previous next

Military operations of General Beauregard.

Chapter 1:

  • Major Beauregard appointed Superintendent of the United States military Academy.
  • -- his determination to resign should Louisiana withdraw from the Union. -- takes command at West point, but is immediately relieved.–Returns to New Orleans. -- is offered the rank of Colonel of Engineers and artillery in the Louisiana State forces, -- Declines. -- plan to obstruct river near Forts. -- floating booms. -- is summoned to Montgomery by President Davis. -- ordered to Charleston, S. C., to assume command and direct operations against Fort Sumter.

while in charge of the military defences of Louisiana, and of the construction of the New Orleans custom-house, in the fall of 1860, General Beauregard, then brevet Major of United States Engineers, received the following order from Washington:

Special order, no. 238.

War Department, Adjutant-General's office, Washington, November 8th, 1860.
By direction of the President, brevet Major Peter G. T. Beauregard, Corps of Engineers, is appointed superintendent of the Military Academy, and will relieve the present superintendent at the close of the approaching semi-annual examination of cadets.

By order of the Secretary of War.

S. Cooper, Adjutant-General.

This was not only an honorable position, much coveted, and justly so, in the army, but it was also a highly responsible one, to which none but officers of the Engineer Corps of acknowledged merit had, up to that time, been appointed. Yet, under existing circumstances, to Major Beauregard it had more than one objection. Mr. Lincoln had just been elected President of the United [14] States, and would, four months later, be duly inaugurated as such. Rumors and speculations as to the inevitable disruption of the Union and its probable consequences prevailed everywhere, and kept the public mind in a state of feverish suspense and anxiety. Flattering, therefore, as was to Major Beauregard the appointment thus tendered him by the War Department, it was with no feigned reluctance that he began closing his official accounts, preparatory to transferring the works under him to his successor in office. Though never taking a very active part in politics, he was strongly imbued with the constitutional doctrine of States' Rights and State Sovereignty, and considered, as did the great mass of his Southern countrymen, that his allegiance was primarily due to his own State. With these views, and under such circumstances, it was but natural he should feel anxious in leaving Louisiana, while public opinion had not yet established its level, and the South was still uncertain as to the proper step to pursue in vindication of its imperilled rights. However—and happen what might—there was but one course open to him, and his determination was taken at once: to stand by his State, and share its destiny, for weal or woe.

Towards the latter part of December of that year he left New Orleans for West Point, stopping on his way in Washington, to ascertain, if he could, what shape future events would probably assume,

Several Southern States had already called their people in conventions, to determine what measures should be adopted in view of the exigencies of the hour. South Carolina had passed her Ordinance of Secession. Mississippi soon followed. So did Florida and Alabama. Louisiana, it was thought by her congressional delegation, would not hesitate much longer. Deeply convinced that such would be the result, Major Beauregard made it a point at once to apprise General Totten, chief of the Engineer Corps at Washington, of his resolution to resign his commission in the United States army should his State retire from the Union, thus giving the department full opportunity to rescind the order assigning him to West Point, and to take such other step in the matter as might be thought proper. He repaired to General Totten's office, and, by a strange coincidence, found him busily engaged in examining fortification drawings, which were no other than those of the defences of Charleston. He was studying and endeavoring [15] to describe the circles of fire of Forts Sumter and Moultrie. At Major Beauregard's avowal, General Totten expressed both surprise and pain, and used every endeavor to dissuade him—we need not add, without success. Major Beauregard then went to the headquarters of General Scott, to inform him also of his intended resignation; but failed to find the general, as he was temporarily absent from Washington.

Major Beauregard had been authorized by General Totten, so anxious was the latter to retain him in the service, to defer assuming command at West Point until after the close of the January examinations; and, in the meantime, having nothing to detain him in Washington, he left for New York, to await further developments.

In New York he met several army friends, among others, Captain G. W. Smith, ex-officer of Engineers, then acting as Street Commissioner of the great northern metropolis, and Captain Mansfield Lovell. The absorbing topic of the day was necessarily brought forward and earnestly discussed. Major Beauregard informed them of his intention to follow his State should it secede. They approved of his proposed course, and declared that they would act in the same manner, were they similarly situated.

Major Beauregard had been only a few days in command at West Point, when the new Secretary of War, Mr. Holt, through animosity to Mr. Slidell, it was said, and perhaps because he had no faith in Major Beauregard's Union sympathies, peremptorily remanded him to his former station in New Orleans. No order could have been more acceptable to him, and he hastened to obey it.

Passing through the city of New York, on his way South, he received a telegram from Governor Moore, of Louisiana, informing him of the withdrawal of the State from the Union, and requesting his immediate return. He readily complied, and took passage on a steamer leaving the next day for New Orleans. Upon reaching her wharf he found it crowded with people, very much excited, who had collected there to see the steamer Star of the West, just returned from off Charleston, with two or three shotholes in her hull and chimney-stack. He went on board and was entertained by her captain with a graphic account of the hot reception the South Carolina authorities had given him. Major Beauregard had little idea, then, that in less than two months he would be constructing additional batteries in the harbor of [16] Charleston, to protect it more effectually from access by vessels attempting to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter.

Upon his arrival at New Orleans, Governor Moore furnished him with a copy of the Ordinance of Secession, and informed him that his services were required to complete the defences to the approaches of the city, which were already in full possession of the State authorities. His answer was that he could not do so until he had formally resigned his commission in the United States service. This he did that day, and then joined, as a private, the battalion of Orleans Guards, composed of the élite of the Creole population of the city of New Orleans. This command had just been organized by Colonel Numa Augustin, than whom no better citizen soldier was known, in the volunteer service of the State.

The excitement and enthusiasm of the people of Louisiana and of New Orleans, especially, were intense. The shrill sound of the fife, the beating of drums, squad drills at street corners and in public avenues, and an ever-increasing military spirit greeted one at every step. New Orleans had been transformed into a garrison town.

All who met Major Beauregard on the streets, friends and even strangers, would shake him warmly by the hand, expressing the hope that he would be with them in the hour of trial, should such hour ever come.

The general impression appeared to be that the ruling party of the Northern States would not oppose the peaceable withdrawal of the Southern States from the Union, by making war on them. During his short sojourn at the North Major Beauregard had seen and heard enough to make him doubt that such would be the result, and it became a matter of conscience for him to dispel the illusions of his too-hopeful fellow-citizens.

The people of the State of Louisiana, in convention assembled, after full discussion by their ablest and best men, reached the conclusion that secession had become a necessity and was the only course to be pursued. The State called upon her sons for assistance, and, as one of them, Major Beauregard responded; though, after having been twenty-two years in the United States army, two of these spent in a short but glorious foreign war, where friendships had been created and cemented with blood, it was not to be expected that he should, without reluctance, dissever ties that had thus lasted through youth to mature manhood. [17]

Shortly after his return to New Orleans, the General Assembly passed a law organizing the Louisiana State forces. General Braxton Bragg was appointed Brigadier-General, and Major Beauregard was offered the position of Colonel of Engineers and Artillery. This he declined, notwithstanding urgent appeals from many friends. He felt—and rightly so—that some injustice had been done him in assigning him to a secondary position. He was a native of the State, who had just resigned an important position in the United States army, while General Bragg had been out of the service for several years, and had but recently become a resident of Louisiana. His object, however, being to aid in the defence of his country, he openly declared his readiness to serve with or under General Bragg, and to put at his disposal whatever of professional knowledge and experience he might possess. But he refused all military rank in the State army.

Major Beauregard was convinced that the most important of all the avenues of approach to New Orleans was the Mississippi River; and that, to guard it properly against invasion, must be the one grand object in view on the part of the State authorities. He therefore advised Governor Moore and the Military Board to arm Forts Jackson and St. Philip with the heaviest guns procurable, and suggested the following plan for so doing: 1st, to remove the largest pieces already there, from the rear to the front or river faces of the forts; 2d, to transfer to them the heavy guns of both Fort Pike, on the Rigolets, and Fort Macomb, on the Chef Menteur—which were works of inferior order, not likely to be put in action at all against a fleet threatening the city.

Major Beauregard also drew up, and furnished to the State authorities, the plans and estimates for two distinct river obstructions, to be placed between Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and to be there used, together or separately, according to the exigency of the case. The first was a floating boom consisting of two parts, formed of long timbers twelve inches square, solidly bound together in sections of four timbers, each section to be connected with another by means of strong iron chains. One half of the boom was to be well anchored in the river, from the shore at Fort Jackson, and inclined downward as it reached the middle of the stream. The other half was to be anchored from the opposite bank of the river near Fort St. Philip, and in such a manner as to have its shore extremity made fast. To its outer and movable end was to be attached [18] a strong wire rope connected with a steam-engine, rendered secure by a bombproof, on the Fort Jackson side. The rope worked by the engine, would close or open the boom, as circumstances might require, for the passage of friendly vessels or of accumulated drift-wood.

The second boom was to consist of about five barges or flatboats, properly constructed so as to support one or more heavy chains or wire-ropes, stretched from shore to shore, between the two forts, and above the floating boom. The estimate for this obstruction was about $90,000, and for the other about one half less. Both were to be illuminated at night with Drummond lights, placed in bombproofs on each side of the river, and the stream was to be patrolled by boats as far down as prudence would permit.

Had these floating booms been constructed and kept in working order until required for effectual use it is beyond all doubt that they would have obstructed the passage of the Federal fleet in April, 1862. Detaining the vessels under the fire of the forts, they would have afforded sufficient time to them to do their work, and to the city to prepare for a vigorous defence, if not for a triumphant resistance.

Somewhat later, Major Beauregard had occasion to offer a few suggestions to the Military Board, in a short memoir, wherein, after giving his general views as to the defence of the different approaches to New Orleans, he again directed attention to the paramount necessity of the floating booms already spoken of. He received the thanks of Governor Moore for his valuable information, of the importance of which the governor was well aware, but the Military Board, to whom all such matters were specially referred, and on whose knowledge of them the State Executive so fully relied, failed to see the extent of the result aimed at, and, as was often the case during the war, the opportunity was allowed to slip by; and the consequences, which might have been averted, advanced unhindered to their calamitous end.

On the 22d of February, 1861, Major Beauregard received a despatch from the Hon. L. P. Walker, Secretary of War of the Confederate government, informing him that his immediate presence at Montgomery was requested by President Davis. He made all possible haste to leave New Orleans, thinking he might be away for two or three weeks at the utmost—he was absent [19] more than four years. The hope of Major Beauregard was, that he might be permanently stationed in Louisiana, with all the sea-coast of which, and the approaches to the city of New Orleans, he was known to be so thoroughly familiar; irrespective of his very natural wish to be able, in case of need, to fight in and for his native State.

It must be admitted, however, that, just at that time, few persons in either section of the country really believed that the issues would be settled by force of arms. The South ‘will not be rash enough to attempt to retire from the Union,’ was the general opinion entertained at the North. The North ‘will not make war to drag the Southern States unwillingly back,’ was the prevailing sentiment in the South.

This delusion is easily accounted for when we consider, not merely the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and the voluntary formation of the Union, by the States, but also the views expressed by many of the most prominent men of the North. We do not allude to the extravagant expressions repeated for many years by leaders in the abolition phalanx, professing hatred of the Union; nor even to the sentiments of disregard for it, uttered, during the same period, by influential members in the Republican party, even on the floor of Congress; but to the immediate declarations of that time, such as the sober statement in the New York Tribune, then the principal organ of the dominant party at the North, that the revolution of the Colonies was a precedent for the secession of the States, and that both stood equally on the same principle of the right of a people to self-government. Even General Scott, as one of the alternatives of action, had counselled the mild measure of allowing ‘the erring sisters’ to ‘go in peace.’

It was not surprising, therefore, that many persons could not be made to believe in such a war, until, after their eyes had seen the flashes and their ears had heard the sounds of the guns fired at Sumter, the United States government called for 75,000 troops with which to reduce the Southern people to obedience.

Major Beauregard arrived at Montgomery on the 26th of February, and on the same day called on the Secretary of War. ‘Just in time,’ said the latter, while courteously extending his hand, ‘to assist me out of a great dilemma.’ He was estimating the weight and cost of pieces of ordnance of different calibers, [20] Major Beauregard cheerfully gave him what assistance he could, and took the liberty to suggest the advisability of procuring, as soon as possible, the different heads of bureaus whom the secretary needed, to relieve him of all such annoying details. Mr. Walker thereupon authorized Major Beauregard to telegraph at once to several of his friends of the old service, who in his opinion might be fitted for these positions. Thus it was that the assistance of Colonel Gorgas, as Chief of Ordnance, was eventually procured. Though a Northern man by birth, Colonel Gorgas had married in the South, and was entirely identified in feeling and interest with that section. He proved to be a meritorious officer, whose services were of value to the cause. Messages were also sent to Captains G. W. Smith and Mansfield Lovell, then in New York, advising them to repair immediately to Montgomery, where their presence was needed. Owing to circumstances beyond their control, those officers did not arrive and report for duty until after the battle of Manassas.

Major Beauregard then presented himself to Mr. Davis, who received him with great kindness, and asked him many questions as to the temper of the people and the condition of affairs, at New Orleans and Mobile. His answer was, that now that secession Was an accomplished fact on the part of Louisiana as well as of Alabama, their people were fast becoming unanimous as to the measure, which, at first, had been looked upon with hesitation and apprehension; that business was mostly suspended in the cities of New Orleans and Mobile, but that everybody seemed hopeful of the future, whether we should remain permanently separated, or should re-enter the Union with sufficient guarantees against further encroachments on our rights.

The President then asked him what knowledge he had of the defences around Charleston, and of the best mode of taking Fort Sumter, in the event of its being necessary to resort to force against it. He read to Major Beauregard a letter he had just received from Governor Pickens, of South Carolina, describing the condition of affairs there, and asking that an officer of experience should be sent to take charge of the operations then going on, and, if necessary, to assume command of the State troops there assembled. The president showed him also a communication from Major W. H. C. Whiting, an ex-officer of United States Engineers, then in the service of the State of Georgia, who had [21] been sent to Charleston to inspect the works being constructed against Fort Sumter, and advise such changes and improvements as his professional experience might suggest. Major Whiting, in this paper, expressed his disapproval of almost all that had been done in the way of locating and constructing batteries, and gave an alarming description of the condition of affairs there.

Major Beauregard having with him a map of Charleston, given him that day by Major W. H. Chase, ex-officer of Engineers, explained to the President what should, in his opinion, be done to prevent assistance by sea to Fort Sumter, and to force its surrender, if necessary. The matter was thoroughly examined and discussed until a late hour in the night.

The next afternoon Major Beauregard was accosted by some members of the convention from South Carolina and Georgia, who informed him that he had just been appointed first Brigadier-General in the provisional army of the Confederate States; and that he would be sent to assume command at Charleston, and direct operations there against Fort Sumter. This news took Major Beauregard completely by surprise. He neither desired nor expected such an honor. He feared it might keep him away for an indefinite period from New Orleans, whither he was anxious to return, for private as well as public reasons. He knew little of the defences of Charleston, and was not familiar with its people; whereas he was thoroughly acquainted with those of New Orleans; and, although perfectly willing to serve the Confederacy to the utmost of his ability, wherever sent, he thought his services were first due to the defence and protection of his own State. There was another impediment, though, under the circumstances, of much less gravity. His resignation from the United States army, dated and forwarded February 8th, 1861, had not yet been, to his knowledge, accepted; and still regardful of the strict observance of rules and regulations to which he had been trained, he was disinclined to take up arms against the United States flag until officially relieved from his fealty to it. This he explained to President Davis, who, after urging his acceptance of the position offered, and promising that he should if necessary, be sent back to New Orleans, suggested that he should at once telegraph to the War Department in Washington, and be set at rest on this point. He did so—for communications between all sections of the country were still free—and the next day received formal information [22] of the acceptance of his resignation by President Buchanan.

Upon his informing Mr. Davis of the fact, the latter instructed him to repair at once to Charleston, there to report to Governor Pickens, and to take command of the State troops, should the South Carolina authorities so desire — the troops then assembled at or near Charleston not having yet regularly entered the Confederate service.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: