P. G. T. Beauregard

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P. G. T. Beauregard : biography

May 28, 1818 – February 20, 1893

Richmond

In April 1864, Beauregard saw little opportunity for military glory because he foresaw that there would be no more significant assaults against Charleston, and prospects for a major field command were unlikely. He requested a leave to recover from fatigue and a chronic throat ailment, but he instead received an order to report to Weldon, North Carolina, near the Virginia border, to play a key role in the defense of Virginia. His new assignment, the Department of North Carolina and Cape Fear, also included Virginia south of the James River. When he took command on April 18, he renamed it, on his own initiative, the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. The Confederates were preparing for the spring offensive of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and were concerned that attacks south of Richmond could interrupt the critical supply lines to Richmond and the army of Robert E. Lee.Williams, pp. 207–208; Eicher, p. 124.

As Grant moved south against Lee in the Overland Campaign, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler launched the surprise Bermuda Hundred Campaign with landings up the James River. Beauregard successfully lobbied with Jefferson Davis’s military adviser, Braxton Bragg, to prevent significant units of his small force from being transferred north of Richmond to the aid of Lee. His timely action, coupled with the military incompetence of Butler, bottled up the Union army, nullifying its threat to Petersburg and Lee’s supply line. Now that this sector was stable, pressure began to rise to transfer troops from Beauregard’s front to Lee’s. Beauregard did send a division (Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke’s) to Lee for the Battle of Cold Harbor, but Lee urgently wanted more and took the step of offering Beauregard command of the right wing of the Army of Northern Virginia for his cooperation. Beauregard replied in a passive–aggressive manner, "I am willing to do anything for our success, but cannot leave my Department without orders of War Department."Williams, pp. 208–25; Kennedy, p. 278.

After Cold Harbor, Lee and the Confederate high command were unable to anticipate Grant’s next move, but Beauregard’s strategic sense allowed him to make a prophetic prediction: Grant would cross the James River and attempt to seize Petersburg, which was lightly defended, but contained critical rail junctions supporting Richmond and Lee. Despite persistent pleas to reinforce this sector, Beauregard could not convince his colleagues of the danger. On June 15, his weak 5,400-man force—including boys, old men, and patients from military hospitals—resisted an assault by 16,000 Federals, known as the Second Battle of Petersburg. He gambled by withdrawing his Bermuda Hundred defenses to reinforce the city, assuming correctly that Butler would not capitalize on the opening. His gamble succeeded, and he held Petersburg long enough for Lee’s army to arrive. It was arguably his finest combat performance of the war.Williams, pp. 225–35; Gallagher, p. 90; Kennedy, pp. 352–53.

Beauregard continued commanding the defenses of Petersburg in the early days of the siege, but with the loss of the Weldon Railroad in the Battle of Globe Tavern (August 18–21), he was criticized for not attacking more forcefully and he became dissatisfied with the command arrangements under Lee. He hoped for an independent command, but his desires were thwarted in two instances: Lee chose Lt. Gen. Jubal Early to lead an expedition north through the Shenandoah Valley and threaten Washington, and Davis chose Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood to replace the faltering Joseph E. Johnston in the Atlanta Campaign.Williams, pp. 236–38; Gallagher, p. 90.

Return to the West

After the fall of Atlanta in September 1864, President Davis considered replacing John Bell Hood in command of the Army of Tennessee and he asked Robert E. Lee to find out if Beauregard would be interested. Beauregard was indeed interested, but it is unclear whether Davis seriously considered the appointment, and in the end decided to retain Hood. Davis met with Beauregard in Augusta, Georgia, on October 2 and offered him command of the newly created Department of the West, responsible for the five Southern states from Georgia to the Mississippi River, with the armies of Hood and Richard Taylor under his ostensible command. However, it was a thankless job that was limited to logistical and advisory responsibilities, without true operational control of the armies unless he should join them in person during an emergency. Nevertheless, anxious to return to the field, he accepted the assignment.Williams, pp. 239–42; Woodworth, p. 293; Hattaway & Taylor, pp. 25–26.