Photo: P.G.T. Beauregard (1818-1893)
Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard was born on May 28th 1818 on the Contreras Plantation in St. Benard Parish- right outside New Orleans. Beauegard may have been some of the last living white creole aristocrats of South Louisiana when he died in 1893. He attended school in New Orleans and recieved a french education in New York City. He did not speak English until the age of 12 where French (creolized) was his first language. It was common for wealthy creole families to send their kids to New York or Paris for superior education. He enrolled at West Point and graduated 45th in his class at 20 years of age as an artilleryman and a military engineer.
He first saw military action during the Mexican-American War under General Winfield Scott where he was promoted to Captain and Major during the War. He recieved wounds in the shoulders and thighs in combat.
After the War, Beauregard returned home and married Marie Laure Villeré, the daughter of a sugar planter in Plaquemines Parish. Marie’s grandfather was the 2nd governor of Louisiana post-American rule. They had three children together, but Marie died suddenly in 1850. Beauegard would marry again 10 years later to Caroline Deslondes, a daughter of a sugar planter in St. James Parish. Caroline was the sister-in-law to John Slidell, a U.S. Senator and later Confederate diplomat.
Beauregard entered the local political arena throwing in his hat for the 1858 mayoral’s race in New Orleans facing a tough campaign against the American Party. New Orleans was going through a painful transistion between old creole society and anglo-protestant society. Although New Orleans never fully assimilated to anglo-protestant society, it was the resistance efforts of those like Beauegard that has kept New Orleans different from the rest of the United States over time. Beauregard was narrowly defeated from the American Party- instead he became the chief engineer overlooking the drainage of the city. He resigned from his position and became a superintendent at West Point. He resigned 5 days later after Louisiana seceded from the Union.
Beauregard, like many other Confederate leaders, did not want to secede from the Union. They did not want to see the North and South separated. In Beauregard’s case, he was not a supporter of slavery, but found loyalty to Louisiana preferable over the North. If such things were to happen, defending home was better than defending the federal government in Washington D.C.
Beauregard entered the Confederate Army as a Brigadier General, but was promoted to General later in the year. This was due to his victory at Fort Sumter after he held off a Union naval blockade. He earned the nicknames “Little Napoleon” and “Little Creole”. He had a shaky relationship with President Jefferson Davis due to their constant military and strategic disagreements. Beauregard wanted full protection over New Orleans- but President Davis overruled him. Beauregard’s old boss, General Winfield Scott, helped organize military action to control the Mississippi River through New Orleans and other cities along the river. New Orleans was the largest city in the South at the time and one of the biggest international ports in the world. The Union took over New Orleans with little resistance on April 29th, 1862. This news infurirated Beauregard and lowered his opinion of President Davis even more. Beauregard left a lasting legacy as a Confederate General even helped design the Confederate Battle Flag to help identify allies on the battle field.
After the South’s surrender, Beauregard was part of the unification movement of the South. He was a supporter of civil rights for recently freed slaves- even voting for them for political office. He wanted reconstruction to end as soon as possible so he worked diplomatically with many leaders to make the transition as smooth as possible. New Orelans, like many other southern cities, was home to tense political and violent clash between Southern and Northern influence. Beauregard was offered the roles of General for the Romanian and Egyptian armies after the War, but declined. He became involved with the railroad industry in bringing commerce and trade through New Orleans and the rest of the South. He was a company director and consulting engineer.
After a visit to San Francisco, he got a patent to create cable powered street cars in New Orleans. The cable lines that run today are from the result of him- the St. Charles streetcar on a cable line is one of his works that can be experienced today. He managed the Louisiana Lottery and promised to end the corruption, but failed to do so. He resigned from that position and was appointed as commissioner of public works.
He died in 1893 and is buried at the Army of Tennessee tomb at the Metairie Cemetary. His statue that sits in New Orleans today is set to be taken down by the current administration due to a claim of white supremacy. However Beauregard’s accomplishments and action suggest anything but white supremacy. He was one of the last creole gentlemen of Old New Orleans- erasing his memory would help solidify a wiping out of creole identity and culture that has made New Orleans unique from everyone else. His memory and legacy is necessary to the preservation of creole culture in Louisiana.