NP: May 10, 1964 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 2: Enter Now The Great Creole

   

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Enter Now The Great Creole

A hundred years ago today [May 10, 1864] a dramatic gentleman bearing a name which was not commonplace made his entrance into Petersburg. He was the great Creole, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who in April [1864] had been placed in command of Confederate defenses south of James River.

With General Butler huffing and puffing away in Chesterfield County and dispatching raiding expeditions which inflicted damage on the already tired railroads serving Petersburg and Richmond, it was time he should appear on the local scene.1

Private correspondence describes the cheering and the martial music which greeted the substantial reinforcements which reached Petersburg on the same day. Troops arrived over both the Petersburg Railroad, commonly called the Petersburg and Weldon, and the Southside Railroad. Their ardor had been increased by the damage which they had seen in Jarratt, Stony Creek, and other stations along the way. One letter writer said that soldiers seemed to be pouring into Petersburg as if on the wind.

Three days later [May 13, 1864] Beauregard would go into Chesterfield to deal with Butler. Not quite a week later [May 16, 1864] he would put into execution his grand plan to eliminate the Army of the James. Owing to several circumstances, the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff did not accomplish its larger purpose, much to Beauregard’s disappointment, but it succeeded in neutralizing Butler.2 The latter constructed a defensive line from Osborne’s to Port Walthall. To make sure Butler would be contained, the Confederates built the Howlett Line.  These fortifications survive in large part.3

During this time numerous small engagements occurred at Chester, Arrowfield, Brander’s Bridge, and other places not far distant from Petersburg. As noted above, it was also a time of railroad raids. In spite of the inadequacy of Confederate railroad policy from beginning to end, the Confederate government was still able to repair the damage.

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Beauregard had been the Confederacy’s first great hero.4 Innumerable babies of the early 1860’s had been named for him, and he had been honored with an extraordinary outpouring of poor music and worse verse. His fame has not worn as well as it deserved.

However, Petersburg was the scene of one of his great achievements. He was able to anticipate better than anyone else what Grant was going to do, and, without wading into the prolonged controversy over the respective relationships of Lee and Beauregard to the events of June 15-18 [1864] before Petersburg, it may be said that Beauregard’s defense of Petersburg was brilliant. One trouble was that he and Roman insisted upon making it more so in the telling.5

Beauregard was weak on logistics, he was dedicated to the principles of Jomini6 whether or not they were applicable, and he had a propensity for meddling in other people’s business when his own was relatively quiet, but he has some magnificent qualities which were richly demonstrated at Petersburg. It is rather odd that, even in the post-war period of pious commemoration, nobody ever suggested doing anything about Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. In his own country things were different. In Louisiana it was not unknown for Lee to be commended on the ground that Beauregard had spoken quite well of him.

The Beauregard story makes for wonder whether things would have been different if he had not incurred the enmity of Jefferson Davis, than which few things were more lasting.7 Lee was always just and considerate of the somewhat Napoleonic figure, but understanding and warmth may have been lacking.  It has been suggested that Beauregard felt out of place in the Confederacy’s distinctly Anglo-Saxon military hierarchy. He may have been about as happy in some of his associations as President Charles De Gaulle would be if he were compelled to spend the remainder of his days attending only meetings of the English-Speaking Union.89

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The Petersburg Progress-Index Siege of Petersburg Centennial Series, 1964-65:

Source:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Portions of Chesterfield County, Virginia, including Bermuda Hundred, sit directly between Richmond to the north and Petersburg to the south.  Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James spent the better part of May 1864 poking at this vulnerable spot, including the railroad which connected Richmond and Petersburg.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff caused Butler to retreat back into the “bottle” of Bermuda Hundred and…
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: …Beauregard, perhaps unable to believe his luck, built the Howlett Line to “cork” Butler in his Bermuda Hundred bottle.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: P. G. T. Beauregard commanded the South Carolina troops at the Bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, and he had played a prominent role in the Confederate victory at First Manassas.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: Beauregard saw well before Lee that Grant was attempting a coup-de-main on Petersburg.  Lee felt compelled to defend Richmond and its immediate vicinity until absolutely sure it wasn’t still Grant’s main target.  The article references “Roman,” who is Alfred Roman, Beauregard’s early biographer.  Roman wrote the two volume book The military operations of General Beauregard in the war between the states, 1861 to 1865 in the 1880s.  It was less than a balanced account of Beauregard’s operations in the Civil War.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: Anotine Henry Jomini wrote the classic military treatise The Art of War, and his principles heavily influenced the West-Point trained generals of the first half of the 19th Century, including Beauregard, Lee, Grant, and many others.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: Beauregard’s early promise began to wane as soon as he fell afoul of Jefferson Davis, as the Progress-Index notes.  Like Joseph Johnston, Beauregard was shuffled around to various commands for the rest of the war without accomplishing much, with one exception.  That exception was his work at Petersburg in June 1864.  He saved the city from capture and prolonged the Confederacy for months.
  8. SOPO editor’s Note: Charles De Gaulle, the leader of the Free French during World War 2 and later the President of France, was famously known for his issues working cordially with “the Anglo-Saxons,” which is how he sneeringly referred to the English and Americans. Beauregard, a French Creole fluent in French, might have felt similarly out of place among the Anglo-Saxon dominated members of the Confederate generals club.
  9. “Enter Now The Great Creole.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  May 10, 1964, p. 4, col. 1-2

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