General Beauregard To The West! But Will He Return?

January 24, 1862 (Friday)

Though several months had passed since the October 1st meeting between President Davis and Confederate Generals Johnston, Beauregard and G.W. Smith, little of note had transpired within the Rebel camp between Manassas and Washington.

During the meeting, all three generals stood united as they proposed Beauregard’s plan to invade Maryland and force McClellan’s Army of the Potomac out into the open. Davis liked the plan, but shot it down for want of troops.

In complete disgust and believing that the Rebel army wouldn’t move until spring, General Beauregard asked to be reassigned to New Orleans. The request was denied. He was needed in Virginia.

From there, the relationship between Davis and Beauregard slowly deteriorated. Beauregard took issue with Secretary of War Judah Benjamin, and when Davis tried to step in, Beauregard took issue with him.

All went completely sour when Beauregard submitted his final report on the Battle of Manassas. The long, rambling, 9,000 word document blamed President Davis for not allowing the Confederate army to pursue the fleeing Yankees. Beauregard also asserted that prior to the battle, he submitted a written plan of operation. When Davis, who asserted that Beauregard never submitted any plan, finally read it, he was livid. He accused Beauregard of engaging in self-exultation at the expense of the President.

The controversy was enough for the Confederate Congress to order Davis to provide the reports of battles not yet submitted to the legislature. A month and a half later, this task was completed.

The submitted reports included Beauregard’s report of Manassas complete with annotations and corrections by President Davis. Many of the notes denied that Beauregard submitted a plan of operation. Ultimately, a compromise was reached between the supporters in Congress of Davis and Beauregard. The report would be officially published, but it would be printed without Davis’ illustrations.

It was then, in early January, that the Davis administration began looking for ways to send Beauregard to the west. Some of the President’s supporters approached a few of Beauregard’s supporters, placing the bug in their ears. Somehow, it seemed like the best solution for everyone.

When Beauregard was approached on the subject, he appears to have encouraged the idea. He was offered a position under General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding in Kentucky and Tennessee (though mostly the latter). Beauregard would be assigned the left wing, headquartered at Columbus, along the Mississippi, the command of General Polk. He was told by Roger Pryor, the supporter in Congress with whom Beauregard regularly communicated, that General A.S. Johnston had 70,000 men, and that there were 30,000 at Columbus (in reality, Johnston had roughly 45,000).

After a bit of consideration, Beauregard agreed to accept it (if officially offered) under the condition that the western army be reinforced to the point where it could begin offensive operations. Also, he wanted it in writing that he could return to Virginia once his work was finished in Tennessee.1

Throughout the early part of this week (January 20th, etc.), Beauregard was bombarded by telegrams from his supporters. Some wished for him to accept the position, others wanted him to stay in the east.

General Robert Toombs, former US senator from Georgia, urged Beauregard to stay, telling him that he would explain why when he saw him next. The following day, Beauregard wired back, that he would like Toombs to “explain as soon as possible. I am anxious to do for the best.”2

Unable to see Beauregard in person, General Toombs composed a brief letter explaining how he saw the proposal. First, Toombs tried to conjure Beauregard’s sense of honor, expressing that the “line of the Potomac is by far the most important in the contest. It is at that point, by strong and energetic movements, we will be compelled to disentangle ourselves from our present difficulties. I consider your presence there as of the highest possible importance to the success of these movements.”

And then Toombs became woefully pragmatic. “You will not be ordered away,” he wrote, indicating that if Beauregard wanted to stay in the east, he could, “but, once away, you would not, in my opinion, be ordered back.” If Beauregard went west, leveled Toombs, he would stay in the west for the rest of the war.3

As Toombs was composing his letter, Beauregard was finishing one of his own:

I am a soldier of the cause and of my country, ready, at this juncture and during this war, to do duty cheerfully wheresoever placed by the constituted authorities; but I must admit that I would be most reluctant to disassociate my fortunes from those of this army, and unwilling to be permanently separated from men to whose strong personal attachment for and confidence in me I shall not affect blindness. In view, however, of the season, and of the bad condition of the country for military operations, I should be happy to be used elsewhere, if my services are considered at all necessary for the public good, whether on the Mississippi or at any other threatened point of the Confederate States.4

The letters were written on January 23. On this date (the 24th), they must have crossed paths. Beauregard probably received Toombs’ letter and read it, understanding that it was now rendered moot. It was clear, however, that Beauregard’s friends in Congress had not yet received his letter.

Roger Pryor, Beauregard’s supporter in Congress, wired the General:

Don’t think Toombs’s objections valid. Your letter not received. May I tell President you will go? Say go.5

  1. In writing this summary of the autumn of 1861, I drew upon P.G.T. Beauregard; Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams as well as The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, Vol. 1, by Alfred Roman. []
  2. P.G.T. Beauregard to Robert Toombs, January 20, 1862. As printed in The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, Vol. 1, by Alfred Roman. []
  3. Robert Toombs to P.G.T. Beauregard, January 23, 1862. As printed in The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, Vol. 1, by Alfred Roman. []
  4. P.G.T. Beauregard to Roger Pryor, January 23, 1862. As printed in The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, Vol. 1, by Alfred Roman. []
  5. Roger Pryor to P.G.T. Beauregard, January 24, 1862. As printed in The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, Vol. 1, by Alfred Roman. []
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General Beauregard To The West! But Will He Return? by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “General Beauregard To The West! But Will He Return?

  1. If General Beauregard was given command of the entire Confederate army during the first Bullrun/ Manasses battle the outcome of the war would have been different. Don’t get me wrong General Lee was a great general but only a Defensive general. Thats what i think.

  2. Lee was very aggressive in my opinion and not a defensive general. When given the opportunity, he always attacked – Gaines Mill, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are examples. He became defensive in the Overland Campaign because Grant outnumbered him by a 2 to 1 margin. He really had no choice by that time …. regarding Beauregard, I agree with Chaloner – the outcome stood a chance to be different if he had total command at Manassas. His strong desire to follow the fleeing Yanks into Washington is well documented and it took McClellan at least a month to form an effective defense of the city.

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