January 26, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis finally succeeded in transferring one of his biggest critics, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, from Virginia to the Western Theater.
Beauregard’s victories at Fort Sumter and Bull Run the previous year had made him the Confederacy’s top military hero. But since then, he had become restless as General Joseph E. Johnston’s second-in-command in northern Virginia. Moreover, he had run afoul of the Davis administration.
Davis’s refusal to approve his plan to invade the North in October enraged him, and Beauregard’s official report on the Battle of Bull Run released in November angered Davis in return. Since then, Davis had worked to transfer Beauregard away from the seat of Confederate government at Richmond.
After submitting a revised version of Beauregard’s report to the Confederate Congress (complete with annotations and corrections defending himself), Davis arranged for administration officials to offer Beauregard a position as second-in-command to General Albert Sidney Johnston in Department No. 2 (i.e., west of the Alleghenies). It was hinted that Beauregard could take command of the Confederate army at Columbus, Kentucky, currently led by Major General Leonidas Polk, and help A.S. Johnston defend against the Federal military buildup in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Congressman Roger Pryor, a Beauregard supporter, urged him to accept the transfer. Pryor said that more progress could be made in the West than in Virginia because A.S. Johnston had up to 70,000 men in his department (in reality, Johnston had no more than 45,000). Beauregard thought it over and agreed to go if he received a written pledge that he could return to Virginia after helping A.S. Johnston win in the West. Then, backing off the written pledge condition, Beauregard wrote on the 23rd:
“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.”
Confederate General Robert Toombs urged Beauregard not to accept the transfer for two reasons. First, 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.” Second, “once away, you would not, in my opinion, be ordered back” despite any written guarantees to the contrary.
Beauregard shared Toombs’s warning with Pryor, who responded on the 24th: “Don’t think Toombs’s objections valid… May I tell President you will go? Say go.” Beauregard wrote back to Pryor the next day: “Yes, I will go. May God protect our cause.” Pryor, who had assured Beauregard that A.S. Johnston had 70,000 men, also promised to arrange for Beauregard to receive even more men upon arriving at his new command. Beauregard, still awaiting official orders, agreed to be transferred based on these empty promises.
Beauregard notified his current superior, J.E. Johnston: “I have received a telegram from Pryor which says I must go temporarily to Columbus. Much fear is entertained of the Mississippi Valley. I have authorized him to say Yes. I will be back here as soon as possible.”
The official orders arrived on January 26, transferring Beauregard from the Potomac District within the Department of Northern Virginia to Kentucky as A.S. Johnston’s second-in-command. Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin officially notified J.E. Johnston that he could be losing his chief subordinate, but he did not indicate that Beauregard would eventually return. As far as the Davis administration was concerned, Beauregard might be stationed out west permanently.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 117; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 102; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 163; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 367; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc 43689-94