by Andy Mateja

While most readers are familiar with the results of the Epic first major battle of the Civil War, the plan of the principal Confederate field commander General PGT Beauregard is little known to many.

After the fall of Ft Sumter in April 1861, several of the leaders of the newly formed Confederacy wanted to quickly defeat their Union antagonists by immediately capturing the symbol of National Authority…. The Federal capitol in Washington.

New elected Confederate President Jefferson Davis, with his military experience during the Mexican War and Beauregard himself, the victor of Ft Sumter were favored to be the one to make this happen. Meeting with each other in late May along with Robt E. Lee, the commander of the Virginia State forces at this time, they discussed this objective in detail. Lee advised against immediately attacking Washington and suggested instead to battle the Union forces at Manassas because of its strategic importance to the Washington area and its direct link to the Shenandoah Valley. Davis at first wanted to command the Confederate forces himself but realized that as President of the new Confederacy, this was impractical and not going to happen

Beauregard, on the other hand, did not want to attack. He felt his force was too small and believed needed reinforcements even though at the same time he continued planning to capture Washington. Davis’ idea, with Lee’s help,  wanted to defend northern Virginia  by uniting Beauregard and Gen Joseph E  Johnston by  rail in the Shenandoah Valley along with concentrating other smaller elements of the Confederate forces eastern Virginia by rail as well. Beauregard disagreed and suggested Johnston was probably going to be attacked and Johnston should instead reinforce HIM so they both can recapture Alexandria Virginia just across the river from Washington.

Davis then questioned why the Confederate army should abandon Johnston’s position in the valley without a fight. Davis also was concerned and did not want a large Union army in their rear after Beauregard captured Alexandria that may cut off supplies to his OWN army.

Beauregard was eager to have his grandiose plan approved…. Davis however was not. He handled Beauregard’s disappointment with kid gloves.  Beauregard had also found out that Union Brig Gen Irvin McDowell was planning to move against him with 40,000 troops. He begged for reinforcement and used a Confederate congressman to deliver his plea to Davis. Beauregard had hoped to get the enemy to attack him so as to be on the defensive and less likely to lose the battle.

Even though he was quite nervous, Beauregard still hatched yet another plan to attack Washington. He suggested he and Johnston still unite and first defeat McDowell, then move into the Shenandoah Valley and defeat the Union forces there, onward into western Virginia defeat the enemy there then onward into Maryland and attack Washington from the rear.  In reality, he did not have enough men or enough experienced officers to make this new plan work…

Beauregard tried a different approach on July 14th and sent another emissary to Davis who recommended they include Robt E Lee and Gen Sam Cooper in the discussion. Beauregard’s now proposed Johnston would attack Washington from the North while he attacked from the South.                No consideration was even addressed as to what the Union troops would do when Johnston left the Shenandoah Valley to attack Washington. Prudently, both Davis & Lee rejected his latest proposal.

One week later The First Battle of Bull Run was fought just 30 miles outside of Washington. After finding out on July 17th that McDowell was advancing to do battle, Beauregard again called for the same reinforcements he had requested a month earlier. It was reasoned that if the reinforcements arrived too late, Beauregard would be overwhelmed…. and if they arrived too early, the Union forces might capture the flanks as Davis and Lee had originally feared. Fortunately the reinforcements arrived in time and had a positive impact on the outcome of the battle. Nevertheless Beauregard still believed they arrived too late

Jefferson Davis wanted to arrive during the battle to lend assistance himself if required, but actually arrived near the end of the fighting.  Many of the Confederate leaders on the field at this time felt that Washington was ripe for the taking. But confused orders prevented a coordinated effort to actively pursue the fleeing enemy and advance all the way to the White House. Also it appeared to some that Beauregard was losing his nerve. He halted the vigorous pursuit when he had believed an erroneous report that the Union troops had broken his line on another part of the battlefield. When Davis arrived on the scene, one Confederate brigade commander loudly called out to President to give him 5000 men to finish the job and capture Washington. That officer’s name was Thomas J Jackson ….earning on that day the immortal nickname “Stonewall”.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, Davis did not have any fresh troops to spare which if he did, may have ended the war.  He followed his pursuing troops for some time in the dark and then turned back to send a victory dispatch to his own War Department. When he subsequently learned of Beauregard’s false claim of a Union breakthrough, Davis became visibly angry and was incensed that the pursuit of the routed enemy could not be renewed. Beauregard’s and Johnston’s troops, fighting all day in the extreme heat, were already spent and Davis’ presence added to the confusion on the battlefield. No one was really sure WHO was in command…Beauregard, Johnston or President Davis himself. Perhaps Davis should have remained in Richmond to manage the supportive efforts from there.

Beauregard’s chief of staff took the initiative to draft up an order and ask Davis to sign it, authorizing the continuation of the pursuit of the defeated Yankees. While Davis was willing to do so, doubt began to also creep in his mind about the reliability of the reports regarding Federal troop demoralization. It appeared no one with command authority wanted to accept the blame if the post battle efforts caused the loss of a heretofore clear cut victory for the Confederates.

Why victory wasn’t pursued in the Federal disarray and why Washington was not captured that night is an age log mystery that has never been completely explained. As it turned out, Jefferson Davis was blamed by most of the critics, including Beauregard himself. This was of course in addition to Davis being accused of not supporting Beauregard’s efforts at Bull Run by not supplying adequate supplies, munitions and reinforcements. The seeds of discontent were now sewn between Jefferson Davis and P.G.T Beauregard which were to have negative effects during critical periods in the final years of the war.

The Confederate dream of capturing Washington and a quick victory were now squandered away forever……………

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