee south, Beauregard was one of the few Confederate leaders to recognize the importance of Petersburg.

Anticipating Grant's attack on the city, he mounted a tenacious defense using a scratch force beginning on June 15. His efforts saved Petersburg and opened the way for the siege of the city. As the siege began, the prickly Beauregard fell out with Lee and ultimately was given command of the Department of the West. Largely an administrative post, he oversaw the armies of Lieutenant Generals John Bell Hood and Richard Taylor.

Lacking manpower to block Major General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea, he was also forced to watch Hood wreck his army during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. The following spring, he was relieved by Joseph Johnston for medical reasons and assigned to Richmond. In the final days of the conflict, he traveled south and recommended that Johnston surrender to Sherman.

Later Life

In the years after the war, Beauregard worked in the railroad industry while living in New Orleans. Beginning in 1877, he also served for fifteen years as a supervisor of the Louisiana Lottery. Beauregard died on February 20, 1893, and was buried in the Army of Tennessee vault at New Orleans' Metairie Cemetery.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: General P.G.T. Beauregard." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). American Civil War: General P.G.T. Beauregard. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: General P.G.T. Beauregard." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).