The dashing Creole, General P.G.T. Beauregard, became one of the Confederacy’s most colorful military men, capturing hearts and attention with his early capture of Ft. Sumter and victory, with Joseph E. Johnston, at the first Battle of Bull Run. The “Encyclopedia of World Biography” characterizes Beauregard as a man of contrasts and a competent but not great military leader. That competence has been roundly criticized as a result of Beauregard’s tactics during the Battle of Shiloh.
The Bloodiest Battle
Fought over two days in April, 1863, Shiloh left more than 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing, shockingly high numbers for both sides, according to John Whiteclay Chambers II in “The Oxford Companion to American Military History.” The Confederate commander, General Albert S. Johnston, was mortally wounded on the first day, and Beauregard took command. He called off the advance that night, one reason for his excoriation. Chambers argues that Beauregard’s decision did not turn victory into defeat, because Union reinforcements and artillery were already arriving, noting that Ulysses S. Grant’s position was “never seriously threatened.” Nonetheless, Beauregard miscalculated the direction that some Union forces withdrew, and his complex battle plan led to confusion and miscommunication that may have contributed to Confederate losses. Historian Timothy B. Smith denies the common assertion that the South would have won the battle under Johnston, blaming instead difficult terrain, troop exhaustion and overwhelming numbers.