Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard was born on May 28, 1818, at Contreras, his family’s sugarcane plantation outside of New Orleans in the French Creole stronghold of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. He was the third of seven children born to Jacques Toutant-Beauregard and Helene Judith de Reggio Toutant-Beauregard.
Raised in a French-speaking aristocracy that prized European manners and held American culture in contempt, Beauregard was educated in a New Orleans boarding school before enrolling, at age eleven, in the Frères Peugnet School in New York City. The school’s founders, brothers Louis and Hyacinthe Peugnet, had served as officers under Napoléon Bonaparte and helped to inspire Beauregard’s lifelong interest in the statesman-general. Against his family’s wishes—they worried he was overassimilating into American culture—Beauregard sought appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, enrolling in March 1834 as Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. (His hyphenless last name suggested further Americanizing.) In 1838, he finished second of forty-five in a class that included future Confederate general Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and future Union general Irvin McDowell.
Immediately after graduation, Beauregard served as an assistant to artillery instructor Robert Anderson and the two developed a close relationship. In September 1841 Beauregard married Marie Laure Villeré from Magnolia plantation in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. The couple had two sons, René and Henri. While posted to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, Beauregard became a flamboyant—some thought arrogant—member of society and began signing his name “G. T. Beauregard,” dropping the “Pierre.”
During the Mexican War, he served as one of nine engineering staff officers, includingand , under . After earning the brevet, or honorary rank, of captain, he participated in the La Piedad council of war in September 1847 that helped to plan the Battle of Chapultepec. He earned the rank of brevet major after the victory, despite feeling that Scott did not sufficiently credit him for his performance. After the war, Beauregard took charge of the Mississippi and Lake Defenses of Louisiana in 1848 and held that position until 1860. In 1858, he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for mayor of New Orleans.
Marie Laure had died in 1850 while giving birth to their third child, Laure Villeré, and in 1860 Beauregard married Caroline Deslonde, a Creole aristocrat and sister-in-law of U.S. senator John Slidell. They had no children, and Deslonde died in New Orleans in 1864.
Fort Sumter to First Manassas
Using his connection to Slidell, Beauregard was named superintendant of West Point, a position he assumed on January 23, 1861, and held for five days. On January 26 Louisiana seceded from the Union and Beauregard was forced to relinquish the post. After returning to New Orleans, he resigned from the U.S. Army, expecting to be named commander of the state army, an assignment that went to Braxton Bragg. Beauregard instead enlisted as a private in the Orleans Guards, a battalion of Creole aristocrats, but soon after was commissioned as the first Confederate brigadier general. He was given command of the Confederate and South Carolina forces in Charleston that were then confronting the Union garrison at Fort Sumter.
Beauregard arrived in Charleston on March 6, 1861, and his haughty, reserved demeanor was well received by Charleston society. He surrounded himself with high-ranking aides and volunteers, while a Spanish valet attended his person. Although Beauregard arrived with jet-black hair, within a year it had turned white. His friends attributed the change to worry, but others blamed the U.S. blockade, which prevented the importation of hair dye.
All points around Charleston Harbor were held by the Confederates except for Fort Sumter. Beauregard’s mission was to prevent relief to the fort from U.S. ships, and if necessary, to batter it into submission. U.S. general-in-chief Winfield Scott had given Beauregard’s old friend, Major Robert Anderson, command of Sumter in part because he was a Kentucky-born slave owner whose background might ameliorate the situation. On April 11, 1861, Beauregard issued a series of surrender terms to Anderson, whose last reply—that he would evacuate the garrison by April 15 and would not fire on the Confederates unless he were resupplied or otherwise instructed—was taken as a refusal. The first shot on the fort was ordered at four thirty on the morning of April 12. After 35 hours of bombardment, Anderson surrendered on the evening of April 13 and Beauregard was instantly declared a hero of the Confederacy.
Summoned toon May 30, 1861, Beauregard arrived to a large fanfare. Until this time he and the new Confederate president and former U.S. secretary of war Jefferson Davis had enjoyed a distant yet courteous relationship. Under the strain of a new war, however, they clashed. Davis was a renowned micromanager who hated to be contradicted. Beauregard fashioned himself Napoléon reborn, overlooking orders from above while designing grand strategies that defied the reality of Confederate resources.
Given command of the Alexandria Line, later called the Army of the Potomac, Beauregard joined his troops near Manassas Junction, Virginia, on June 2, 1861. There he began work on plans to drive back the Union forces behind Bull Run and then to attack Washington, D.C. Worried about a Union attack, he called for reinforcements from Joseph E. Johnston, whose Confederate army was in the. On the morning of July 21, 1861, Beauregard was anticipating battle on his center right when he heard the unexpected roar of artillery on his left. Union general Irvin McDowell, Beauregard’s old West Point classmate, had crossed the Stone Bridge and attacked Matthews Hill. The Confederates were driven back to Henry House Hill, but by the afternoon had reformed their lines. After Johnston arrived by with reinforcements from the Valley, Confederates shattered the Union right and shoved it back across the Stone Bridge, pulling victory from disaster.
At the end of August both Beauregard and Johnston were promoted to full general, but Johnston took command of the now-combined armies. The two men had a good relationship but Beauregard again felt slighted. By the fall, Beauregard was engaged in verbal disputes with both Confederate cabinet member Judah P. Benjamin and President Davis. Partly as a result, he was sent west in January 1862 to serve in the Army of the Mississippi as second in command under Albert Sidney Johnston.
In the West
Beauregard was frustrated by the weakness of the Confederates in the Western Theater and supported Johnston’s plans to reinforce Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. When Union generaltook both forts in February 1862, the Confederates withdrew to Corinth, Mississippi. At the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862, Johnston attacked Grant at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, planning to push the Union army away from the Tennessee River. Johnston was killed during the afternoon, and although the Confederates drove Grant’s men to the river, Beauregard suspended the action at dusk and declared victory. Later critics bemoaned the lost opportunity, overlooking the problems of exhausted men fighting across broken ground in the dark. Grant, reinforced by riverboat that night, counterattacked at dawn on April 7 and forced Beauregard back to Corinth. There, an outbreak of typhoid fever and dysentery claimed almost as many lives as Shiloh had.
On May 29, Beauregard skillfully evacuated the army to Tupelo, but his failure to defend Corinth enraged Jefferson Davis. On June 14, Beauregard obtained a certificate of disability for a recurring throat problem. And then, without Davis’s approval, and leaving his army under the command of Braxton Bragg, he repaired to Alabama for the summer to recuperate. Davis gave the army to Bragg and, under political pressure from Beauregard’s allies not to cashier him from the army altogether, transferred Beauregard to the Department of South Carolina and Georgia. Arriving on September 15, 1862, he helped build up the harbor’s defenses and drove off Union attacks, including the famous storming of Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry on July 18, 1863.
Petersburg to Surrender
On April 18, 1864, Beauregard was assigned command of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, with the task of guarding Richmond’s southern approaches. As Grant, the new Union general-in-chief, prepared to attack Robert E. Lee’sfrom the north, he sent Union general up the to approach Richmond from the opposite direction. On May 6, Butler seized City Point at the mouth of the Appomattox River and pushed toward Richmond and . Shuffling his thin force, Beauregard blocked Butler, and by May 17 had the Union hemmed in at Bermuda Hundred on the James River. On June 9, Beauregard oversaw a successful defense of Petersburg at the , also known as the First Battle of Petersburg.
By June 12, Grant and the, having battled Lee at the , at , along the , and at Cold Harbor, crossed the James and sent troops to Butler for a June 15 attack on Petersburg. The city held, however, as Beauregard staged one of the most remarkable defenses of the war. He virtually abandoned his outer lines and so heavily manned the city that Grant was forced to settle in for a long siege. Both sides dug in, but it was the rail lines—critical to Lee for supplying and quickly moving his troops—that mattered. On August 18, at the , Union troops cut the critical line. Beauregard’s counterattack captured 2,700 Union soldiers, but he was unable to restore the important artery.
In September 1864 Lee transferred Beauregard to the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, and shortly thereafter, Union forces under William T. Sherman took Atlanta, Georgia. Retaining Confederate general John Bell Hood as his field commander, President Davis gave Beauregard command of the Division of the West—all of the Confederate armies in the Western Theater. Hood and Beauregard were unable to coordinate their actions, however, and on February 22, 1865, Davis replaced Beauregard with Joseph Johnston. After Grant finally broke through and Petersburg and Richmond fell, Leeat Appomattox Court House on April 9. Beauregard and Johnston did the same near Durham, North Carolina, on April 26.
After the war, Beauregard served as president of the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company, as well as of the Jackson Rail Line. He was offered the command of several foreign armies, including the armies of Romania and Egypt, but was unable to negotiate the terms to his satisfaction. In 1872 he helped found the Reform Party in Louisiana, a coalition of moderate Democrats who supported civil rights, including suffrage, for African Americans. In 1873 he helped form the Unification Party, which sought to lower taxes with the support of the Black vote. The party’s advisory committee included an equal number of white and Black members, the white contingent consisting of influential businessmen and lawyers, the Black contingent of Creole men who had been free before the war. Their platform included an end to employment discrimination and segregation, but the party lacked popular support and collapsed. Beauregard served as commissioner of the New Orleans Lottery (1877–1893) and in 1879 was appointed Louisiana’s adjutant general. In 1888 he was elected New Orleans’s commissioner of public works.
In the meantime, Beauregard battled his old military comrades over their conduct of the war. Memoirs by Joseph Johnston; William Preston Johnston, the son of Albert Sidney Johnston; and Jefferson Davis attacked his performance, but Davis’s 1881 memoir particularly upset Beauregard. “What a fall from the honored Presidency of the late glorious Confederacy to being a defamer of his former co-associates!” Beauregard wrote a friend. “Pooh! he stinks in my nostrils.” To exact revenge, Beauregard hired a Creole friend named Alfred Roman to ghostwrite his own memoir, The Military Operations of General Beauregard, published in two volumes in 1884. Critics praised the historical value of the book but found Beauregard’s pugilistic tone distracting. In 1889, Beauregard was asked to ride in a carriage leading the procession at Davis’s funeral; he refused, suggesting it would be hypocritical to do otherwise.
Beauregard remained popular in New Orleans, and was unusually wealthy among former Confederate generals, a fact which sometimes uncomfortably set him apart. He died on February 20, 1893, after a series of illnesses, and was given a state funeral. He was buried in the tomb of the Army of Tennessee at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.