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 Number 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 January 23:
“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. Johnston replied to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin:
“I have just had the honor to receive your letter of the 26th inst., inclosed with one to General Beauregard, assigning him to command at Columbus… I regret very much that it is thought necessary to remove this distinguished officer from this district, especially at the present time, when the recent law granting bounty and furloughs is having a disorganizing effect. I fear that General Beauregard’s removal from the troops he has formed may increase this effect among them… In this connection, permit me to urge the necessity to this army, of the general officers I have asked for more than once.”
Benjamin made no mention of the possibility that Beauregard might eventually be returned or replaced. As far as the Davis administration was concerned, Beauregard’s transfer was permanent.
- Johnston, Joseph E., Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War. Sharpe Books, Kindle Edition, 2014.
- Lindsey, David (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- 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.