Childhood & Early Life
He was born Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard on May 28, 1818, on a sugarcane plantation in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, in an affluent French-Creole family. He was one of the seven children (three brothers and three sisters). His father, Jacques Toutant-Beauregard, had a French-Welsh ancestry, while his mother, Hélèn Judith de Reggio, was of French-Italian lineage. He was raised a Roman Catholic.
Beauregard studied at private schools of New Orleans, and later, attended a French School in New York City. He learnt English only after joining this New York school, as till 12 he spoke only French.
After is school education, Beauregard joined the ‘US Military Academy’ at West Point, New York. Here he was known by several names, such as ‘Little Creole,’ ‘Little Frenchman,’ and ‘Little Napoleon.’ Robert Anderson, who guarded Fort Sumter during the ‘American Civil War’, taught him artillery. He studied artillery and military engineering, and at the graduation (1838), he stood second in his class. His rank earned him an assignment with the ‘US Army Corps of Engineers.’
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During the ‘Mexican-American War’ in 1846, Beauregard was posted at the war front. In March 1847, he worked as an engineer to Major General Winfield Scott in Veracruz. After the victories of ‘Battles of Contreras’ and ‘Churubusco,’ he was promoted to Captain. He helped with war strategy during the ‘Battle of Chapultepec’, which earned him a promotion to Major.
After his return in 1848, Beauregard was assigned to supervise the fortifications and construction of forts along the Gulf Coast, Florida. He developed the battlements of Forts St. Philip and Jackson; and also made improvements to navigation along the mouth of Mississippi River.
During this period, Beauregard invented a device which he called, ‘Self-acting bar excavator.’ He patented this invention, which was devised to help ships clear sand-bars.
Beauregard campaigned for Franklin Pierce (the two had met in Mexico) during the 1852 elections. After the elections, Beauregard was appointed superintending engineer of ‘New Orleans Federal Customs House’ (1853-1860). He developed a restoration plan to save the customs building from sinking in the moist Louisiana soil.
In 1859, Beauregard contested elections for mayor of New Orleans, but was defeated by Gerald Stith of the ‘Know Nothing Party.’
With the help of his brother-in-law, John Slidell, Beauregard secured an appointment as superintendent of the ‘US Military Academy’ at West Point. He received the appointment on January 23, 1861, but when Louisiana seceded from the Union, the order was revoked on January 28 and he relinquished the office after only five days.
He returned to New Orleans and believed that he would be given the charge of the Louisiana army. But Braxton Bragg was made commander, who offered Beauregard the rank of Colonel, Beauregard chose to join the ‘Orleans Guards’ as a private.
He got together with Slidell and the new Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and was promoted to brigadier general in the newly formed ‘Confederate Army.’ Beauregard was asked to take charge of the situation at Charleston, S. Carolina.
Beauregard reached Charleston on March 3, 1861. The Union forces were unwilling to leave Fort Sumter. He arranged the Confederate army and tried unsuccessfully to discuss with Union commander of Fort Sumter Major Robert Anderson, who was his instructor at the military academy.
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Beauregard was the one to order the first firing of the Civil War. On Davis’ orders, he began attack on Fort Sumter from Fort Johnson on April 12, which lasted for 34 hours. Two days later the fort surrendered, marking the first victory for Beauregard and the ‘Confederacy’ and he was hailed as a hero.
Beauregard was sent to Richmond in Northern Virginia as Commander, where he coordinated with General Joseph Johnston. Beauregard put a proposal of strengthening the protection of New Orleans, but it was overruled by President Davis.
Brigadier general Irvin McDowell of the ‘Union’ attacked Beauregard’s troops on July 21, 1861. Johnston’s forces were moved toward east through Manassas Gap Railroad to help Beauregard. The ‘Confederates’ won this ‘First Battle of Bull Run’ for which Beauregard received accolades (though Johnston, too, had contributed through important strategies).
After the win, Beauregard was promoted to general. He helped in designing the Confederate battle flag in order to identify friend troops. Next, he had differences with Davis about invasion of Maryland. He was asked to go west as second-in-command to Albert Johnston in the ‘Army of Mississippi.’
On April 6-7, 1862, they confronted Major General Grant’s army in the ‘Battle of Shiloh.’ When Johnston got fatally wounded, Beauregard had to take charge. He took the controversial decision of calling off the attack, assured that ‘Union’ forces were pushed far against River Tennessee. But during the night, the US army received reinforcement from Ohio, and the next morning forced Beauregard to retreat to Corinth.
The federal troops laid siege to Corinth under Major General Henry Halleck. After nearly a month of siege, Beauregard withdrew on May 29, as the ‘Confederates’ were up against an army double their number. Abandoning of the important rail-junction of Corinth, however, went against Beauregard.
While on a medical leave (without prior permission), Beauregard was relieved of his duties (replaced by Braggs). In 1863, he was posted at Charleston, which he defended from repeated naval and land attacks by the ‘Union’ forces.
Next, he was sent as a commander to Richmond, and was asked to assist Robert Lee, which he was not very keen to. After defeating Union’s Benjamin Butler in ‘Bermuda Hundred Campaign,’ he accomplished a difficult victory in the ‘Second Battle of Petersburg.’ With a 5,400-man army, he defended the industrial town against 16,000 ‘Union’ men, till Lee arrived with reinforcement.
Beauregard was made Commander in the West. He was placed under Joseph Johnston, but they were not able to stop the advancing ‘Union’ forces of Major General Sherman. They convinced Davis of the situation and both surrendered to Sherman on April 26, 1865, at Durham, N. Carolina.
After the war, Beauregard worked for the civil and voting rights of the freed slaves. He was appointed as consulting engineer and director/president of railroad companies. He also invented and patented a cable car in 1869. In 1877, he was appointed as supervisor of ‘Louisiana State Lottery,’ which proved financially rewarding.
Beauregard authored a number of books, mainly about his military experiences. He was elected New Orleans’ commissioner of public works in 1888.