Right between where Esplanade Avenue ends and City Park begins, it looms. A stunning statue of a soldier on horseback: the horse with neck bowed, front foreleg cocked; the soldier with right hand on hip, left hand on reins, holstered pistols on both sides of the horn. The eyes gleam, but their stare is down and to the right. Who knows what they're seeing.
He was born in 1818 on the family sugar plantation in St. Bernard. His baptismal name was a formidable one: Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard, and chances are, he did not speak English until he was 12. When he was 10, he had gone to St. Louis Cathedral for his first communion and bolted out of the procession when he heard the roll of passing drums.
At 11, he was sent to New York for a school taught by ex-Bonapartists. Unsurprisingly, he became a Napoleonic fan and pestered his father to get him into West Point.
He rode well and got high marks at the academy, though he was withdrawn and reserved. After graduation, he was assigned to help with the construction of forts near the mouth of the Mississippi River. There he became enraged with another lieutenant, and they agreed to meet in a duel; a sheriff arrested them both before damage could be done.
The Mexican War provided his first large stage, and he made the most of it. He became an aide to commanding Gen. Winfield Scott and played important roles in planning victories at Contreras and Vera Cruz. Typically, he later felt slighted when bouquets were being tossed. At Chapultepec, he grabbed up a rifle and, under heavy fire, shouted to his men the words of Caesar: 'Where are you going to, you are mistaken, the enemy is here and not there."
After the war, his assignments included a long stint supervising the construction of the New Orleans Customhouse. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1858, and just before the Civil War broke out, he was named superintendent of the West Bank.
Instead, he commanded the Rebel forces who captured Fort Sumter to open hostilities. At First Manassas, he had a horse shot out from under him but led the Confederates to a huge victory. He became a rock star, with songs, babies, racehorses, steamboats and female garments named for him. One editor named him 'Felix," favored by gods.
Then came Shiloh, bloody and indecisive, and a subsequent evacuation of Corinth. He began a feud with Jefferson Davis and subsequent commands lessened in import, though he served credibly at Charleston and Petersburg.
His particular cocktail of vanity and stubbornness was a bitter draught for many of his peers and more of his superiors. He was 5-feet-7, postured with European gravity, and a well-robed 150 pounds. His entourage included a barber whose main job was said to be dyeing his boss' hair. That hair turned from dark to white in the war's second year, reportedly because of a shortage of dye.
He was a fine conceptual tactician, but his inflexibility was dangerous. He quarreled with the likes of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg and Albert Sidney Johnson during the war. After the war, when Confederate generals were hurriedly writing memoirs explaining why other Confederate generals had lost this battle or that war, many of the feuds continued. Beauregard loved to write letters.
Most of his post-war income came as supervisor of the drawings of the Louisiana Lottery. He appointed another Confederate general, Jubal Early, as adjutant and together they supervised blindfolded orphans turning wheels till the lucky numbers tumbled out. He told people he was performing a public service.
For the most part, Beauregard's later years were as good as later years can be. He changed residences 10 times after the war, ending at one at 1631 Esplanade Ave. People pointed him out to their children, and he was a bright-burning social light, belonging to everything from the French Opera House to the Louisiana Jockey Club.
But if his cultural connections were conservative (Southern Historical Society, L'Athénée Louisianais), his economics were decidedly New South. He became head of the Louisiana Immigration and Homestead Company, which advocated large landowners breaking up their holdings and selling them in parcels to immigrants. He himself acquired property in California, Illinois and Missouri.
Yet his old age was not without pain. A devout patriarch, he was staggered by the untimely deaths of a daughter and granddaughter, and clung to another granddaughter. 'I don't want to part with her, until death do us part," he said.
Much of his final week in February 1893 was spent in delirium. He would order his sons to mass the divisions. 'We will rout the enemy tomorrow," he would cry.
He died in his sleep and was waked at City Hall. He was buried in the tomb of the Army of Tennessee in Metairie Cemetery. On top of the tomb was the equestrian statue of his old rival Albert Sidney Johnson, looking down as usual.
His own statue would come. I never pass without looking up at it.