Thursday, May 26, 2022

Review - "Dreams of Victory: General P.G.T. Beauregard in the Civil War" by Sean Chick

[Dreams of Victory: General P.G.T. Beauregard in the Civil War by Sean Michael Chick (Savas Beatie, 2022). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, appendix section, reading list. Pages main/total:xxii,147/191. ISBN:978-1-61121-521-2. $16.95]

A full-length, modern reassessment of the Civil War career of Confederate general Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard is long overdue. Books covering Robert E. Lee's life and military campaigns continue to be published at a steady pace, but we also have very recent studies offering in-depth examinations of the Civil War generalship of several other major Confederate field army commanders. Such a list includes Earl Hess's 2016 Braxton Bragg book, Stephen Davis's two-volume biography of John Bell Hood (2019-20), and Richard McMurry's forthcoming two-volume history of Joseph E. Johnston's Civil War (which is currently in advanced stages of development). By contrast, General Beauregard has not been the subject of a major biographical treatment in over sixty-five years. A reappraisal of the general's contributions to the Confederate war effort would also be very timely given the recent flood of high-quality scholarship documenting and analyzing the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg campaign. At several key moments (but particularly during the 1864 Bermuda Hundred Campaign and the initial defense of Petersburg itself), Beauregard proved instrumental in keeping the vital Richmond-Petersburg corridor open and firmly in Confederate hands. Some have argued that this period of Beauregard's stormy, up-and-down military career contained his finest moments as a Civil War general. Sean Michael Chick, the author of recent studies of both aforementioned series of events around Richmond and Petersburg in 1864, is certainly sympathetic to that point of view. His latest book, Dreams of Victory: General P.G.T. Beauregard in the Civil War, adopts a wider perspective that offers readers a broad introduction to, and perhaps new appreciation of, the Louisiana general's life and military service.

Though all agree that Beauregard was a gifted military engineer who, for example, did much to ensure that Charleston, SC never fell to direct attack during the war, his flaws are what stick in the minds of most. In the popular imagination, Beauregard is frequently dismissed as a vain military fantasist who placed his own ego and punctiliousness over points of honor (charges similar to those leveled against Joe Johnston) above the interests of the Confederacy. In the late 2010s, his Confederate connections and assumptions regarding his attitudes toward slavery and postwar black citizenship rights led to his New Orleans statue being removed. As expected, Chick's own tracing and analysis of Beauregard's Civil War career arc and postwar activities, with all their highs and low, is a far more nuanced one.

Perhaps the Confederate republic's greatest military hero after the successful bombardment of Fort Sumter and the victory at First Manassas, Beauregard at Shiloh crafted perhaps the worst tactical deployment of any Civil War army about to engage in a major battle. Chick's response to those who would argue that Beauregard robbed his army of victory by halting the offensive too early on April 6 is in line with the more commonly accepted view that total victory was already impossible by the time Beauregard assumed overall command upon the death of Albert Sidney Johnston. After the withdrawal from Corinth, an ailing Beauregard placed himself on medical leave without seeking prior approval from above. Chick agrees that this was a serious breach in protocol, especially given the general's very strained relations with the civilian leadership, but he also believes that the Davis administration's determination that the general had deserted his post (according to the author, Beauregard hadn't actually physically left army HQ at the time of his removal) was not an entirely fair one.

Davis himself might have been content to let the general's removal become permanent, but admirers remained and Beauregard continued to be in demand. Beauregard's return to Charleston in 1863 was a successful one and his aforementioned triumphs in Virginia in 1864 restored some of his career's lost luster. However, after the retreat from Corinth in mid-1862 he was never again seriously considered for a major field army command appointment. Chick's overview does not go into Beauregard's health problems at any depth (though that subject would have been a good fit for an appendix), but it is interesting to contemplate how differently the war in the West might have evolved had Beauregard remained in command there. According to Chick, Bragg and Beauregard were initially on good terms after the former replaced the latter, and Beauregard supported the western army's lateral move to Chattanooga after the abandonment of Corinth. Perhaps a bigger what-if involves Beauregard, instead of Johnston, replacing Bragg after Chattanooga. We'll never how how he would have fared against Sherman in North Georgia but the Atlanta Campaign might have been very different in conduct and result.

While acknowledging the general's unfortunate penchant for bombarding superiors with unsolicited strategic advice, Chick's narrative does provide some push against the common characterization of Beauregard as an irrational planner of grandiose operations devoid of realistic time, space, and logistical considerations. As just one example, Beauregard, in the capacity of western department commander, was largely responsible for bringing a degree of order to a largely destroyed theater logistical apparatus in late 1864. Under trying conditions, his efforts helped make Hood's late-1864 offensive campaign possible.

Chick fully concedes that Beauregard was an equal partner in his unseemly professional disputes with others, however his postwar employments (ex. two stints leading southern railroads) often mirrored his wartime appointments when it came to being victimized by more powerful individuals. Additionally, the general's personal reputation took a major hit through his association with the controversial Louisiana Lottery Company, though most today, including Chick, do not believe Beauregard's figurehead position extended into active participation in the corruption involved. The author also believes the general to be significantly misunderstood when it comes to matters of race. According to Chick, Beauregard, unlike most of his ex-Confederate peers, was a moderate when it came to biracial political integration during Reconstruction and beyond.

In common with all Emerging Civil War titles, the pages of Chick's study are filled with useful maps and illustrations. In this particular case, the extent of the main narrative left little room for a large appendix section. However, include in it are profiles of the general's son, Rene (who was an artillery officer during the Civil War); a historical account of the Beauregard equestrian statue erected in New Orleans (and later removed); and the text of a poetic tribute read at the general's funeral.

Sean Chick's Dreams of Victory is a very solid introduction to the life and Civil War career of General P.G.T. Beauregard. It's a thoughtful foray that successfully invites readers to rethink opinions (formed either through self-study or passively gained through the literature) on one of the war's most controversial, and perhaps most misunderstood, generals. This brisk narrative's able chronicling of Beauregard's many significant victories and defeats, both on and off the battlefield, also serves as a powerful reminder of the need for a new major biography. Recommended.


  1. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to produce such an in-depth review, Drew. Now, if I can only get Sean to produce a full treatment of PGT. -- Ted Savas

  2. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to produce such an in-depth review, Drew. Now, if I can only get Sean to produce a full treatment of PGT. He is currently finishing The Maps of Shiloh (with Brad Gottfried) and has the research for a 2 volume Shiloh battle history.


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