Tag Archives: P.G.T. Beauregard

Confederate forces opposing Sherman’s March, November 1864

Earlier I broke down the organization of Major-General William T. Sherman’s force used on the March to the Sea, at least down to the division level.  While interesting, in regard to the varied experiences (eastern and western theaters) of the leaders, the Federal order of battle is rather easy to track.  It was unified under one red-haired guy with a pair of stars.

The same cannot be said of the Confederate forces.  Some historians have under-rated these forces to the point the Confederate opposition is scarcely mentioned in the narrative.  Almost as if these troops assigned to stop Sherman’s advance didn’t exist.  The Confederates in Georgia, maybe at best 20,000 to 25,000 men at best, were certainly at a numerical disadvantage to Sherman’s command (about 62,000 men total).  It was still a significant force if used properly.  A spirited defense could have delayed the Federals.  And for Sherman’s plan to work, his 62,000 could not stop to fight a pitch battle.

The problem was the Confederate forces didn’t have the single leader exercising positive control over the forces.  The one who could have – General P.G.T. Beauregard – did not exercise the baton of command as he should.  Part of the reason was the disjointed organization of forces.  Perhaps it would be best to compare it to a three-layer cake that had fallen.  And to appreciate that fallen cake, consider stage over which this campaign took place – the area between the Chattahoochee and the Savannah Rivers, better known as Georgia:


With the state map in mind, we have the first layer of that cake in view – the geographic department commands.  The line running on the left marking Georgia’s western border was technically the division of two departments.  Lieutenant General William Hardee, with headquarters off the map in Charleston, had the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.  Covering that vast area were 12,500 or so troops.  But, as I’ve documented at length, the focus of Hardee’s command was the defense of Charleston.  Only 3,000 or so effective troops, under Major General Lafayette McLaws in Savannah, were allocated for Georgia’s defense.

On the west side of the Chattahoochee was Lieutenant-General Richard Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.  Taylor had 15,000 effectives to cover his equally vast area of responsibility.  And while Hardee had Charleston, Taylor had Mobile to cover (just a side note, there is a remarkable parallel between operations outside both cities).  Furthermore, General John B. Hood pulled upon Taylor’s command for the invasion of Tennessee.

And with mention of Hood, we see the second layer of the cake – a field army operating as an equal to the departments.  With Hood on the Tennessee River, the 30,000 or so from the Army of Tennessee were not in position to deal with Sherman.  We might talk “coulda … shoulda” but as things worked out, those pieces were played on a different chess board.

However, part of Hood’s army remained in Georgia.  Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps, with around 10,000 troopers, were assigned the job of screening in front of Sherman’s force.  Wheeler had three divisions under Brigadier-Generals William Allen, William Humes, and Alfred Iverson.  Lots of cavalry, but no infantry and no artillery to speak of.

Wheeler’s force stood as a screen in front of various garrisons defending what remained of Georgia’s industrial centers – Columbus, Macon, Athens, Augusta, to name a few.  While some were Confederate troops, none were front line units.  Most of the forces counted in the defense were the Georgia Militia, Georgia State troops, and Home Guard, constituting the third layer of this cake and yet another split in the organization. Major General Howell Cobb commanded the militia.  Major General Gustavus W. Smith commanded a division of the state troops.  One might think a former commander of the forces defending Richmond (what was it, a day or two?) might be a good choice for close coordination with the Confederate Army officers.  However, the rift between Governor Joseph Brown and authorities in Richmond is well documented.  And of those three different classifications within the “Georgia troops” not all were equal.  The State troops, known as the “State Line” were organized forces that were kept away from Confederate control – generally long serving men of conscription age.  The militia was mostly those untouched by conscription, younger and older.  The Home Guard were mostly forces drawn from the except factory workers.  On the ground, this translated to limitations for the Confederate Army field commanders.

If these command arrangements left something to be desired, the Confederates did possess one advantage over the Federals when the campaign started.  Though the railroad center of Atlanta was gone, railroads connected much of the central and southern portions of Georgia.  It was possible to reposition and mass troops to meet any threat Sherman mounted. And those railroads could bring in reinforcements from outside the state, if need be (and did later in the campaign from as far away as North Carolina).  But in order to maximize that advantage, the Confederates needed good intelligence delivered to a responsible commander who was willing to make a bold stand.

But was there a single responsible commander?  Beauregard, Hood, Hardee, Wheeler, Cobb, Smith, and Brown all had some piece of that responsibility.  With respect to the defense of central Georgia, several men had that charge.  But neither could lay claim to an entire slice of that responsibility.


September 28, 1864: Beauregard heading back to Charleston

On September 28, 1864, Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton passed along two intercepted messages from the Confederate lines at Charleston.  The second of these, from Beach Inlet to Battery Bee, read:

Captain Smith requests that you will let us know when General Beauregard crossed the bridge.

With this bit of information, Saxton asked his superior, Major-General John Foster, for a special liberty:

I propose to give General Beauregard a salute in Charleston this evening from my 200-pounders.

Was General P.G.T. Beauregard returning to command at Charleston?  No, but in a round-about… sort of.  After serving through the summer months in command at Petersburg, Beauregard grew tired of living in General Robert E. Lee’s shadow. And at the same time, the creole’s performance in August left authorities in the War Department looking for a way to ease him out of Virginia.

The visit to Charleston was not, however, a move to resume his old command.  Rather he arrived to investigate the conduct of Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley and to handle some administrative tasks, as Beauregard related to Major-General Samuel Jones on September 25:

The president has ordered me (verbally) to repair to Charleston and await further orders, meanwhile to inquire into the difficulty between yourself and Brigadier-General Ripley, and to examine the condition of the defenses and troops at and about Charleston, assisted by my chief engineer, Col. D.B. Harris, and chief inspector, Lieut. Col. A. Roman.  The former is then to remain on duty with you until further orders as inspector of fortifications and adviser in that branch of the service.

The problems with Ripley came to a head during the long summer months.  And these problems came out of a bottle.  During one of the general alarms sounded in July, in response to Federal activity, aides suspected he was drunk.  Then on September 17, he had a loud argument with the department quartermaster, in which several witnesses claimed he was drunk.  After just a day investigating the matter, Beauregard reached a conclusion:

It is evident from the within communications that Brig. Gen. R.S. Ripley cannot be intrusted at this critical time with so important a command as the First Military District of this department (comprising of the city and harbor of Charleston), which offers such great temptations and facilities for indulging in his irregular habits.  The past efficient services of Brigadier-General Ripley may entitle him still to some consideration at your hands. I therefore respectfully recommend that he may be ordered to active service in the field where time, reflection, and a stricter discipline may have their favorable influences over him.

Everyone from Charleston to Richmond agreed that Ripley should be relieved.  But none outside of Beauregard felt Ripley needed a second chance, especially at Petersburg.  But with all the other concerns of the time, Ripley remained in command pending further deliberation, though reassigned to Sullivan’s Island by the end of the month.  On balance, perhaps the return of Harris to his engineering duties was a fair trade?

September 28 saw another Confederate general receive orders to make way to Charleston.  General John B. Hood’s Special Orders No. 5 as commander of the Department of Tennessee and Georgia:

By direction of the President, Lieut. Gen. W. J. Hardee is relieved from duty in the Army of Tennessee, and will proceed at once to Charleston, S.C., and assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

With this, Brigadier-General Samuel Jones stepped down from department command and assumed command of the District of South Carolina (the state minus the Third Military District).

For what it was worth, Beauregard was heading the opposite direction after his stay in Charleston.  He’d accepted a command in charge of the “west,” where his responsibilities were largely administrative, though including those areas where Hood and Hardee now operated.

Thus the Confederate command responsible for the defenses of Savannah and Charleston shuffled around in the early fall of 1864.  Before the winter season arrived, those commands would face a Federal threat unlike that seen earlier in the war.   A storm was coming to the coast.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Serial 66, pages 304, 630, 632-3, and 635.)

150 years ago: Beauregard leaves Charleston and heads north

Back in the fall of 1862, when General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived in Charleston to command the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, he saw the promise to lead in an active theater of war, with the expectation of Federal attack growing by the day.  After just over eighteen months, give or take, the situation changed to revert Charleston and the rest of the department to backwater status.  The Federals, having sent ironclads, shovels, and 200-pdr Parrott shells against Charleston, reduced their strength.  Beauregard’s primary adversary, Major-General Quincy Gillmore, had orders sending him and a corps-worth of men to Virginia.

While Beauregard could reflect with pride upon his defense of Charleston, and defense of other sectors of his command, he desired active field command.  Compounding this situation, the creole was still mourning the loss of his wife, Caroline, who had died in early march behind Federal lines in New Orleans.

But Beauregard was not long for the doldrums that had beset Charleston.  On April 15, 1864, he received orders sending him to Weldon, North Carolina.  Beauregard would receive a new command.  On April 20, he bid farewell to his old command:

Hdqrs. Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,
Charleston, S.C., April 20, 1864.
Officers and Soldiers:

By an order of His Excellency the President I am relieved temporarily from the command of the department by Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, to be assigned to another important command. I leave with the assurance that you will transfer to my successor, a meritorious officer of the armies of Virginia and Tennessee, that confidence and spirit of prompt obedience to orders which have contributed so much to your success heretofore. Should you ever become discouraged remember that a people from whom have sprung such soldiers as those who defended Wagner and Sumter can never be subjugated in a war of independence.

G. T. Beauregard,
General Commanding.

Three days later, Beauregard posted orders assuming his new command:

Pursuant to instructions from the War Department, I assume command of the Departments of North Carolina and the Cape Fear. The two departments thus consolidated will be known as the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, and will embrace that portion of the State of North Carolina east of the mountains and that section of the State of Virginia south of the James and Appomattox Rivers. A prompt obedience of orders, a mutual good understanding, and a cordial support of one another are enjoined on both officers and men as indispensable to success. Violations of regulations and orders must be promptly reported in order that discipline, so necessary, may be maintained.

Beauregard inherited command in a theater fresh from the promising victory at Plymouth, North Carolina.  And the CSS Albemarle gave the Confederates some tactical alternatives beyond just waiting for a Federal offense.  But Beauregard once again had command of a broad theater with far few men to defend it.  His primary responsibility was not to reject the Federals occupying the coastal regions, but to defend the railroads feeding supplies to Richmond, Virginia and General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  Not exactly the “field command” which Beauregard preferred.

Beauregard mentioned the defense of Battery Wagner and Fort Sumter in his farewell on April 20.  I’ve always found interesting that many of the defenders of Morris Island later found themselves defending Petersburg, Virginia in 1864 – From Beauregard down to the ranks.  Likewise, Gillmore and many of the Federal veterans from Morris Island operations were once again opposing them in what would evolved into yet another siege.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 1307-8; Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 444-5.)