64 Parishes

P. G. T. Beauregard

Louisiana native Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was a prominent Confederate general.

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P. G. T. Beauregard

The Historic New Orleans Collection.

US General P. G. T. Beauregard, ca. 1860.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was a Louisiana-born American military officer, politician, inventor, writer, civil servant, and the first prominent Confederate general during the American Civil War. Today he is commonly referred to as P. G. T. Beauregard, but he rarely used his first name as an adult and signed correspondence as G. T. Beauregard.

Beauregard was born in 1818 in St. Bernard Parish. Descended from French and Italian ancestors, he was proud of his Creole heritage. He fired the Civil War’s opening shots on Fort Sumter and surrendered only after Robert E. Lee offered his sword to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

What was Beauregard’s early life and career like?

Beauregard was born to a large slaveholding Creole family that owned a sugar plantation in St. Bernard Parish. He first learned English fluently at age eleven, when his father, Jacques Toutant-Beauregard, sent him to the French School in New York City. The headmasters had been officers under Napoleon Bonaparte, and their stories inspired Beauregard to a military career. Admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1834 at age sixteen, Beauregard shared the classroom with most of the officers he’d serve with or fight against during the Civil War, including William Tecumseh Sherman. He was an outstanding cadet, graduating second in the class of 1838.

As a lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, Beauregard was responsible for constructing and maintaining the army’s chain of coastal forts. Assigned to survey Barataria Bay on the Louisiana Gulf Coast in 1840, he spent the next five years in his home state.

During the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), Beauregard built fortifications, conducted reconnaissance, and served under the campaign’s commander, General Winfield Scott. He is credited with devising the strategy that led to the capture of Mexico City and US victory. From 1848 through 1860, Beauregard oversaw federal engineering projects in Louisiana, including forts intended to protect New Orleans from naval attack. Working with a limited budget, he was unable to complete the fortifications, leaving Louisiana vulnerable to Union attack during the Civil War.

How did Beauregard become a Confederate general?

In January 1861 Beauregard was appointed superintendent of the US Military Academy, but by the time he arrived at West Point, Louisiana had seceded from the union. He was asked to step down only one day into his tenure. When Louisiana Governor Thomas Overton Moore asked him to return home, Beauregard resigned from his position in the US Army. With the aid of Senator John Slidell, Beauregard was given a command position as brigadier general in the Confederate Army by President Jefferson Davis. He was then sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to take possession of Fort Sumter. He became the first hero of the Confederacy after Fort Sumter fell in April 1861.

Beauregard’s fame increased when he defeated Union forces in the Civil War’s first pitched battle at Manassas (Bull Run). Beauregard was beloved by the Southern press as well as by women, who showered him with letters, gifts, and flowers. His popularity reinforced his otherwise precarious standing with Jefferson Davis. The two men didn’t get along: both considered themselves military geniuses, and neither could take any criticism.

What role did Beauregard play during the Civil War?

Beauregard was assigned to many fronts from 1862 to 1865. He led the South at the battle of Shiloh (1862), pushed back a Union naval attack on Charleston (1863), held back Union forces landing at the James River, and mounted a defense of Virginia (1864). This last event was Beauregard’s finest hour as a general in which he held off a larger federal force trying to advance on Petersburg, Virginia. For two days between July 16 and 18 Beauregard’s army of fourteen thousand men repeatedly threw back sixty thousand federal troops trying to take an important railroad junction. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia relieved Beauregard’s exhausted troops on the morning of July 18. After reassignment to command the Division of the West, Beauregard was unable to halt Sherman’s March to the Sea and surrendered to him on April 26, 1865.

One of Beauregard’s legacies was to approve William Porcher Miles’s design for the Confederate battle flag, consisting of white stars and blue bars against a red background, which never officially replaced the banner of the Confederate States but came to symbolize the Southern cause.

What was Beauregard’s life like after the Civil War? Where can his legacy be seen or felt today?

Returning to New Orleans Beauregard swore an oath of loyalty to the United States and accepted a pardon from President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Although the general took for granted the racial attitudes of his times, he sought to build an alliance between white and Black southerners by supporting voting and other civil rights for African Americans to undermine Radical Republican control of Louisiana during Reconstruction. Beauregard enjoyed a prolific career as a writer, sparred publicly with Jefferson Davis over responsibility for the Confederacy’s defeat, and was often present at events honoring Confederate veterans.

Unlike many officers of the defeated Southern army, he became wealthy after the war’s end by putting his reputation as an engineer to good use. Beauregard held numerous positions with transportation companies, including chief engineer and president of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad and president of the New Orleans and Carrollton Street Railway. He was instrumental in rebuilding the state’s rail network, which had been wrecked during the war. He also served as adjutant general of Louisiana from 1879 to 1888, was elected commissioner of public works in New Orleans in 1888, supervised the Louisiana Lottery, and was active in many cultural organizations.

Beauregard died in his sleep on February 20, 1893, and was given a state funeral at Gallier Hall, then New Orleans’s city hall. Beauregard Parish was named for him, as was Camp Beauregard, the Louisiana National Guard base in Pineville. An equestrian statue of Beauregard by sculptor Alexander Doyle was dedicated at the entrance to New Orleans City Park in 1915. It was removed by the city in 2017 along with statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.