Biography of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside Part 1

About the biography of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, his mixtures of failures and bad luck as a military leader.


On Ambrose Burnside's 1st wedding day his wife-to-be took one last look at him and responded with a resounding "No!" when the minister asked her if she took this man to be her lawful wedded husband. Whether this had anything to do with the doubtlessly abrasive whiskers Burnside wore, if indeed he wore any at the time, remains unknown to history, but the story does show how unusual situations simply "happened" to the luckless soldier. Not only did the wrong things happen, but Gen. Ambrose Everett Burnside, who later married another bride successfully, had a flair for doing the daring, innovative thing in war as well as fashion, another quality that kept his photographs in the papers and his countenance in the public's mind.

Burnside started off on the wrong foot from the moment he entered the military. After serving as a tailor's apprentice in his native Liberty, Ind., he had been appointed a cadet at West Point, graduating low in his class and excelling more in extracurricular singing and cooking than in military tactics. Following a tour with the cavalry in the West, he resigned from the Army in 1853 to set up the Bristol Rifle Works in Rhode Island, where he manufactured the breech-loading Burnside carbine of his invention. Things went badly for him, as usual, his business failing despite his new-type rifle's success, but not so badly as they would after he reentered the Army at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Burnside's expedition to the North Carolina coast in 1862, resulting in the capture of Roanoke Island, New Bern, Beaufort, and Fort Macon, won him the rank of major general and much acclaim. Yet when he took command of the Army of the Potomac later that year, he proved to be a distinct failure both as a leader and a strategist. His plan to capture Fredericksburg by crossing the river resulted in a slaughter so bloody that a special truce had to be called to bury the 100,000 Union dead--making Fredericksburg long known as Burnside's Slaughter Penn. Victories would come later for the general, but they would somehow never rival his spectacular setbacks, as, for example, the much-publicized "Mud March" when Burnside marched his men out of camp near Fredericksburg and had to march them directly back again due to a heavy rainstorm that made maneuvers impossible.

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