Beauregard takes war's center stage

Profile: The Confederate commander at Manassas, Va., was a soldier who planned his battles carefully, but he had a streak of pride that made him jealous, sensitive and suspicious

First Bull Run/Manassas

August 01, 1999|By Janelle Chanona | Janelle Chanona,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Virginia and surrounding areas became the battleground for the Civil War, every able-bodied white male citizen between 18 and 45 was enlisted to serve. Excitement and confusion mingled with preparations.

On June 1, 1861, Confederate soldiers in the state numbered 25,000, under Gens. Joseph E. Johnston, at Harpers Ferry; A. P. Hill, at Leesburg; and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard at Manassas.

They confronted Gens. Robert Patterson and Irvin McDowell and their army of more than 45,000. This battle had been prophesied by many of the young soldiers' grandfathers.

As dawn drew near, the soldiers saw strange alignments of the stars in the heavens, clouds resembling marching armies and a marked difference in the appearance of the moon. That night, a stray dog wandered through the camp, ducking in and out of soldiers quarters. The men believed the dog was a supernatural agent, making a final head count before the battle. Whether these accounts are the mere ramblings of frightened soldiers or real happenings remains unsolved.

But there was one man who believed the success of the battle was not to be seen in the heavens or in the movements of a dog. That man was General Beauregard.

Beauregard's intentions

In a letter to General Johnston, Beauregard wrote, "We will probably have, in a few days, about 40,000 men to operate with. This force would enable us to destroy the forces of Generals Scott and McDowell in my front. Then we would go back with as many men as necessary to attack and disperse General Patterson's army, before he could know positively what had become of you. We could then proceed to General McClellan's theatre of war and treat him likewise, after which we could pass over into Maryland to operate in the rear of Washington. I think this whole campaign could be completed brilliantly in from 15 to 25 days. Oh, that we had but one good head to conduct all our operations!"

Beauregard meant himself of course.This air of amiable vanity was to mark Beauregard throughout his life. Most of his suggested plans were rejected and in the Battle of Bull Run, Beauregard was about to call his men back, thinking the Union forces were beating him. Confederate reinforcements, Brig. Gen. Arnold Elzey's brigade, arrived at that very moment and the tide of the battle changed in favor of the Confederates.

In the end, the ground was soaked with the blood of 2,000 Confederate soldiers and 1,000 Union soldiers. The Southern scrapper had won a critical battle.

Beauregard was born on May 28, 1818, at Contreras Plantation in St. Bernard Parish, La., just south of New Orleans.

Even at age 9, Beauregard had been a fighter and a soldier at heart; he was teased relentlessly by an older man and Beauregard eventually struck him with a stick until adults took control of the situation.

Later, when he was accepting the sacrament of Communion, he heard a drum and to the horror of his mother, left the church to see what was happening outside.

At age 11, he attended school in New York. Two brothers who had been officers under Napoleon Bonaparte operated the school. He learned to speak and write fluently in English and made outstanding grades. He was fascinated by the tales the brothers told about Napoleon. He read many books about Napoleon and his campaigns and eventually decided that he wanted to model his life after the French emperor's.

With the help of his father, he was admitted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in March 1834 at the age of 16. In his 1838 graduation class, he ranked second in a class of 45.

Ranked 23rd was Irvin McDowell, whom he later defeated at Manassas. His favorite teacher, the artillery instructor, was Robert Anderson, who would later refuse to surrender to his former pupil at Fort Sumter, S.C.

After graduation and various assignments, Beauregard found himself in his native Louisiana. He met a friend's sister and fell in love with her. In September 1841, he married Marie Laure and fathered three children: Rene, Henri and Laure. His family knew his goal in life was very simple: He loved being at center stage, but this would create tension among his counterparts and made him jealous, sensitive and suspicious.

In 1860 he was named superintendent of West Point, but he was dismissed from the post after five days because of his secessionist sympathies.

He resigned his federal commission Feb. 20, 1861, and on Feb. 27 he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate army with command of the rebel forces in Charleston, S.C. After accepting the surrender of Fort Sumter, Beauregard was assigned to take control of Confederate forces at Bull Run, which he did on June 3.

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