Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard
(CDV, M.D. Jones collection)
      General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (1818-1893) was one of the greatest military men in all American history, and certainly the most famous Louisianian of the 19th Century. His name became so famous during the War For Southern Independence, it has become a cultural icon that is still being perpetuated to this day. During his lifetime, he became the first national Confederate hero when he opened fire on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, in Charleston, South Carolina, and then won the first major battle of the war July 21, 1861 at the First Battle of Manassas, Va.
       Beauregard became such a celebrity that he had songs and poems published about him, and received fan letters, especially from women, throughout the war. After the war he received offers from a number nations for him to command their armies. He turned them all down. Even today his name is used in advertising products and for the names of cartoon characters. Beauregard Parish is named in his honor, as are four SCV camps. The magnificent equestrian statue of Beauregard is still standing in New Orleans, at least as of this writing.
      Yet, in spite of all this fame, there have only been three major biographies published about his life. The first biography was written in Beauregard’s own time by a friend and former staff officer, Confederate Colonel Alfred Roman. It was written with the full cooperation of Beauregard and directly from his own notes and wartime records. Titled Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, 1861- 1865; Including a Brief Personal Sketch and a Narrative of His Services in the War With Mexico, 1846-48, it was published in 1884 in two-volumes.
     Roman devoted the work to a strong defense of Beauregard from his post-war critics, particularly President Jefferson Davis. The Davis-Beauregard feud was sparked by a fundamental disagreement over strategy for winning Southern Independence. Davis wanted to defend the entire Confederacy, which required Confederate armies to be parceled out throughout the vast territory of the new Southern Republic. Beauregard wanted to concentrate great Confederate armies and go on the offensive before the Confederacy was overwhelmed by the North’s greater population and industrial might.
      The feud spilled over into the post-war period with dueling histories of the Confederacy. Roman was at the beginning of the war the lieutenant colonel and colonel of the 18th Louisiana Infantry and then joined Beauregard’s staff following the Battle of Shiloh. The author was the son of pre-war Louisiana Governor A.B. Roman. The two-volumes are still available in inexpensive electronic versions and also inexpensive reprints are readily available on the internet from booksellers. The two-volumes cover over 1,300 pages. Roman’s Beauregard biography has been an invaluable historical resource for all subsequent historians, since it gives a great amount of detail about Beauregard’s military operations and the reasons for the various actions the Great Louisianian took during the war. It has a brief sketch about his ancestry, boyhood and education. But it does give many insights about Beauregard that make it a priceless historical resource.
       The next major biography of Beauregard did not come until 1933 with Beauregard: The Great Creole, written by Hamilton Basso, an accomplished journalist, novelist, biographer and historian. His Beauregard biography is a well-written, entertaining and a thorough history of the Louisiana general. Being a native of New Orleans himself, Basso’s biography is very sympathetic to Beauregard and covers his entire life with some local insights from people who knew him. While it doesn’t have the detail of the previous biography or a subsequent one, it is most enjoyable and an easy read. It was published by Scribner, 333 pages, photographs, maps and photographs. Although out of print, it is still readily available in the internet from sellers of used books.
      L.S.U. historian T. Harry Williams wrote what is generally considered a classic biography, P.G.T. Beauregard, Napoleon in Gray, published by L.S.U. Press in 1955. Williams’ work is thoroughly academic and scholarly, and digs deep in the records available at the time he was writing. It can be rather dry at times and is both critical and complimentary of Beauregard. The L.S.U. historian follows the usual academic take on Beauregard, that is that he was too visionary in his strategic thinking, too Napoleonic and not always practical. But Williams also credits Beauregard as being a great battlefield commander who had the rare talent of being able to manage a battle in the midst of all the chaos, confusion and changing circumstances. Williams also gives much more detail on Beauregard’s post-war contribution in helping Louisiana and New Orleans recover from the devastation of war with his business ventures, which included investing in Sulphur in Calcasieu Parish, and which made him one of the wealthiest Confederate veterans by the end of his life.
      Beauregard was also very active in promoting and preserving the French language and culture in New Orleans, founding the Southern Historical Society and taking an active part in the social life of the city. P.G.T. Beauregard, Napoleon in Gray, is still in print from L.S.U. Press, and is also available in electronic versions. The original hardback, still available used on the internet, has 345 pages with photographs, illustrations and maps.
      Hopefully some enterprising biographer will take on another major Beauregard biography and expand knowledge on this important historical figure’s life and times.

1 comment:


Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.