May 092016
The Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard statue is located on Esplanade Avenue near the entrance of New Orleans City Park (Photo courtesy of James/Flickr).

The Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard statue is located on Esplanade Avenue near the entrance of New Orleans City Park (Photo courtesy of James/Flickr).

Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

I’m not sure that you could ever find two political figures more disparate than Mayor Mitch “Sinkhole” Landrieu and Pierre T. G. Beauregard.

This is not to say that there aren’t similarities. Beauregard, like Landrieu, was born into a wealthy and influential family. However, unlike Landrieu, Beauregard soon established himself independently of his family name.

After graduating second in his class as West Point, Beauregard served as an army engineer and later as a brevet captain in the Mexican War. After returning from the war, for a period of roughly twelve years, Beauregard was put in charge of the army engineering department of “the Mississippi and Lake defenses in Louisiana.” He was subsequently appointed as superintending engineer of the U.S. Customs House in New Orleans, which, despite its recent construction, was rapidly sinking on one side. Perhaps the only reason the building still stands today is due to Beauregard’s dedication and expertise.

Thus, it would be appropriate to say that proper engineering was a particular concern of Beauregard. He was as much a builder as he was a soldier.

After the Civil War broke out, General Beauregard entered the service of Louisiana, his native state. He initially served as the first Confederate general officer, and after Appomattox, he took an oath of loyalty to the Union and received a full pardon in 1868. His right to run for public office was restored by act of Congress in 1876.

After the war, Beauregard quickly became involved in politics. He initially joined the Reform Party, which supported civil rights (including voting rights) for freed slaves in an attempt to form an electoral coalition to rival the Republican reconstruction government. Later, Beauregard joined the Young Men’s Democratic League, a party that sought to challenge the dominance of the Republican Democratic Organization, a corrupt, white supremacist political machine also known as the “ring.”

Beauregard’s Democratic League focused on clean government and providing effective, essential services. In its 1888 platform, it called for ensuring “the best of levee and drainage facilities, to save the city from the overflows which made lakes of lands in the rear of the city, and brought desolation to the residents of those sections.”

Accordingly, it came as little surprise that the Democratic League named Beauregard as its candidate for Commissioner of Public Works, then an elected position. Beauregard, as a former army engineer with a widespread reputation for being an honest, reform-minded citizen, handily won the election.

Alas, Beauregard’s hopes of reform and good governance were quickly shattered. As Beauregard biographer T. Harry Williams wrote in his seminal biography, “Napoleon in Gray,” Beauregard came in as an expert in “[d]rainage and sanitation” who “believed he could really make a contribution to the well being of his town.” Alas, “the public works department was viewed by the politicians as a patronage haven.” When Beauregard attempted to substitute the worst hacks with competent professionals, he was rebuffed by the City Council.

Dejected and beset by ill-health, Beauregard resigned his position as Commissioner of Public Works after only three years in 1891. He died a mere two years later.

Beauregard was an honest man and a good public official who sought to expand and preserve public infrastructure. By contrast, Mayor “Sinkhole” would prefer to play politics with taxpayer dollars to the exclusion of maintaining public works.

We’ve seen the results of Landrieu’s indifference in recent weeks. Despite record revenues, including a budget surplus from this past year, the city pleads poverty whenever a catastrophic failure occurs. It is no exaggeration to say that sinkholes are developing left and right. The legendary chasm on Canal Street is only the latest iteration. The city is well aware of various compromised water and drainage lines and their role in collapsing streets, but it continues to sit on its hands.

And in the midst of all of this, Landrieu has had the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to successfully push forward an ordinance authorizing the removal of Beauregard’s equestrian statue near City Park on the pretense that his service in the Confederacy renders him unworthy of being memorialized. It’s as though Landrieu’s political capital is worth so little that dishonoring a dedicated former public official such as Beauregard is more important than the rebuilding the infrastructure he facilitated.

Under this administration, our priorities have gone awry. Petty political nonsense has supplanted basic needs, and we are paying the price for that. This is exactly why Beauregard resigned in disgust as head of public works, and it is exactly the reason why our public infrastructure remains in such disarray today.

There’s a definitely difference between Landrieu and Beauregard. It’s the difference between a well-paved road and a gaping sinkhole. Aside from an empty pedestal outside of City Park, the latter will be Landrieu’s sole legacy.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  54 Responses to “Owen Courreges: No surprise Mayor Landrieu wants to remove statue of Beauregard, a civil engineer”

  1. Another great job Owen. Robert E Lee was an West Point engineer as well. He saved the City of St Louis from destruction by constructing a proper levee and drainage system there. It is amazing that someone bereft of leadership ability, with wrong priorities, and little common sense like Mitch Landrieu would have the nerve to tear down monuments to men that were better than him in every way that matters.

    • Let us be mindful that both of these illistrious leaders were fully pardoned bu the US government for having once been loyal to their Southern roots.

  2. Nice piece Owen. Always remember, Democrats cannot stand their party’s slave history, so every effort across our Nation is being employed to change, dismantle or bury the historical roots of the Democrat Party.

  3. Well, Back then they respected and chose leaders who had actually accomplished things more noble than pandering and nepotism.

  4. Just for conversations sake, if his major contribution was as an illustrious engineer why is he depicted in Confederate uniform?

    • Jimmy,

      He was a military engineer, his highest rank was achieved while serving in the Confederate military, and the memorial was planned and funded by Louisiana veterans. Also, being a Civil War general is a momentous thing — as I described in my initial column on this subject:

      “Few people today recognize just how devastating the Civil War was, especially for the South. The war resulted in over 750,000 deaths. The South lost roughly a quarter of its male population of military age — 4 percent of its total population. It constitutes the largest mortality event in American history.

      Set against this backdrop, it comes as little surprise that memorials were built throughout the population centers of the South to commemorate the military and political leaders of the Confederacy and the soldiers who served under them. Though the war was lost, the memories remained.”

  5. Beauregard’s statue does not honor his post war accomplishments. He is clad in full CSA uniform as a traitor riding against the country. History is written by the victors and should not be rewritten by the losers.

    • NolaArt,

      I would argue that Beauregard’s statue celebrates all of his accomplishments. It’s a memorial for the man, and also for the men who fought and died under his command. Furthermore, I still contend that it is simplistic and crass to tar everyone who fought for the south as a “traitor.” It completely disregards the dynamic of state loyalty that pervaded our country prior to the Civil War, as though present values existed back then as well. In any event, all southern leaders received pardons and none were tried for treason or any other related offense.

      • Owen. I believe if you research the founders of the White League that placed all four of these monuments they in fact cared very little for Beauregard in any way except for his CSA uniform. He was initially on the Lee monument committee with these individuals, then removed himself and did not even attend the dedication. And yes, times were different, as was the status quo, but Beauregard stood out for his defense of the common rights of all men.

        • boathead12,

          You’re incorrect about this. The White League wasn’t founded by the same people; the White League actually originated in Grant Parish in Northern Louisiana.

          The people who initially spearheaded the Beauregard Monument Association were 19 friends of P.T.G. Beauregard. Later, a 50 person executive committee was formed, which included current and former governors, supreme court justices (both state and federal), federal judges, mayors, senators, etc., etc.. Although virtually all were Democrats and some were probably members of the White League at some point or another, I see no evidence that most of them were, nor do I see proof that the entire endeavor was somehow manufactured by the White League.

          Perhaps the most prominent member of the committee was Edward Douglas White, then the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who wrote the majority opinion in Guinn v. United States (striking grandfather clauses to literacy tests, which were designed to prevent blacks from voting) in the same year the Beauregard Monument was dedicated.

          Considering this background, I don’t think that you have your facts straight on this.

    • I do wish that you supporters of the removal would drop your “traitor” argument. First, because pardons were issued. Second because there are other more relevant reasons to argue for the removal. Finally, I am offended (there’s that word) by the labeling of my ancestors as traitors, and my initial reaction is to oppose you when in fact I am largely in agreement.

  6. Its too bad the statue depicts him as a confederate officer and not an engineer building levees, same for Lee. Stop making excuses for the stupid statues, maybe they could fill the sink holes.

    • NOLAFUT,

      Beauregard was a Westpoint-trained military engineer who reached his highest rank under the CSA. The construction of the monument was wholly organized and primarily funded by Louisiana Civil War veterans. Obviously, under those circumstances any memorial to him would depict him in his Confederate officer’s uniform.

      The fact remains, however, that it is a memorial to the man, and when considering the man you need to take into account the entire historical record, not a snap judgment that could just as easily be scrawled on a cocktail napkin. That’s precisely the type of historical reductionism that I’ve been decrying. It strikes me as proceeding from a respect for ignorance, not a good faith review of historic fact placed in its own context.

      • I am not being reductionist by pointing out that the statue is of a Confederate General, that is merely a fact. I am not judging the guy at all, I’m judging your opinion, as I derived it from the article, that the man’s accomplishments as an engineer outweigh the offensiveness of the statue which honors his service in the CSA during the Civil War. The part about putting the statue in the sink hole was a joke. The more I think about it though what better way to honor the General’s engineering background than to let him shore up our city’s grandest thoroughfare.

        • NOLAFUT,

          I don’t see how Gen. Beauregard’s statue is “offensive” when considering the fullness of the historical record, without indulging historical presentism (i.e., imposing modern values onto historical events without regard for the actual context). And even then, there’s much to admire about Beauregard outside of his military record in the CSA that should also be considered, particularly when we’re dealing with an effort spearheaded by a hack like Landrieu.

  7. NolaArt,

    I disagree. You shouldn’t be judging historic events by modern standards, and you shouldn’t reduce the Civil War to a matter of patriots and traitors. It’s a simplistic, Manichean way of interpreting a rich and complex history. When you consider the whole record, there is nothing offensive about memorials to southern military leaders from the Civil War.

    • We deal with changing mores and sensibilities constantly. Of course there are many shades of gray, (at least 50, I understand) but the fact of the matter is that the south lost the war. After the Nazi’s in Germany lost the war their citizens do not continue to fly the swastika flag. One of the major reasons for the Civil War was slavery, state sanctioned bondage of African-Americans. We have come a long way through the Jim Crow laws, separate-but-equal, the struggle for racial equality, etc. but you don’t see any “White Only” signs left up for historical sake. Why? Because that would be offensive to the sensibilities of today’s collective morality. Seen in that light, the public display of the statues memorializing Confederate Generals and Politicians are offensive.

    • Obviously, that’s a matter of opinion.

  8. Jimmy,

    I think the erection of these monuments were backed by the majority of the population, and in any event, a man like Beauregard was widely respected both for his military leadership and for his civic engagement (which is why they had him do the lottery drawings). Obviously his biggest claim to fame was his military leadership, and Louisiana Civil War veterans wanted to memorialize him that way. Either way, he certainly earned a memorial and we shouldn’t be tearing down monuments based on changing mores with each successive generation.

    • Owen, I don’t think the erection of the monument was backed by the majority of the population and he is being glorified for his role in the Civil War. I really don’t care who the Louisiana Civil War veterans want to honor but believe it should not be on public land. And I don’t believe he earned a memorial, perhaps he earned some recognition for other deeds in spite of his role in the lost cause, but never a monument in military uniform.

  9. NolaArt,

    Who knows what party, if any, Lincoln would identify with? The political issues of the day were almost entirely different. I do know that the GOP evolved out of the Whig Party, which was generally pro-business, whereas the Democratic Party has traditionally appealed more to labor interests.

  10. Charles,

    With respect to the RDO, that was a typo/spellcheck error. With respect to the Young Men’s Democratic League, I’ve seen their name put in many different ways — Club, League, Association, etc. There doesn’t seem to be consistency on that point.

    I’m aware of the rest, but I’m not sure how it’s relevant to this.

    • Owen, Thanks for the response….. I was hoping that since this is digital, Uptown Messenger would correct the typo on the Regular Democratic Organization reference and their involvement with the Ring. It should only take a minute….. I have researched and written on PGT for an International source, and not found anything connecting him to the YMDC or YMDA. I would think they were more like today’s Young Democrats or Young Republicans and not the place for a 65+ year old man. They would have helped him campaign, but the 7th Ward NOLA chapter I found was not started until 1894, after his death. …The other remarks were my comments on part of the discussion you are having with Boathead12 on the role of the White League and Reformers in erecting the monuments in 1891. My research showed they were heavily involved. In fact they are mentioned in the recent lawsuit in the Appeals Court. 2:15-cv-06905-CJB-DEK Quoting: “At this time, the White League was so powerful that it had a member on the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1891 veterans of the White League Liberty Place battle openly lynched eleven Sicilian men and used the lynching as a way to raise money to build the monument.” Two sources to support this statement. But my main thought is just to ask someone to fix the typo in the on-line story. Thanks, Charles

  11. By that definition all of the Signers of the Declaration are traitors. You flying a Union Jack at your house?

    • I am an American, flying an American Flag, not the Confederate flag. Obviously the US Constitution was not yet written when the Declaration of Independence was signed. And yes, the signers were considered traitors to the crown. However, they won their independence and formed a new nation. If they had lost, history would be different.

      • So treason is a Schrodinger’s cat exercise? If you can get away with it, it isn’t treason?

  12. He is no hero to me and I am not an ignorant savage. Moving a statue is not destroying history.

    • You’re assuming they could actually move massive 130+ year old statues without messing them up, and that the statues themselves aren’t history or worth preserving. Erase Lee Circle off the map, and no harm has been done, right? You want to remove the symbols of our Southern heritage and make it, and us, go away. It’s a dangerous viewpoint. Decisions about important historical places should be made by people who actually understand history. Landrieu’s parrots are ignorant savages lacking such understanding. The only other group of people trying to do this is ISIS.

  13. You want to label honorable men from 150 years ago as traitors because they broke away from the mother country, defended their land from invasion, and fought for what they believed was right.

    Why not go back another 85 years and label George Washington and the founding fathers as traitors to England? Or is that the next step in your hatred of American history?

    • In a way, they were traitors to England, and I bet there are no statues of George Washington and the founding fathers in prominent places there.

      • There are statues of George Washington all over Virginia and the North. The South is Beauregard’s homeland, and Louisiana is his home state, whether it is in the CSA or USA. We are still Southerners.

      • You would lose that bet. There’s a statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square.

      • You make a lot of assumptions based on incomplete information. There is a famous statue of Washington in London.

  14. You are trying to claim Lincoln for the Democrats of today through cherry picking, but Lincoln would favor protective tariffs like Trump, disdain income taxes like the Tea Party, hold racial views more conservative than Strom Thurmond and our own Leander Perez, and have Obama’s special talent for dividing and destroying the country. If we judge Lincoln by the extremist standards that 2016 Democrats do when they are erasing history, he would not hold up under scrutiny.

  15. Italy could not even defeat Ethiopia around the same time while America decisively defeated Spain, so it would have been funny to see them try to blockade the river.

    • Liberty and Lee Monuments were erected in 1891 by Reformer Party Mayor Shakspeare, just after the New Orleans “Committee of Fifty” organized and lynched eleven Italians who had been found innocent or mistrial…… The New Orleans Lynchings provoked a major international crisis and war-scare with Italy from 1891-92. The U.S. government paid $25,000 in reparations in 1892 after Italy broke diplomatic relations and a naval blockade of the Mississippi was considered. ….. America’s defenselessness against Italy’s navy (The world’s third largest) forced the U.S. to build a new modern navy. The Italian Navy built twenty-six ironclad warships from the 1860s to the 1880s, including turret ships, broadside ironclads, and ironclad rams……. 1891 was the year PGT resigned as Commissioner due to the corrupt New Orleans government in place…

      • Overall, you are right. At that moment in time, they could have given our ports a nice shelling and devastated the economy, while we lacked the ability to mount a transatlantic invasion. They were already modernizing the American navy though, and that moment of vulnerability would soon pass. It’s impressive that Italy had built so many ironclads, being that they had only completed unification in 1871.

        • Turlet, Likewise in general you were right. Press articles note that Italy would have done something quick as they knew they could not afford a war with the US in 1891…. My main point is the actions of NOLA Mayor Shakspeare in 1891 resulted in protests in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and other cities until pressure was placed on the Italian Government to take action to save face. …. However after Shakspeare was pressured to pay the $20,000.00 by June 1891 he responded by erecting the Liberty Monument in October 1891.

  16. I never used the word traitor, think you are mixing up the screen names. I do believe the word traitor to be an accurate description. My stance on the issue is consistent. Personally I find it strange that we keep around monuments to a war and a time that caused so much pain for so many people. Whatever the accomplishments these men could boast outside of thier military service is irrelevant in my opinion especially when the monuments depict soildiers. That’s just my opinion, you’re free to disagree.

  17. I would say you are a traitor to the South NolaArt! If you hate our history, traditions and monuments then please leave. To dishoner the Confederate monuments is to dishoner all military monuments and military folks don’t take kindly to our monuments being dishonered and find your position highly offensive. Brave men fought and died on both sides of the War of Northern Aggression just like they have in all wars. The Yankees were guilty of war crimes though as they raped, pillaged and burned the homes of rich, poor, white, black, slave and free all over the South so for that alone we won’t ever forget as when you forget history it has a way of repeating itself.

    • I am an American first. I do not deny that brave men fought and died on both sides, however, the Confederate rebellion did not prevail. If the South had won, then history would be different.

  18. Poor attempt at deflection. Only because the courts won’t let Landrieu tear them down yet. Try again.

  19. Deflection. Mitch Landrieu and the City Council are responsible for the sink holes. Try again.

    • Please elaborate on how the City Council and the Mayor are responsible for erosion below the surface of a road? Are they responsible for the allocation and distribution of funds for road repair? Yes they are. Are they responsible for the failing infrastructure due to underground leaks or temporary shoring walls installed underground decades ago? No. While I see how your frustration with the failing infrastructure is easily pointed toward the Mayor and the City Council it is actually deflection to blame them for individual failures instead of holding them accountable for broad policies and spending to address holistic infrastructure maintenance and improvement. They can’t control the erosion or the faulty design of the past, all we can do is hold them to addressing it now and planning for addressing it in the future. It is also naive to suggest that all monies should be pointed to infrastructure, there are many things that the city must spend money on. Most of those things are straight forward, some of them will be controversial. I don’t agree with everything the city spends its money either, but that’s just the way it works.

      • A lot of words for more deflection. The mayor and the City Council are responsible for drainage and infrastructure which includes the sink holes – which are all over the city and have been for some time.

      • Are they responsible for the racist DBA hiring practices which pass over the most qualified contractors and construction firms in favor of those with the right skin color or genitalia? Are they responsible for the $10.55 minimum wage in city contracts which inflates costs of road projects? We are not even considering the myriad other corrupt social experiments which millions of our tax dollars are being diverted to, like community centers, non-profits, and bloated government staff, which there is seemingly no free press to investigate and expose.

        You are not in a firm enough position even to deem your own straw men as naive.

  20. Quite. You don’t even know the history, yet you have strong negative opinions. He was prudently involved in fortifying Fort Jackson and St Phillip and was a member of the “Orleans Guards” before Fort Sumter. You have some reading to do.

    • I know the history Jackie. He took up arms against the Union and should not be memorialized for that.

  21. It is always interesting to watch singular minded people react to a second interpretation of the facts.

  22. Attitudes and sensibilities of the Democrats of today, you have got to be kidding me. Are you better off today then you were when you voted Obama into office? How is that healthcare insurance working out for you? As far as Lincoln and Nixon, they have no relevance to my comment. Bottom line, Democrats are scared to death that one day Blacks in this country will wake up and realize that Democrats, AKA Progressives, have simply moved Blacks from the cotton plantation to the Government Plantation. BTW, bad assumption on your part that I’m a Republican.

    • Actually, I was involved in an accident that resulted in serious injury resulting in surgery and long rehabilitation. Luckily, and because of Obamacare, I had medical insurance that covered me. Without that law being in effect, I would never have been able to cover the medical bills. So, to answer your question… Yes, I am better off today.

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