[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.
[decorative delimiter]

 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1847

Vol. II

(Born Ind.)

Ambrose E. Burnside

(Ap'd Ind.)


Ambrose Everett Burnside: Born Mar. 23, 1824, Liberty, IN.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1843, to July 1, 1847, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 2d Artillery, July 1, 1847.

Served: in the War with Mexico, 1847‑48, at the City of Mexico; in

(Second Lieut., 3d Artillery, Sep. 8, 1847)

garrison at Ft. Adams, R. I., 1848‑49; on frontier duty at Las Vegas, N. M., 1849‑50, being engaged in a Skirmish there with Jicarilla Apache Indians, Aug. 23, 1849, in which he was wounded; in garrison at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., 1850‑51; with Mexican Boundary Commission,

(First Lieut., 3d Artillery, Dec. 12, 1851)

Apr., 1851, to Mar. 16, 1852; and in garrison at Ft. Adams, R. I., 1852, 1852‑53.

Resigned, Oct. 2, 1853.

Civil History. — Manufacturer of Firearms, Bristol, R. I., 1853‑58. Major-General Rhode Island Militia, 1855‑57. Inventor of the "Burnside Breech-loading Rifle," 1856. Member of the Board of Visitors to the U. S. Military Academy, 1856. Cashier of the Land Department of the  p319 Illinois Central Railroad Company, 1858‑59. Treasurer of Illinois Central Railroad, 1860‑61.

Military History. — Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑65: in Defense of Washington, D. C., May, 1861; in Major-

(Colonel, R. I. Volunteers, May 2, 1861)

General Patterson's Operations about Cumberland, Md., June, 1861; and Defenses of Washington, D. C., July to Aug., 1861, participating in the Manassas Campaign of July, 1861, and Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.

Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Aug. 2, 1861.

Served: in command of Provisional Brigade, in the Vicinity of Washington,

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Aug. 6, 1861)

D. C., Sep. 3 to Oct. 23, 1861; in Organizing Coast Division (Army of the Potomac), at Annapolis, Md., Oct. 23, 1861, to Jan. 8, 1862; in command of the Department of North Carolina, Jan. 13 to July 5, 1862, being engaged in the Battle and Capture of Roanoke Island, Feb. 7‑8, 1862, — Attack of Newberne, Mar. 16, 1862, — Attack on Camden,

(Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Mar. 18, 1862)

Apr. 19, 1862, — and Bombardment of Ft. Macon, resulting in its Capture, Apr. 26, 1862;​1a in command, July 6 to Sep. 4, 1862, of the reinforcements to the Army of the Potomac, concentrated at Newport News, Va., and subsequently at Fredericksburg, Va., constituting the 9th Army Corps, July 22, 1862; in the Maryland Campaign, in command of Right Wing, Sep. 4‑15, and of 9th Corps, Sep. 15 to Oct. 23, 1862 (Army of the Potomac), being engaged in the Battle of South Mountain, Sep. 14, 1862, — and Battle of Antietam, Sep. 17, 1862; in general charge of Harper's Ferry, Va., and 2d and 12th Corps, Oct. 13 to Nov. 10, 1862; in command of the Army of the Potomac, Nov. 10, 1862, to Jan. 26, 1863, being engaged in the March from Warrenton to Falmouth, Va., Nov., 1862, and Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862; in command of the Department of the Ohio, Mar. 25 to Dec. 12, 1863, during the Pursuit and Capture of Morgan's Raiders, July to Aug., 1863, — Capture of Cumberland Gap, Sep. 10, 1863, — and Occupation of East Tennessee, Sep., 1863, — and was engaged in the Action of Blue Springs, Oct. 10, 1863, — Actions of Lenoir, Nov. 14‑15, 1863, — Combat of Campbell's Station, Nov. 16, 1863, — and Siege of Knoxville, Nov. 17 to Dec. 1, 1863;​1b in Recruiting 9th Army Corps, Jan. 12 to Apr. 13, 1864; in the Richmond Campaign, commanding 9th Army Corps, May to Aug., 1864, being engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, — Battles of Spottsylvania, May 9‑12, 1864, — Battle of North Anna, May 24, 1864, — Battle of Tolopotomy, June 1, 1864, — Battle of Bethesda Church, June 2, 1864, — and Siege of Petersburg, June 18 to Aug. 13, 1864, including the Mine Assault, July 30, 1864; and on leave of absence, and awaiting orders, Aug. 13, 1864, to Apr. 15, 1865.

Resigned, Apr. 15, 1865.

Civil History. — Civil Engineer, 1865‑66. Director of Illinois Central Railroad Company, 1864 to 18–––, and in Narragansett Steamship Company, 1867 to 18–––. President of Cincinnati and Martinsville Railroad Company, 1865 to 18–––, of Rhode Island Locomotive Works, at Providence, R. I., 1866 to 18–––, and of Indianapolis and Vincennes Railroad Company, 1867 to 18–––.

Governor and Captain-General of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 1866, 1867, and 1868. Visited Europe in 1870, and was admitted within the German and French lines in and around Paris, acting as a medium of communication in the interests of conciliation between belligerents. Member of U. S. Senate from the State of Rhode Island, March 4, 1875 to Sep. 13, 1881, being at various times  p320 on the Committees on Manufactures, on Military Affairs, and on Education and Labor.

Died, Sep. 13, 1881, at Bristol, R. I.: Aged 57.

Buried, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI.

Biographical Sketch.

Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside was born, May 23, 1824, at Liberty, Ind., where he received his elementary education before going to the Military Academy, from which he was graduated and promoted to the Artillery, July 1, 1847.

The War against Mexico then being waged, Burnside proceeded to Vera Cruz, was placed in command of an escort to a baggage-train, but did not reach his destination till after the battles in the Valley of Mexico had been fought and the war virtually ended. When peace was proclaimed he was ordered to Ft. Adams, R. I., and in 1849 went to New Mexico, where he was wounded in an engagement with Jicarilla Apache Indians. In 1851 he became Quartermaster of the Mexican Boundary Commission.

During Burnside's service in New Mexico, finding the cavalry carbine unsuited to warfare on the Plains, he invented a new breech-loading rifle, to manufacture which, in the expectation of supplying the Government, he resigned from the Army, Oct. 2, 1853, and built an arms manufactory at Bristol, R. I. Unfortunately for him, his contract with the United States was not consummated, and, after a hopeless struggle of three or four years, he was compelled to abandon his work and give up everything, even his sword and uniform, to his creditors.

Beginning life anew, Burnside left Rhode Island, where he was a great favorite and a Major-General in the State's militia, to try his fortune in the great West. By the assistance of his quondam cadet-mate, Capt. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George B. McClellan, he obtained the position of Cashier of the Land Department of the Illinois Central Railroad, and subsequently became the Treasurer of the Company. His salary enabled him, by living prudently, to pay off his arrears of debt.

The President's proclamation calling for volunteers, upon the fall of Ft. Sumter, brought Burnside at once back to the military service. He was promptly appointed Colonel of the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Regiment, proceeded with it to Washington, and, after a month's discipline in camp, was ordered, in June, 1861, to join General Patterson's column intended for the reduction of Harper's Ferry, Va., but he was almost immediately recalled to the defense of the Capital. Shortly after, in command of a brigade, formed largely of Rhode Island troops, he took an active part in the Manassas campaign and the disastrous Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, where no discredit attached to his brigade. Though the term of his regiment's enlistment expired the day before the battle, it continued in service till mustered out, Aug. 2, 1861.

Recognizing Burnside's patriotism and efficiency, the President appointed him a Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Aug. 6, 1861, and his adopted State showed in many ways a grateful appreciation of his services. Upon resuming his sword he was placed in command of a Provisional Brigade near Washington, and soon after was charged with the organization of a Coast Division of the Army of the Potomac for an expedition to invade North Carolina. After many perils the expedition, by persistent energy, reached Pamlico Sound. Roanoke Island was taken Feb. 7‑8, Newberne successfully reduced Mar. 16, Camden carried Apr. 19, and Ft. Macon was compelled to surrender Apr. 26, 1862. These  p321 rapid and bold movements resulted in the capture of 79 guns, 3,600 prisoners, and many minor trophies. Burnside was promoted, Mar. 18, 1862, to be Major-General, U. S. Volunteers. Rhode Island voted him a sword of honor; and subsequently he received the thanks of Congress "for gallantry, good conduct, and soldierlyº endurance" in North Carolina and East Tennessee.

When within seven miles of the capital of North Carolina, Burnside was recalled to reinforce General McClellan's army on the Virginia Peninsula. After Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pope's disastrous campaign, Burnside, in command of the Ninth Army Corps, assisted in gathering together the scattered portions of the Army of the Potomac, marched into Maryland in command of the right wing of that army, took part in the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, and then had general charge of Harper's Ferry, and of the Second and Twelfth Corps.

The President, becoming dissatisfied with McClellan's dilatory movements, placed Burnside in command of the Army of the Potomac, Nov. 10, 1862, an honor which he had not sought and to which he proved unequal. Instead of falling with his superior force upon the enemy's communications, as advised by General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Halleck, he allowed General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee to occupy and fortify a strong position at Fredericksburg, Va., Burnside attacked this stronghold from across a broad river in his front, only to be traversed by bridges, the pontons for which, it is contended, should have been ready in advance of the army to effect its passage by surprise. This excuse for failure and false strategy has been much harped upon, but is to be supposed for a moment that the enemy, already in position, would not have captured or destroyed these pontons before the Army of the Potomac reached the Rappahannock to ensure their safety? Even with so large a force, it was very difficult to maintain the bridges. On Dec. 13, 1862, was fought the Battle of Fredericksburg, but, with all the spirit and resolution of the Army of the Potomac, the enemy's intrenchments proved a fatal barrier to the gallantry of its assaulting columns. This lost battle, and Burnside's unsuccessful "mud march," terminated his command of the Army of the Potomac, Jan. 26, 1863.

On Mar. 25, Burnside took command of the Department of the Ohio, in which Rebel raids were devastating part of Kentucky, and secession sympathizers were corrupting public sentiment. The former were vigorously suppressed, and the latter he declared should not be allowed, nor "treason, expressed or implied," tolerated. Vallandigham, the leader, was promptly arrested, and sentenced by a military commission to be imprisoned during the continuance of the war. This bold deed had a most beneficial effect, and loud-mouthed disloyalty became silent. In June a part of Burnside's forces was sent to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant's army, leaving but 10,000 men to hold lines in front. This Morgan, with his dashing raiders, attempted to break, but he eventually failed, almost his entire force being destroyed, or captured in its retreat.

After this Rebel discomfiture, Burnside turned his attention to the deliverance of the loyal inhabitants of East Tennessee, and to breaking the line of communication between the Eastern and Western Confederate armies. After overcoming great physical difficulties, Cumberland Gap was captured, Sep. 10, 1863, by our wearied forces, which had marched 250 miles in a fortnight, though amply compensated by the beauty of the landscape passed over, and the joy of the liberated people, which knew no bounds.

While holding Knoxville, Burnside, in October and November, was actively engaged in repulsing the enemy's efforts to regain East Tennessee, culminating in the Bloody Combat of Campbell's Station, and the Siege of Knoxville, begun Nov. 17. After a desperate assault on Nov. 29, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet, baffled, disappointed and utterly defeated, raised the siege  p322 Dec. 4, 1863. Burnside, ten days later, relieved of his command, repaired to his home to recuperate his strength, much impaired by anxiety and incessant labor.

With health restored, Burnside, with the Ninth Corps now recruited to 25,000, took part with the Army of the Potomac in the great Richmond Campaign of 1864, from the Battle of the Wilderness to Mine fiasco at Petersburg. On Aug. 13 he was relieved from his command, and Apr. 15, 1865, he resigned his commission in the military service.

Burnside, having retired to civil life, became engaged in various railroad and steamship enterprises, and May 29, 1866, was inaugurated Governor of Rhode Island, and re-elected for three successive years. In 1870 he visited Europe, during the Franco-German war, and became the trusted medium of communication in the interests of conciliation between the belligerents. On Mar. 4, 1875, he entered the U. S. Senate from Rhode Island, holding this high office and positions upon important Committees till his death, Sep. 13, 1881, at the age of 57.

Burnside was a true patriot and a kind-hearted man, who by personal magnetism held a sure lodgment in the hearts of most of those who knew him. His jovial, cheerful temperament carried sunshine into all circles. Trustful himself, he suspected no guile in others; hence was ill fitted to contend against the wiles of the world, by which he was often circumvented and his business projects brought to nought. But in official station his personal popularity and the confidence reposed in his integrity brought to him no small measure of success. As the Governor of his adopted State, his administration was marked by executive ability, and was so satisfactory to the people that they thrice elected him to that responsible office. As a Senator, though not a shining orator nor an eminent statesman, he was industrious, incorruptible, and intelligent in the discharge of the various duties entrusted to him. As a General, though not of the highest order, he performed much useful service. Commands were thrust upon him, not solicited, and in these his self-abnegation was at all times conspicuous in yielding to his inferiors in rank to secure the public good. This magnanimity, while it subordinated him in position, elevated him in character. No one knew his shortcomings better than himself, which he freely admitted, taking upon himself all the blame for his blunders, and acknowledging his unfitness for the command of large armies. In life he was loved and honored, and in death was sincerely mourned, not only by the citizens of his adopted State, but by the veterans who had followed that benevolent commander for many weary days of sore trial and imminent danger.

Upon the dedication, July 4, 1887, of Burnside's equestrian statue at Providence, R. I., the eloquent orator of the occasion, Gen. Horatio Rogers, said: "Such was he, whom the constituency of his comrades, the soldiers of Rhode Island, — who in the times that tried men's souls served with him in victory and defeat, and knew him best and loved him most, who appreciated his high purpose, his gentle forbearance, his generous heart, his nobility of soul, most of all, his illustrious service, — decreed worthy of monumental bronze."

The Author's Note:

1a 1b Received, 1862, a Sword of Honor from the State of Rhode Island, in testimony of his services at Roanoke Island; and in 1864, the Thanks of Congress, for "gallantry, good conduct, and soldier-likeº endurance" in North Carolina and East Tennessee.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 5 Oct 13