Thursday, May 19, 2022

Booknotes: Dreams of Victory

New Arrival:
Dreams of Victory: General P. G. T. Beauregard in the Civil War by Sean Michael Chick (Savas Beatie, 2022).

It's surprising that there hasn't been a major Beauregard biography published since T. Harry Williams's P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray (1955). The fascinating breadth of Beauregard's up and down Civil War career, his status as one of the war's most controversial high-ranking generals, and the postwar evolution of his political and racial views all offer fertile ground for a full-length, modern exploration. Perhaps a work like this one, Sean Chick's Dreams of Victory: General P. G. T. Beauregard in the Civil War, can inspire more Civil War students to rethink their beliefs and opinions when it comes to Beauregard's historical stature and significance both on and off the battlefield.

As the fifth most senior general in the Provisional Army of the CSA, Beauregard was well placed to realize his potential. His reputation soared after the successes of Sumter and Bull Run only to have it collapse just as quickly as defeat at Shiloh was compounded by Beauregard's evacuation of strategic Corinth. Though the circumstances of his removal from western army command and his persistent inability to get along with President Davis meant that he would never be entrusted with another field army command of similar stature, Beauregard made himself more than useful in defending Charleston in 1863 and the vital Petersburg-Richmond corridor in 1864. Indeed, Chick's previous books covering the early fighting at Petersburg and the Bermuda Hundred Campaign suggest that those linked operations should not only rank among Beauregard's finest moments as a commanding general but also be considered some of the war's most underappreciated feats of generalship on either side.

Though the book is primarily focused on Beauregard's military career, it does also address his personal and public life during Reconstruction and beyond. From the description: "After the war, he was a successful railroad executive and took a stand against racism, violence, and corruption during the Reconstruction. Yet, he was ousted from both railroads he oversaw and his foray into Reconstruction politics came to naught. Although he provided for his family and left them a hefty sum after his death, the money was mostly gained by working for the corrupt Louisiana Lottery."

In summary, Dreams of Victory "explores a life of contradictions and dreams unrealized—the first real hero of the Confederacy who sometimes proved to be his own worst enemy."

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