BAYHAM: In Defense Of General Beauregard

New Orleans’ most iconic monument is the equestrian statue of General Andrew Jackson that stands in the center of the square that bears his name.  I would argue that the city’s second most impressive monument is one that honors General P.G.T. Beauregard, located at the intersection of Esplanade and Carrollton.

Beauregard is perhaps Louisiana’s most distinguished soldier.  Born in eastern St. Bernard Parish in 1818 and educated in engineering at West Point, Beauregard would one day briefly serve as commandant of the prestigious military academy.

Like many of the generals he would serve with and against in the Civil War, Beauregard made a name for himself during the Mexican-American War.  Beauregard participated in the battles of Contreras (which would become the name of his family’s plantation) , Churubusco and the taking of the fortress at Chapultepec, the latter led to the capture of Mexico City.

Beauregard’s zenith was during the Civil War, where he commanded the bombardment and capture of Fort Sumter, led the Confederates to victory at the first Battle of Bull Run, succeeded in defending Charleston, South Carolina throughout much of the war (even against ironclad ships) and finally organizing the defense of Petersburg, Virginia near the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Before removing a statue that has stood as a landmark in New Orleans for a century this November,  city leaders should at least perform due diligence in learning about the man whose monument they seek to bowdlerize.

LSU historian T. Harry Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Huey Long though he also wrote an excellent book on Beauregard, titled Napoleon in Gray, which delved into the general’s military record in Mexico and the Civil War and his civic involvement.

I would wager that those calling for the removal of Beauregard’s monument did not know that he ran for mayor prior to the Civil War as the candidate opposed to the so-called Know Nothing Party, an anti-immigrant group with a particular dislike of Irish and Catholics.

Or that Beauregard was one of the city’s leading voices for reconciliation between blacks and whites after the Civil War and advocated for full citizenship rights, including the franchise, for former slaves.

Or that Beauregard  the brilliant engineer was responsible for stabilizing the structural settling of the US Custom House in downtown New Orleans that now houses the Audubon Insectarium and that he devised a mechanism for helping ships to cross the mud lumps that created difficulties for access the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In his post-war career, Beauregard also developed a cable-powered street car and served as an executive with local railway companies.

Beauregard was a true renaissance man and one of New Orleans’ most distinguished citizens. He was more than a Confederate officer and it would be just as ridiculous to look at George Washington and Andrew Jackson as slave owners first and critical shapers of our nation second.

While the preservation of monuments to CSA President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee in New Orleans are a “lost cause”, hopefully Beauregard’s handsome memorial should be permitted to remain at the entrance to City Park.

Beauregard harbored such a strong dislike of his one-time commander-in-chief that when Davis passed away in New Orleans in 1889 and was temporarily interred in Metairie Cemetery (where his original headstone remains), the creole general refused to attend claiming his participation in the ceremony would be an act of hypocrisy, so nothing would please Beauregard more than seeing his nemesis’ monument hauled away.

But if General Beauregard must go, consider sending him “home” to the place of his birth rather than a museum that lacks to space to hold the monument and has had to wage legal battles to remain open.

One Final Note

While toppling century old Confederate monuments that were erected through the donations of now deceased citizens has become politically fashionable this week, politicians in New Orleans should also be cognizant that those statues were refurbished not long ago thanks to the late Patrick Taylor.

Mr. Taylor had used his wealth and political influence to create educational opportunities for underprivileged children in New Orleans and across Louisiana.  The late oil man was a student of history and personally underwrote the maintenance of historic monuments across the city.

The immediate urge to remove these monuments is a slap at Mr. Taylor, who is doubtlessly turning in his grave, and is an insult to the legacy to the man who was the John McDonough of the 20th century, for the man who paid to maintain these milestones of our past also paved the way for thousands of poor kids to go to college.



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