Sunday, June 5, 2011

Today in History: Beauty and Booty!

"Gus" Beauregard
On the morning of June 5, 1861 the inhabitants of Loudon, Fairfax, and Prince William Counties were treated to a proclamation from the celebrity that had arrived in their midst four days earlier."A reckless and unprincipled tyrant has invaded your soil," the proclamation signed from Brigadier General G.T. Beauregard began. Beauregard was the hero of Fort Sumter, having bombarded the fort controlling Charleston Harbor a month and a half earlier and receiving its surrender in the first southern victory of the war.

Born Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard to a creole family in Louisiana, Beauregard had ceased using his first name and split his hyphenated last name when at West Point to better fit in with his Anglo-Saxon descended classmates (he graduated second in his class in 1838). After serving in the U.S. Army as an engineer in the Mexican War and its fall-out (West Point grads got to choose their service by class ranking, and the top always picked engineers, followed by artillery, cavalry, and finally infantry), he dabbled in New Orleans politics for a few years before returning to the Army and becoming superintendent of his alma mater. He served less than a week before Louisiana seceded and he resigned. Beauregard insisted the War Department had jumped to conclusions about his loyalties as a Southern officer, but the War Department said it had plenty of evidence Beauregard planned to join the rebellion (and probably did, after all, his patron for the post had been Senator John Slidell of Louisiana who in a fiery farewell speech from the Floor promised that "there will be war").

The Long Bridge, taken in 1865. Site of today's 14th Street Bridge.
From there, Beauregard took command of the Confederate forces in Charleston Harbor March 6 and coordinated the bombardment against Fort Sumter -- defended by his favorite professor from his school days, Major Robert Anderson -- instantly becoming the most famous Southern general. When Union troops crossed the Long Bridge (today the site of the 14th Street Bridge) over the Potomac and seized Alexandria on May 24, Temporary President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis sent for the Hero of Sumter to defend northern Virginia.

Beauregard had arrived in Richmond on May 30, just one day after Davis himself, but with considerably more fanfare. The next night, a Friday, Beauregard sat down to a private meeting with Davis. Davis had been Secretary of War for Franklin Pierce and had played a heroically crucial role at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War and it was widely assumed he would bring his personal wisdom to the strategic plans and possibly personally command the battlefields of the Confederacy. Also present was Robert E. Lee, dual hatted as commander-in-chief of the Virginia Provisional Army and brigadier general in the Army of the Confederate States of America. Lee had returned from inspecting the northern defenses of the state in preparation for handing over control to the Confederate army that day and is said to have somberly remarked to the excited crowd, "I have no time for speeches, the road ahead will be a long and hard trial.You all should disperse and get about your work, the young men to your drilling, the women to your homes, the older men to your business" (buzz-kill statements like this would earn him the nickname "Granny Lee" in a few months time during the post-Manassas jubilation).

Briefed by Lee and Davis, Beauregard continued on to take command of the Alexandria Line (the name for troops defending "the line" at Alexandria) headquartered well away from Union occupied Alexandria behind the natural barrier of Bull Run, and guarding the important Manassas Junction (where the Orange and Alexandria Railroad intersected the Manassas Gap Railroad), arriving June 1 at 2 pm. Beauregard was met by Brig. Gen. Milledge Bonham a Congressman from South Carolina with a long career in that state's militia that had left the House chambers in December, raised a regiment, and eventually returned to northern Virginia to reinforce the scanty defenses. Bonham commanded a brigade made of two South Carolina regiments (the 2nd and the 3rd, parts of whom had been with "Old Borey" in Charleston Harbor) amounting to around 1,500 men. Beauregard also had a few hundred men from the several companies that had fled from Alexandria, and the promise of four regiments of Virginians being organized by colonels Samuel Garland, James Preston, Philip St. George Cocke, and Richard S. Ewell (a native of Prince William County, who had been wounded, but not badly, June 1 in the war's first battle between organized units, which took place near Fairfax Courthouse - today City of Fairfax).

Beauregard found Lee's depressing assessment to be correct; he didn't have enough men for the job. Moreover, from his discussion with Davis and Lee he knew that Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston commanding Harper's Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia) didn't have enough men to defend his position either. The two positions were mutually dependent, and loss of either made it simple for the Northern armies to march behind the other position and capture an entire army. In fact, as Beauregard arrived at Camp Pickens in Manassas Junction (today the eastern edge of Old Town Manassas), Johnston and Lee were in the midst of an exchange of messages about withdrawing from Harper's Ferry, which Lee had warned Johnston would be "depressing to the cause of the South" (Johnston would fire back on June 6 "would not the loss of five or six seven thousand men be more so?" as he continued the timeless begging of generals in the field for a clear mission and proper support from the top brass).

Map of the Manassas Gap Railroad and connections. Library of Congress
Beauregard reported such to Davis, writing him June 3 that after surveying his position behind Bull Run, which required defense of numerous fords along its length, that "only a much larger force than I have here at my command (say not less than ten to fifteen thousand men) could hope to defend [the position] against a well-organized enemy of twenty thousand who could select his point of attack." He could not refrain from indulging his dramatic tendencies (they would eventually prove his undoing), continuing that "I must therefore be reinforced at once... or I must prepare to retire, on the approach of the enemy, in the direction of Richmond, with the intention of arresting him whenever or wherever the opportunity shall present itself, or I must march to meet him at one of said fords, to sell our lives as dearly as practicable."

Never one to believe that the crucial action could occur somewhere he wasn't (he was already beginning to take to heart the comparisons between Napoleon and his own French creole self), Beauregard decided 150 years ago today to really let his dramatic flair loose and issue his call to arms to the people of the counties around Manassas Junction confident of swelling his ranks with recruits.

A reckless and unprincipled tyrant has invaded your soil. Abraham Lincoln, regardless of all moral, legal, and constitutional restraints, has thrown his abolition hosts among you, who are murdering and imprisoning your citizens, confiscating and destroying your property, and creating acts of violence and outrage too shocking and revolting to humanity to be enumerated. All rules of civilized warfare are abandoned, and they proclaim by their acts, if not their banners, that their war-cry is "Beauty and Booty." All that is dear to man, your honor, and that of your wives and daughters, your fortunes, and your lives, are involved in this momentous contest.
A clear-eyed, omniscient observer would be amused at Beauregard's completely unfounded hyperbole, but in the limited media market of the day that was already so hyper-charged with sectional partisanship it would have been received less critically. Even by the day's standards, though, Beauregard's proclamation had a special flair. And he was just warming up:

In the name, therefore, of the constituted authorities of the Confederate States, in the sacred cause of constitutional liberty and self-government, for which we are contending, in behalf of civilization and humanity itself, I, G.T. Beauregard, brigadier-general of the Confederate States, commanding at Fort Pickens, Manassas Junction, do make this proclamation, and invite and enjoin you by every consideration dear to the hearts of freeman and patriots, by the name and the memory of your dear revolutionary fathers, and by the purity and sanctity of your domestic firesides, to rally to the standard of your State and country, and by every means in your power compatible with honorable warfare to drive back and expel the invaders from your land.
He concluded with a more practical request that the neighbors should "especially [be] vigilant of the movements and acts of the enemy, so as to enable you to give the earliest authentic information to these headquarters."

In two weeks, Beauregard's force would be well on its way towards 20,000 men. There was little doubt in the Cajun general's mind what had inspired troops to take up arms, and Lee was not disposed towards reminding him of the careful logistical management he was doing in Richmond. And as his army grew, like Napoleon, Beauregard would begin thinking about his own offensive possibilities, plans that directly set the stage for the first major battle of the war.

On links to the Official Records I will always link to the first page of the relevant report, rather than the page from which the quotation is taken.

No comments:

Post a Comment