Ambrose Burnside


Who: Ambrose Everett Burnside

What: Union major general and politician

Where: Born Liberty, Indiana; died Bristol, Rhode Island

Why: Commanded the Army of the Potomac from November 1862 – January 1863

When: Born May 23, 1824; died September 13, 1881

“For the failure in the attack I am responsible” – Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose Burnside was the fourth of nine children born to Edgill and Pamela Burnside in Indiana. His father had been a slave owner in South Carolina who had freed his slaves when he moved to the aptly named Liberty, Indiana. He attended West Point, graduating 18th of 47 in 1847, and largely missed out on the Mexican-American War, the proving ground for so many Civil War generals. He resigned from the army and devoted himself to manufacturing arms, notably the Burnside carbine. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he raised a regiment (many armed with his Burnside carbines) and saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run. He commanded a successful expeditionary force in North Carolina, and was offered command of the Army of the Potomac twice before finally accepting after the Battle of Antietam, in which he was borderline insubordinate to General George McClellan. Under his command, he initiated a plan to take Richmond which ended in disaster when Robert E Lee soundly repulsed the Union at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was swiftly replaced by one of the many officers to conspire against him, Joseph Hooker. He later saw action in East Tennessee and under Ulysses S Grant in the Overland Campaign. At the Siege of Petersburg he commanded another high-casualty Union failure in the Battle of the Crater, with Union casualties over three times higher than the Confederates’. After the Crater, he resigned from the Army. He became Governor of Rhode Island for three terms, a US Senator from Rhode Island and the first President of the National Rifle Association. His famous facial hair became known as ‘burnsides’, eventually being switched to ‘sideburns’, overshadowing his distinctive legacy.

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