Book Review: Dreams of Victory: General P. G. T. Beauregard in the Civil War


by Sean Michael Chick

El Dorado HIlls: Savas Beatie, 2022. Pp. xii, 224. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio, index. $27.95 paper. ISBN: 1611215218

"The Napoleon in Gray"

Sean Michael Chick’s new biography of the important, but controversial, Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard concentrates on the man in the Civil War. Unlike Robert E. Lee, he has not been the subject of a major biographical treatment in over 65 years. As a Roman Catholic Creole, he was unique among the Confederacy's predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant officer corps. Born into the Creole elite of Louisiana, Beauregard rejected the life of a planter in favor of military service, inspired by tales of Napoléon. He commanded Confederate troops both in the Eastern and Western Theaters, helping fire the “First Shot” at Fort Sumter, commanding at First Bull Run / Manassas, Shiloh, Corinth, the defense of Charleston Harbor, the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, the initial defense of Petersburg, and operations to delay Sherman’s March in the closing months of the war. Historians generally have portrayed Beauregard as militarily successful, however many are often critical of his impractical view of war, his pompous declarations, his complex battle tactics, and his failure to work well with other generals and Jefferson Davis, his commander-in-chief.

The book considers Beauregard’s personality as the key to his military career and his difficulty in getting along with his superiors. To better understand the man, Chick delves into his family life and his views of Southern culture. This helps humanize the general and turns him into a real person, with praiseworthy abilities as well as disconcerting faults. Chick details Beauregard’s private and military education, his experiences during the Mexican War, and, of course, his role during the Civil War, in which his reputation underwent many ups and downs, including his complaints about lack of opportunity and his dedication to his soldiers.

Chick includes many episodes that enable the reader to take the measure of Beauregard as a commander. For example, towards the middle of the book, he tells an oft-recounted story of the general’s disastrous measures that contributed to the loss of the Battle of Shiloh after he took command on the death of A.S. Johnston, and how the impression this made on Davis, Lee, and other generals, and had on Confederate efforts to control the Western Theater.

Dreams of Victory also covers Beauregard’s post-war years, including his dealings with the Radical Republicans over their goals for the freedmen, and his interest in promoting a conservative society through the biracial Louisiana Unification Movement. Beauregard was a successful railroad executive during the Gilded Age, but suffered losses, because, Chick argues, while not himself corrupt, his reputation suffered by association with the very corrupt Louisiana Lottery. However, Beauregard left an estate worth some $4 million in today’s money, and readers will have to decide if Chick has successfully repaired the damage to the general’s reputation.

There is much that is interesting in this book, particularly, when Chick argues that Beauregard strongly wanted the Confederacy to resort to a defensive strategy in order use the South’s inferior manpower resources to better advantage, in contrast with Jefferson Davis’s attempt to defend the entirety of secessionist territory.

Chick does a good job of portraying the general as the first real hero of the Confederacy, who at times proved his own worst enemy.

This new volume in the Savas Beatie series “Emerging Civil War”, Dreams of Victory is highly recommended.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Voices of the Army of the Potomac, The Record of Murders and Outrages, Gettysburg 1963, No Common Ground, Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers, Stephen A. Swails, The Great ‘What Ifs’ of the American Civil War Chained to History, Grant vs. Lee: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War, Spectacle of Grief, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, First Fallen: The Life of Colonel Ellsworth, Their Maryland, The Lion of Round Top, Rites of Retaliation, Animal Histories of the Civil War Era, and Benjamin Franklin Butler.



Note: Dreams of Victory is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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