This Day in History – May 29, 1862

I’ m a lover of history. Always have been. I especially enjoy early American history–Colonial times and the Civil War era. My Civil War library is the only one that rivals my Laura Ingalls Wilder collection. I took a Civil War course in college, which allowed me to read one of the best books on the conflict, Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson. I thought it might be interesting to share some historical tidbits from this and other historical eras. We might also touch upon sports history, music history or entertainment history. I hope you’ll provide feedback on these posts, so I know if you are enjoying them.

On this day in history in 1862, P. G. T. Beauregard began moving troops out of Corinth, Mississippi. Beauregard was born in Louisiana and became a prominent general in the Civil War for the Confederate States Army.  Trained at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Beauregard served in the Mexican-American War. After the Southern states seceded, Jefferson Davis was named president of the Confederacy. Davis appointed Beauregard as a general to take command of the militia and big seacoast guns and mortars in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. Beauregard’s objective was to take control over Fort Sumter, which was running out of supplies and awaiting relief. General Beauregard demanded the surrender of the fort, but U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson refused. The Confederates opened fire on April 12, 1861. Anderson surrendered the following day and the fort was evacuated, giving the Confederates their first victory of the Civil War.

With the help of forces from General Joseph E. Johnston, General Beauregard would seize another victory in July 1861, during the First Battle of Bull Run, or as the South calls it, First Manassas. He is credited with designing the new Confederate flag to avoid confusion between the “stars and bars” and the “stars and stripes” of the United States flag.

Because Beauregard did not get along well with Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the Confederac. He was sent to Tennessee and became second in command under General Albert Sydney Johnston. By this time, the Confederate Army had witnessed defeat, and they were hoping for a victory. Much of northwestern Virginia was under Federal control and Missouri and Kentucky were Union occupied. At this point, Beauregard and Johnston were poised to attack the Union forces under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Beauregard devised a plan for a march by four different corps on converging roads to deploy for battle on April 4th. The inexperienced troops and officers were soon confused, and rain bogged down the wagons and artillery. By April 4th, none of the Confederate troops had arrived where they were supposed to be and Beauregard wanted to call off the attack. He was sure the delays meant that Grant’s troops had been reinforced by Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell.

Johnston overruled Beauregard, and though they didn’t know it, Grant wasn’t expecting an attack. It was an early patrol that found the advancing Confederates and warned a division under the command of Benjamin M. Prentiss. William Tecumseh Sherman commanded the other division that soon found itself under attack by Confederates. Johnston was mortally wounded in the battle and Beauregard assumed command. The Yankees were successful in repelling the multiple Confederate attacks, but their much smaller force under Prentiss surrendered. Fighting by the division under Prentiss allowed Grant time to post his remaining forces along the Pittsburg Landing ridge. Beauregard called off the attack for the night, which would prove to be a mistake.

Confident of victory, Beauregard sent a telegram to Richmond,  Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. What he did not know is that Grant’s reinforcements had arrived. The next morning, it was the Yankees who were attacking with surprise. The rebels were pushed back to the original point of their attack. Beauregard ordered his men to retreat to Corinth, Mississippi. On that same day, the Union army-navy team won an important battle in Mississippi. After being at war for a year, morale was low. Many southerners turned against Beauregard because of his defeat at Shiloh. Things weren’t going much better for Grant, who was temporarily relieved of command after the initial defeat at Shiloh. His superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck assumed command and slowly advanced on Beauregard.

Beauregard still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Though Corinth was considered a crucial strategic point by the Confederates, Beauregard found the water supply contaminated, and many of his men were still recovering from wounds received at Shiloh. Using the railroad to transport the sick and wounded, along with heavy artillery and supplies, Beauregard planned to fool his opponents by making them think reinforcements had arrived. The train whistle would blow and the troops would cheer, buglers and drummers played, giving Halleck the impression he was facing a much larger force than was actually in Cornith. Beauregard and his troops evacuated. When Union patrols arrived, they found the enemy gone.

Jefferson Davis was angry when he heard the news of Shiloh and Corinth. When Beauregard took an unauthorized leave of absence, he was relieved of command.  But this wasn’t the last Davis would hear of P.G. T. Beauregard.


Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1988