Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Mrs. Beauregard, Beast Butler, and Mr. Commissary Banks

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on April 24, 2017

Over at Civil War Talk, John Hartwell tells us of Marguerite Caroline Deslonde Beauregard (right), wife of the Confederate general, Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard. Marguerite and G. T. (as he styled himself as an adult) married in 1860. Beauregard had been a widower for ten years at that point, and by all accounts the newlyweds were completely devoted to each other.

When the war came, Beauregard almost immediately found himself at the center of military operations, serving as one of the principal Confederate commanders at First Manassas, the first major battle of the conflict. Marguerite went to live at the estate of her brother-in-law, John Slidell, the Confederate minister to France. In 1862 Marguerite became seriously ill, and her friends petitioned the Federal commander in occupied New Orleans, Benjamin Butler, for permission to travel outside Union lines to South Carolina, to take the news to Beauregard, now commanding the defenses at Charleston. Butler sent them on to Beauregard not only with a pass through the lines, but granting permission for Beauregard himself to return to be at his wife’s side:

Headquarters, Dept. of the Gulf, New Orleans, December 5th 1862​

General G. Beauregard

General: this note will be handed you by your relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Proctor, who go to meet you under a pass from me. They will inform you of the dangerous and, it is feared, soon to be fatal illness of your wife. You have every sympathy with your affliction.

If you wish to visit Mrs. Beauregard, this will be a safeguard, pass, and protection to come to New Orleans and return. All officers and soldiers of the United States will respect this pass. I have the honor to be

Your obt. Servant
Benj. F. Butler, Maj Gen Commdg

The Proctors traveled to South Carolina with the news, but also brought with them a note from Marguerite, in which she told him not to come if his duty required him to stay: “the country comes before.” The general did not come, remaining to handle the defenses of Charleston, which was by that time perhaps behind only Richmond and Vicksburg in its strategic importance to the Confederacy. Marguerite lingered for more than a year, and died in New Orleans in March 1864. It was said that 6,000 people attended her funeral. She and G. T. were never reunited.

It’s a sad story, one that was probably repeated thousands of times, North and South, during the conflict. After her death, Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, who had succeeded Butler, arranged for a steamer and a military escort to return her remains to her native St. John the Baptist Parish, where she was interred in the St. John Catholic Cemetery in Edgard. Later a marble slab (now lost) was reportedly placed over her grave with the epitaph, “the country comes before.”

There is a marker there at the cemetery, sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that tells Marguerite’s story. It omits both Butler’s invitation for Beauregard to pass through Federal lines to be at Marguerite’s side, and Bank’s provision of military transport and escort to her interment.

Why these particular anecdotes are left out of her story, I cannot say — perhaps the UDC researchers didn’t know about them, or left them off for the sake of space. Neither “Beast” Butler nor General Banks were terribly popular figures in Louisiana, and it’s by no means certain that they were left off the marker by simple happenstance. But whether the omission was deliberate or not, this is a great example of how markers and monuments aren’t, themselves, “history” — they represent a particular point of view, and reflect decisions made by those who created them, about what to include and what not to, to present the story they want to tell about the subject. In short, they don’t reflect historical events so much as they reflect historical events as the monument’s sponsor wants them to be remembered.

That’s worth keeping in mind, next time you hear some nonsense about removing Confederate iconography as “erasing” history, or some such foolishness. The history remains, and quite possibly wasn’t being told fully to start with.


Images via Find-a-Grave.

9 Responses

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  1. Robert Nelson said, on April 24, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Great story. I’ll bet there are many more similar stories that never made it into the history books. Thanks for sharing.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 24, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      There are ALWAYS more stories that never make it into the history books.

  2. Neil Hamilton said, on April 25, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Great story, Andy, with an important lesson for us all. Thanks for taking the time to post it.


  3. woodrowfan said, on April 26, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    that’s a sweet story…

  4. dmf said, on April 28, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Politicians who are for destroying the statues, monuments and other artifacts of history are just like ISIS.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 28, 2017 at 11:25 am

      They’ve been pounding that “just like ISIS” rhetoric for a while now. That’s what they said about the Jeff Davis statue at UT Austin, which is now on exhibit in a museum on campus. I wonder if we’ll get a retraction on that one.

      • dmf said, on April 28, 2017 at 11:32 am

        time will tell I suppose, about the same chances perhaps that Rhetoric classes will start to reflect the mindbending realities of such maneuvers…

  5. OhioGuy said, on April 28, 2017 at 11:35 am

    I don’t believe they are destroying them, but rather relocating them to venues where they can be seen in more appropriate historical context. Also, if they did destroy them it would be less like ISIS and more like Russians in St. Petersburg tearing down a statute of Stalin when the USSR dissolved. To some these Confederate monuments are daily reminders of an era of repression. They’d rather embrace the New South not the Old South.

  6. seanscivilwar said, on April 1, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    I stumbled upon this post while writing a short biography of Beauregard. I am very impressed by Butler’s actions towards Caroline. It is keeping with his character, as evidenced by his good treatment of Mumford’s widow.

    The UDC chose to emphasize the relationship between Pierre and Caroline, with the back drop of the Confederate cause. This is central to the story of this doomed marriage. Butler and Banks are not nearly as central. Indeed, if there was space for that it would read like Just Cause propaganda.

    As to history being erased, there are two points worth considering. One is that monuments are being taken down often with no plan of action for what comes next. Mitch Landrieu, my mayor, has floated a few ideas but he is generally uninterested, and focused more on a doomed bid for the presidency that may gain him a minor cabinet post. Furthermore, the desire to place them in “proper context” is trading one biased interpretation for another. I will grant the Just Cause (my term of Union war memory) is more correct than the Lost Cause, but has its share of major faults, errors, and blind-spots in particular. 10 or even 5 years ago I would have felt the context would be fair, but in our bitter and polarized age I do not trust either side of this debate to be honest about the complexity of each individual. I certainly would not want to look at a Beauregard statue that does not mention his work in rebuilding New Orleans after the war, nor a statue of John Reagan that fails to mention he was a pioneer in the very business regulation that the left (including myself) believe is necessary for a functioning society. On that note, if anyone can tell me how Reagan’s statue in Austin is going to be interpreted, I will be very interested to know. If it is not merely a radical hatchet job, then it will be good news in gloomy times.

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