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.)