He was Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the Confederate States of America’s first mega hero, and early Wednesday morning a statue of him astride his horse was removed from its pedestal in New Orleans under the watchful eye of mounted police and police snipers.
Before Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, the South had P.G.T. Beauregard. He was handsome, and dashing, with carefully slicked hair, a neat moustache and chin whiskers. As he got older, it was said, he dyed his hair. Raised in the slave-owning Louisiana aristocracy, he had grown up speaking French on a sugar plantation in St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans.
“He was chivalric and arrogant in the best Southern tradition,” biographer T. Harry Williams wrote. “A vague air of romance, reminiscent of older civilization, trailed after him wherever he went. When he spoke and when he acted, people thought of Paris and Napoleon and Austerlitz and French legions…bursting onto the plains of Italy.”
Beauregard attended a French school in New York founded by two men who had served with Napoleon, then went to West Point. He fought in the Mexican War with West Point classmates Lee and future Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and had been appointed superintendent at West Point when the war broke out.
He threw in with the cause of the Confederacy, and was sent to command in Charleston, S.C., where he besieged and attacked Fort Sumter, starting the war.
He was an instant Southern hero — 43 years old and glamorous in his tightly buttoned uniform with its embroidered collar and sleeves. A special march was later composed for him, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, and he was welcomed by large crowds when he was summoned to Richmond.
On July 21, 1861, at the chaotic Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run as it was known in the North, his southern forces were victorious. But there was confusion on the battlefield because some northern soldiers wore gray uniforms and some rebel forces wore blue — the reverse of the eventual uniform colors of blue and gray. And, crucially, some officers mistook the red, white and blue American flag for the red, white and blue “Stars and Bars” Confederate flag.
After the battle, Beauregard lobbied for a more distinctive Confederate ensign to avoid further battlefield confusion. The result was the red banner with the blue St. Andrew’s Cross that most people recognize today as the Confederate flag.
Beauregard’s record later in the war was mixed. He bickered with superiors, especially Confederate President Davis, and was moved among several different commands.
That feud with Davis continued for years, and in 1889 when Beauregard was asked to lead the cortege at Davis’s funeral, he refused.
After the war, Beauregard advocated a benevolent reconstruction that included African Americans. He prospered and soon became “a forgotten man in the Southern tradition,” Williams, the historian, wrote.
“When the Southern people made their bitter myths, they constructed them of sacrifice and poverty and frustration,” he wrote. “The Southern hero was the reticent and reserved Lee…or the grim Jackson…In the Confederate legend there was small room for the prosperous Creole” from Louisiana.
The New Orleans statue, unveiled in 1915 — fifty years after the war — depicted Beauregard on horseback, as he might have been on the hills at Manassas. But late last year, the city council voted to remove monuments to Beauregard, and other Confederate figures.
“The statues…were erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the ‘Cult of the Lost Cause,’ a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy,” the city said in a statement Wednesday
Mayor Mitch Landrieu added: “Today we take another step in defining our City not by our past but by our bright future. While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans.”
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