Tag Archives: P.G.T. Beauregard

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.)


“Again, there has been great abuse in the system”: Hampton vs. Beaureagard over cavalry transfers

Through the winter of 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard argued with authorities in Richmond about allocations of recruits and conscripts.  At the same time General Robert E. Lee and others in Virginia pressed, with success, for fresh cavalry regiments to replace worn out South Carolina formations.  Although orders from Richmond called for the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th South Carolina Cavalry to Virginia (the first three regiments to form Brigadier-General Matthew Butler’s Brigade).  But movement of those units lagged well behind orders, and was not accomplished even by early spring.  Major-General Wade Hampton, who’d taken leave in part to expedite the movement, was none too happy with Beauregard over the matter.  Writing on April 4, Hampton reported his frustrations to General Samuel Cooper in Richmond:

Last night I returned from Charleston, where I had gone to see General Beauregard as to the movement of the cavalry. As my last letter informed you, I wrote to General Beauregard on my arrival here, inclosing the order of His Excellency the President, and requesting that all the troops mentioned might be made ready to move. When General Beauregard returned from Florida I went down to consult when the troops could move, and in what order he wished to relieve them from duty. To this he replied, that if this cavalry was taken away the whole State between Charleston and Savannah would be left entirely open, but that they were under my orders, and I could take them at any time.

As this seemed to throw the whole responsibility of the withdrawal of these troops upon me, and made me in fact answerable for the picket-lines of General Beauregard, I declined to order the troops to move. I told General Beauregard that my instructions were to “take charge of the movement” of these troops, and that he must, of course, indicate what portion he could spare first. He then ordered Dunovant’s regiment relieved, and that it should report to me. This regiment, like all the others, is badly equipped, and I fear it cannot get off from this point before the 15th instant. Colonel Dunovant is using every effort to expedite the movement. In order to free myself from the position in which I appeared to be placed, that of throwing open the State, I wrote the communication of which the inclosed is a copy, after sending a dispatch to you, saying that “Dunovant’s regiment would move first. General Beauregard desires other regiments to remain till those from Virginia arrive. What are your orders?” No reply came to this; but after my letter of the 1st instant General Jordan informed me that under the order he had received from Richmond he thought these regiments should move at once, and that he would therefore direct them to rendezvous here immediately. I asked that they might do so by the 15th if possible, and he says that they shall. In the mean time I am endeavoring to obtain such equipments as are absolutely necessary for the troops, and I shall move the regiments on as fast as they can be made ready. I hope all difficulty as to the withdrawal of the troops is settled, and I trust that you will approve my action in the matter. There were other difficulties which met me in Charleston, not so important as the one just mentioned, but very vexatious. Orders have been issued for each captain to reduce his company to 80 men, instructing the captains in carrying out the order to retain on their rolls a fair proportion of their dismounted, absent, or sick men, so that instead of all the companies taking with them effective men they will have a portion not fit for duty.

Again, there has been great abuse in the system of details and transfers. General Jordan claims the right to transfer men, not only without but against the consent of their commanding officers. Cases came under my observation where strong, able young soldiers, who desired easy places, were so transferred, one, indeed, transferred, not detailed, by Colonel Rhett, as his orderly. This is all done before the troops are ordered to report to me, so I can do nothing, but I hope that you will either remedy this evil or give me the power to do so. One captain informed me that 30 men (I think that was the number) were detailed from his company, and he was threatened with arrest by General Jordan for protesting against the transfer by Colonel Rhett of one of his men as orderly. If you will allow the captains to select the men to go with them to Virginia, and order all left behind to be sent at once to the conscript camp, an efficient body of men will be carried on, a great abuse will be broken up here, and the men who are now trying to shirk their duty will be punished. I particularly desire to reach these men, and I respectfully request from you orders that will enable me to effect this object. The Charleston Light Dragoons is a fine company, composed of gentlemen, and from this company very large details have been made. It will be hard to fill its ranks again with the same material, and I recommend that the captain be authorized to retain the maximum number in it. I think the law fixes this number at 125, and it would have been better to let all the companies that could do so take that number, as service in Virginia will soon reduce them. Amongst the troops to go on is a very fine squadron, commanded by Capt. William L. Trenholm, who has contributed greatly to its organization and equipment. The squadron was about to be merged into a regiment, of which Captain Trenholm was to have been colonel or lieutenant-colonel. From all the officers in Charleston qualified to judge I heard but one opinion expressed of Captain Trenholm, that he was an admirable officer, and I recommend his appointment as lieutenant-colonel, should he be assigned to the Holcombe Legion. My leave of absence expires on the 16th instant, and I shall leave here then, unless you deem my presence necessary to get the troops off. I hope all will be able to start by the 20th, and if you wish me to remain I beg you to send your order by telegraph. Owing to the deficiency of saddles, I shall have to send the horses in charge of detachments, making the rest of the men go by railroad, as you proposed. The men who have recently had furloughs will take on the horses, and the dismounted men, left to go by railroad, can then have ten days furlough. I have established some depots of forage, and I hope to have them on the whole line.

I’ve pulled Hampton’s lengthy account out of respect for context.  This report included a follow up request to retain scouts from the 1st and 2nd South Carolina (which were ordered to South Carolina, as replacements for the fresh regiments), in Virginia to aid the transition.

To be fair, we should also appreciate Beauregard’s problem.  He faced an adversary who used coastal waterways to move about the theater.  Federal raiding parties might appear anywhere between Murrell’s Inlet and St. John’s Inlet.  To fend off such threats, Beauregard needed a strong force of cavalry to patrol and picket.  However, Hampton did have a point with respect to the maintenance of these units.  Far too many were dismounted and unable to perform the duties of cavalry.  And 125 man companies must have seemed like regiments to some of the depleted commands in Virginia.

Hampton’s report reflects the friction between Confederate commanders caused by different theaters contending for resources.  Was there a more efficient way to allocate manpower in the Confederacy?  I submit the heart of that question was if any such plan practical for implementation.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 1258-9.)

Beauregard’s simple code key

Although espionage in the Civil War era tended to be low on the technical scale, say compared to World War II and our modern era, leaders had to worry about captured or otherwise intercepted correspondence.  While telegraph and “wig-wag” communicators often encrypted messages in cypher, to provide a level of security.  US Army signal troops used a cipher disk to facilitate such work:

And the Confederates had their own, simpler, version.  As with any encryption technique, this added time to the transmission of messages.  While fine for daily correspondence, not something a general would want to deal with on a busy battlefield.

Another problem with this disk was security of the cipher itself.  Notice the serial number in the reproduction above.  These were issued by number and tracked by number to account for each.  Not something that every signal operator received.  Only those in positions that rated having a cipher.

In the spring of 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard needed some means to correspond via encrypted messages to subordinates.  But some of his subordinates lacked access to the cipher disks, or men with cipher disks.  So Beauregard offered his own system:

Hdrs. Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,
Charleston, S. C., April 7, 1864.

Maj. Gen. Patton Anderson,
Baldwin, Fla.:
General: I inclose you herewith the following simple cipher for future use in important telegrams to these headquarters. For very important telegrams the diplomatic cipher should be used. Please inform me of its reception.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. Beauregard,
General, Commanding.

The inclosed cipher was:


Very simple.  Not being a code-breaker myself, I cannot attest to how effective this might be.  But I imagine for the intended purpose of encrypting messages sent via telegraph or courier, this would suffice.   Not far removed from the “Secret Magic Decoder Ring.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 406-7.)