Herman M. Hattaway
Michael J. C. Taylor
Popular historian Clifford Dowdey, in his 1955 book The Land They Fought For, characterized P. G. T. Beauregard as “the Confederacy’s first hero.” T. Harry Williams began his 1955 biography by declaring that his subject was “the most colorful of all the Confederate generals” (1). Indeed, Beauregard was involved in every phase of the conduct of the war and proved himself a competent commander at a crucial time when the South’s command base was diminishing. Although he had defended an agrarian Old South, when defeat came, Beauregard adapted to realities and, in the process, helped to industrialize a New South.
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was born on May 28, 1818, to a Creole family whose French ancestral ties lead back to the thirteenth century. The fine Beauregard House near Chalmette, Louisiana—an exurb of New Orleans—sits adjacent to the War of 1812 battlefield and is open to the public. Though “Pierre” was added to his name during his Roman Catholic baptism, he preferred Gustave or Gus. Young Gus did not speak a word of English until he was twelve years old, when he was sent to boarding school. Of his childhood and adolescence, Williams concedes that “almost nothing is known” because so few records have survived.
At the lad’s urging, Beauregard’s father—although he was surprised and perhaps a bit disappointed that his son wanted a military career—arranged for him to study at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During his tenure as a cadet, Williams described him as a “grave, reserved, and withdrawn … [young man who] excelled in sports, rode a horse beautifully, and made high marks” (7). The young cadet was an outstanding student who in 1838 graduated second in his class. Among his peers were Irwin McDowell, Jubal A. Early, Richard Ewell, Joseph Hooker, and William Tecumseh Sherman (q.v.). After finishing his studies, Beauregard received a commission as a second lieutenant in the prestigious corps of engineers.