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Military operations of General Beauregard.

By Alfred Roman.

A Review by Colonel Wm. Allan, formerly Chief of Ordnance Second corps, A. N. V.

This book contains much of interest and value. General Beauregard was one of the highest officers in rank in the Confederate service, and was concerned in many important operations during the civil war. Indeed, few officers on either side had an experience more varied and extensive. The narrative throws light on many of the great junctures of that struggle, and is enriched by a mass of official documents, many of which are here published for the first time. Though there is no little diffuseness and repetition in the book, the arrangement is clear and the style easy and attractive. The care and [259] labor shown in the preparation, as well as the mass of valuable materials it contains, render this book indispensable to the student of the history of the war.

We regret that we cannot go farther in praise of this book, but its whole tone, temper and manner of composition forbid it. Its faults are too glaring to be overlooked. The chief sufferer from its publication is likely to be General Beauregard himself, and it had been better for his reputation if he had assumed less directly the responsibility for Colonel Roman's work. The book is not so much a history of General Beauregard's career as it is a fulsome panegyric of him, an overstrained and often disingenuous defence of everything he did, or did not do, during the war, and an unfair and ill-natured critique upon the conduct of his superiors. We believe there is not a single superior officer of General Beauregard that is not disparaged in this book, and accused of damaging, at one time or another, the cause of which General Beauregard is represented as the only ever wise and ever unselfish defender. The object of our author's special hostility is Mr. Davis, but the Confederate Secretaries of War, the chiefs of the war bureaus in Richmond, and Generals Cooper, Lee, A. S. Johnston, J. E. Johnston, besides many of lower rank, come in for their share of criticism — a criticism often ill-judged, in most cases partial, and nearly always truculent.

The author's mode of dealing with history is illustrated by his account of the first battle of Manassas. The facts in regard to this are simple. In July, 1861, the Confederate Government had two principal bodies of troops, hastily collected, to oppose the invasion of Virginia, threatened by the as hastily gathered levies of the Federal Government. The larger of these, under General Beauregard, held the line of Bull Run, and in its front was the principal Federal army under General McDowell. Beauregard's force was being augmented by new regiments as fast as they could be armed and equipped out of the meagre supplies the South could then command, and by the middle of July numbered about 20,000 men. The other Confederate army, of about 10,000 men, under General J. E. Johnston, was opposing General Patterson's advance into the Shenandoah Valley. Besides these, General Holmes had a small force on the lower Potomac. Both of the larger bodies were greatly inferior to the Federal forces opposing them. McDowell had about 35,000 men and Patterson about 20,000. As McDowell's was the principal Federal army, it was pretty clear that the first serious advance would be made by it. It was also evident that the Confederate forces at Manassas would [260] not grow fast enough to place it on an equality with the army in its front, and therefore General Beauregard suggested the expediency of uniting the forces of Johnston and Holmes with his own for a sudden attack upon the Federal armies in succession. This proposal Beauregard submitted through one of his staff to Mr. Davis on the night of July 14. Generals Cooper and Lee were called in conference by Mr. Davis. The plan required that General Johnston, who was seventy-five miles away, should leave 5,000 men to hold Patterson in check, and rapidly join Beauregard with 20,000. This would double the Confederate force at Manassas and make it superior to McDowell, who was to be attacked and beaten. Then Johnston was to return with his own and 10,000 of Beauregard's men and overwhelm Patterson. Beauregard thought a week would suffice for this, after which Johnston was to reinforce Garnett in West Virginia and destroy McClellan. Then Johnston's and Garnett's forces were to cross the Potomac and attack Washington in rear, while Beauregard assailed it in front. This scheme was rejected as impracticable by all present at the conference, because: 1, Johnston had hardly 10,000 men, instead of 25,000, which Beauregard's plan assumed; 2. McDowell's army was too close to Washington to permit of its being crushed in the way indicated. If pressed, it could readily fall back to that city and its reserves. Another reason General Beauregard might himself have added: neither of the Confederate armies was supplied with transportation or stores sufficient for the complicated movements mapped out.

On July 17, the third day after this conference, McDowell advanced, and Beauregard telegraphed the fact and asked for reinforcements. Johnston was then ordered to join him if practicable with his effective force, and Holmes was also sent up. Next day occurred Tyler's attempt at Mitchell's Ford, ending in a Federal repulse. Beauregard's report apparently caused the Confederate authorities to think that McDowell had been severely checked, for next day (19th) Beauregard was telegraphed as follows: ‘We have no intelligence from General Johnston. If the enemy in front of you has abandoned an immediate attack, and General Johnston has not moved, you had better withdraw the call upon him, so that he may be left to his full discretion.’ * * * Beauregard, seeing that the Federal army in front was only perfecting its plans for attack, of course did not stop Johnston, who reached Manassas on the 20th, followed by his troops during that night and the next day. As Johnston had merely eluded Patterson, who must soon learn of his movement, [261] both Confederate Generals felt that no time was to be lost in fighting McDowell. Johnston was senior, and in command, but, having no time to learn the country or disposition of the troops, adopted Beauregard's plan of attacking McDowell at Centreville next day (21st). The aggressive movements of the Federals early on the 21st prevented the execution of this plan. Beauregard then proposed to check McDowell's movement against the left by attacking with the Confederate right. This, too, was approved and adopted, but the orders sent by General Beauregard failed to reach the Confederate right in time. Meantime McDowell had turned the Confederate left and was pressing back with overwhelming force the troops there stationed. All plans of aggression were now abandoned in order to resist McDowell's attack, and a battle, unforeseen in character, location and disposition of troops, ensued. Both Generals hastened to the point of danger and exerted themselves successfully to stay the progress of the Federals. Johnston then left Beauregard in command of the troops engaged, and, taking a position with reference to the whole field, devoted himself to hastening forward reinforcements. These came up so promptly that Beauregard, taking advantage of the check which Jackson's stubborn stand had wrought, was soon able to resume the offensive, and within a short time the Federals were not only defeated but routed and driven with fearful panic across Bull Run.

Mr. Davis reached the field after the battle was over, and that night, when the panic of the Federal army had become partially known, was anxious for an immediate advance toward Washington. Both Generals thought this inadvisable, so great was the exhaustion and confusion in the Confederate ranks produced by the battle, and so inadequate the stock of supplies and transportation then available. On the night of the 22d, at another conference, the Generals declared it was impracticable to cross the Potomac or to advance at once on Washington in the wake of the defeated army. Mr. Davis seems to have been satisfied with the propriety of this judgment, and the idea was abandoned.

Such are the facts. Let us see what Colonel Roman makes of them. On the rather slim basis of the reduction of Fort Sumter, General Beauregard's skill and reputation are spoken of in the most extravagant terms. He then describes the proposal of July 14 as a stroke of genius, and says: ‘A high tribunal, composed of the President, Generals Cooper and Lee, took upon itself to check and render barren the strategic powers so greatly developed in General Beauregard, [262] and in which the immortal Jackson alone is acknowledged to have been his peer.’ Over and over again, with tiresome iteration, are Davis, Cooper and Lee denounced for not committing themselves without hesitation to a scheme utterly impracticable as Beauregard put it, since it assumed nearly three times as many troops with Johnston as he actually had. Had the troops been at hand, half-drilled, inexperienced, badly equipped, with insufficient transportation, as they were, the chances of success would not have been more than one in one hundred, and there is nothing in General Beauregard's subsequent career to lead to the conviction that he was the man to seize that single chance. Again, the dispatch of the 19th is tortured to mean a withdrawal of assent to the union of Johnston and Beauregard, and the latter is highly praised for pocketing the dispatch and thus insuring the junction of the two forces, while Mr. Davis is unsparingly condemned for sending it. The dispatch shows for itself. Johnston was not to be stopped unless McDowell had abandoned his immediate attack, and even then discretion was left with Johnston (the senior officer) as to his movements. McDowell had not abandoned his attack, and therefore Beauregard did simply his duty in holding the dispatch. Colonel Roman goes on to say:

‘We assert it as an incontrovertible truth, fully proved by later events, that the President of the Confederacy, by neglecting to compel his Quartermaster-General to procure the transportation which could have been easily procured more than a month before the battle of Manassas; by refusing, as early as the 13th of June, to assent to General Beauregard's urgent request that authority should be given to concentrate our forces at the proper moment at Manassas Junction; by again refusing, on the 15th of July, to allow him to execute his bold, offensive plans against the enemy, the certain result of which would have been the taking of Washington—that the President of the Confederacy, by thus persisting in these three lamentable errors, lost the South her independence.’

It is hard to know how to characterize this wild statement seriously. That the Quartermaster and Commissary, as well as all other departments of the Confederate Government and army, were new and in many respects inefficient, was certainly the case; but probably no country without any military establishment or central government, and peopled by citizens untrained to war for generations, ever acted with greater energy than did the South in the three months between the opening of the war and the battle of Manassas in raising and supplying armies. The victory of Manassas is itself one of the best [263] proofs of this. General Beauregard is entitled to a large share of credit for this remarkable victory, and we think this has been accorded to him; but it must have been under some malign star that he allowed his biographer to make such claims as we have quoted.

There is no better commentary to be found upon the claim that General Beauregard was prevented from taking Washington and thus perhaps ending the war, than in Beauregard's own action after Manassas. Colonel Roman's claim is that if Johnston had been ordered to join Beauregard on July 15th, McDowell would have been overthrown, and next Patterson, and next, perhaps, McClellan, and that then Washington might have fallen before the Confederates advancing on both sides of the Potomac. Well, Johnston was ordered to join Beauregard with his whole force on July 17, and eluding Patterson with great skill he reached Manassas in time to secure a victory over McDowell, a victory one of the most thorough and complete upon record. This was in accordance with General Beauregard's programme. What then became of the rest of that plan? We do not hear that Beauregard urged the return of Johnston to demolish Patterson and McClellan, and Colonel Roman informs us distinctly that Beauregard opposed any advance on Washington at the time and declared it impracticable. Now, no one can show that General Beauregard could have reasonably expected more favorable conditions, had Johnston joined him two days earlier, than were actually at the command of the Confederate leaders after their victory. Yet he saw then that it was impossible to carry out the scheme he had proposed. It would be perhaps unkind and unfair to Beauregard to say he ought to have seen this before the proposition was made, but surely, to speak of Colonel Roman's course as unkind and unfair, in bitterly denouncing Beauregard's superiors twenty years after the above facts became known, is to characterize that course but mildly.

Our author continues in the same strain in regard to Beauregard's position on the field of Manassas, about which there is no proper room to doubt. He was second in command under Johnston, who adopted his plans until McDowell's advance checkmated them, when each in his sphere did his best to secure success—Beauregard as commander of the troops engaged, and Johnston as commander-in-chief. After the battle Johnston was strongly opposed to advancing, and so, too, was Beauregard for a time. But Colonel Roman, through many pages, labors to prove that Johnston had nothing to do with the battle of Manassas except to act as a dead weight upon Beauregard.

A similar tone pervades the whole book. When General Beauregard [264] is sent to the West, he finds everything wrong in General A. S. Johnston's department. The line of defence has been badly chosen, the works to strengthen it have been laid out without judgment, the vital importance of the defence of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers has not been foreseen or properly provided for. General Beauregard promptly proposes a plan of operations to counteract these blunders. It is not adopted, and hence follow, in his opinion, the fall of Donelson and the subsequent disasters of the Confederates. Again, it is General Beauregard who, in spite of the indifference or opposition of his Government, and without the aid of his commanding officer, collects and organizes an army at Corinth, urges and finally induces General Johnston to unite his forces with it, and plans and does everything about the battle of Shiloh—except to fight it. General Beauregard is made to stand out as a solitary rock in a sea of incompetency and petty jealousy. Yet when the chief command devolved upon Beauregard, by the death of Johnston, he no doubt realized more fully how much easier it was to criticize the shortcomings of others than to master the tremendous difficulties which beset the Confederate Government and its Generals in the field. A great victory was just within the grasp of the Confederates. It was allowed to slip away from them. Next day the tables were turned, and Beauregard was forced to retire to Corinth. Weeks followed, during which not a single stroke by the Confederates checked the onward progress of the Federal arms in the West. Beauregard's strategy consisted in waiting at Corinth until the advance of the Federal army made a retreat necessary. He then fell back to Tupelo.

Again we find it impossible to sympathize with the violent attacks made upon the Confederate administration in connection with the controversies in which General Beauregard's ideas of official propriety sometimes involved him. Most remarkable, however, is the complaint made about his removal from command after his retreat from Corinth. The Confederate army had just fallen back before overwhelming forces, the Mississippi seemed about to fall into Federal hands. It was the first of June, when the Union armies might be expected to push their advantage with increasing vigor. At this juncture, without conference, and without any notice beyond a telegraphic dispatch to his Government, General Beauregard proposed to leave his army, on a surgeon's certificate, to seek rest and recuperation at a distant watering-place. General Bragg, the next officer in rank, had been ordered elsewhere by his Government, but General Beauregard retained him, turned over the command to him, [265] and actually left his post for the purpose indicated. The Richmond authorities promptly relieved Beauregard and placed Bragg permanently in command. It is hard to see how so intelligent a soldier as Colonel Roman can complain of this, but he does. General Beauregard's sickness was not sudden or unforseen. It was a trouble he had been suffering from for months. Either he was fit to command his army or he was not. If not, no injustice was done. But in either case, the Richmond authorities should have been informed, and the step of turning over the command to the next in rank not entered upon without conference with and approval by them. It will be hard to convince anyone that at the first of June, and in the circumstances that then surrounded the western army, General Beauregard was justified on the plea of ill-health and that his presence was not important, in leaving his post for a contemplated absence of some weeks without waiting to learn the views of his Government.

Colonel Roman's book is so filled with indiscriminate praise of General Beauregard, and indiscriminate blame of nearly everybody else, that we are apt to lose sight of General Beauregard's really brilliant achievements. It is far more pleasant to contemplate these than to read Colonel Roman's incessant criticisms of distinguished Confederates, whose sacrifices for the land of their birth were not less costly, whose conduct was not less unselfish, whose patriotism was as devoted, whose aims were as high, whose courage was as marked as General Beauregard's, and whose ability and skill were certainly not inferior to those of the distinguished Louisianian.

General Beauregard was assigned to the command of South Carolina and Georgia in September, 1862, his most important duty being the defence of Charleston. Here General Beauregard had a field eminently adapted to his talents. A most skillful and accomplished engineer, he not only displayed ability of the highest order in this memorable defence, but exhibited astonishing fertility of resource and tenacity of purpose. At the end of January, 1863, the Confederate gunboats made such a descent upon the blockading squadron as to cripple it and drive it off for the time. Early in April the Federal fleet, under Dupont, made the first grand attack upon Fort Sumter, but was beaten off with terrible loss. Again in July a most formidable armament, equipped with the best means at the command of the Federal Government, and under one of the best engineers in the old army, General Gillmore, began a most determined and protracted attack upon the defences of Charleston. [266] With comparatively slender means Beauregard completely baffled and kept at bay the prodigious armament with which the Federal Government sought to reduce the ‘cradle of secession.’ For nearly six months his works sustained a fire which has rarely, if ever, been excelled in persistence and weight of metal. When Fort Sumter had become simply a heap of rubbish he continued to hold it and to defeat every attempt on the part of his assailants to capture it. At the end of the year the Federals gave up in despair, and the Confederate flag continued to float over Fort Sumter until Sherman's march northwards from Savannah, in the early part of 1865, compelled the evacuation of the city. There is probably in modern warfare no more splendid instance of a skilful and determined defence than that of Charleston, and it will ever remain a noble testimony to the ability of Beauregard.

In the Spring of 1864, General Beauregard was called from Charleston, with a large part of his forces, to Richmond and Petersburg, to take part in the defence of the Confederate Capital. Here, General Beauregard's achievements were such as to add deservedly to his reputation. He saved the Southern approaches to Richmond and, perhaps, that city itself, by defeating and ‘bottling up’ Butler at Bermuda Hundred. But his greatest feat in this campaign was his defence of Petersburg on June the 15th, 16th, and 17th. General Grant managed his crossing of the James so well as to deceive General Lee for some days and to keep him in ignorance of his real design. In this way Grant succeeded in throwing a large part of the Federal army against Petersburg, before General Lee reached there with the advance of his army on June 18. Beauregard meantime held the defences of Petersburg, and made a brilliant and tenacious struggle for them. He managed his small force with such skill and courage as to keep back the half of the Federal army, and though forced from his advanced positions he saved the city, and placed his troops on the lines which the Army of Northern Virginia was to defend with such wonderful pluck for more than nine months thereafter.

We have not space to follow General Beauregard's career in the West in connection with Hood's disastrous campaign, or his operations in Sherman's front in the spring of 1865, until General J. E. Johnston was placed in command. There was nothing done on either of these fields, however, that could add to the reputation which General Beauregard won at Charleston and Petersburg.

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