P. G. T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray

By T. Harry Williams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
The Creole

H E IS THE MOST colorful of all the Confederate generals. He had more glamor and drama in his Gallic-American personality than any three of his Anglo-Saxon colleagues in gray rolled into one. The people of the Confederacy idolized him into a great popular hero, second not even to Lee. He was chivalric and arrogant in the best Southern tradition, but he was more. Something, in his resounding name of Beauregard, in his Creole origin in south Louisiana, in his knightly bearing suggested a more exotic environment than the South of Jefferson Davis. A vague air of romance, reminiscent of an older civilization, trailed after him wherever he went. When he spoke and when he acted, people thought of Paris and Napoleon and Austerlitz and French legions bursting from the St. Bernard Pass onto the plains of Italy.

His military career was one of the most unique in the Confederacy and in many ways is more significant to the student of the Civil War than the record of any other Confederate general. It was not confined to one narrow area like Lee's or interrupted by long periods of inactivity like Joseph Johnston's or cut off before the end of the war like Braxton Bragg's. Beauregard was in every important phase of the war from its beginning to its conclusion. He fired the opening gun of the great drama at Fort Sumter. He commanded the Confederate forces in the first great battle of the war at Manassas. In 1862 he was second and then first in command in the West; he planned and fought the first big battle in that theater at Shiloh.

From the West he went to Charleston, and there he conducted the war's longest and most skillful defense of a land point against attack from the sea. In 1864 he returned to Virginia to direct the defense of the southern approaches to Richmond. Later in that year, the government assigned him to command the Division of the West, a huge department with an impressive title and few resources. In the waning months of the war, he was in Georgia and the Carolinas

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