Ambrose Everett, soldier, born in Liberty, Ind., 23 May,
1824; died in Bristol, R. I., 3 Sept., 1881. The Burnside family is of
Scottish origin. Having followed the fortunes of Charles Edward the
pretender until his final defeat at Culloden in 1746, the founders of
the American branch emigrated to South Carolina. The revolt of the
American colonies against Britain divided them, some joining the
patriots, others remaining loyal to the crown. Among the latter was
James, grandfather of Ambrose, who was a captain in one of the regiments
of South Carolinian royalists. When it became certain that the
revolution would be successful, he in company with others whose estates
were confiscated, escaped to Jamaica, but eventually obtained amnesty
from the young republic and returned to South Carolina. After his death,
his widow and her four sons migrated to Indiana, manumitting their
slaves from conscientious motives.
third of these sons, settled in the new town of Liberty, and in
1814 married Pamelia Brown, another emigrant from South Carolina. He
taught school for a time, and, having some legal knowledge, was in
1815 elected associate judge of the county court, and subsequently clerk
of court, which office he held until 1850. Ambrose, the fourth of nine
children, was born in a rude log cabin at the edge of the wilderness.
The village schools were exceptionally good for a frontier town,
and at seventeen he had acquired a better education than most boys of
his age; but his father could not afford to give him a professional
training, and he was indentured to a merchant tailor. After learning the
trade, he returned to Liberty and began business as a partner under
the style of "Myers & Burnside, 5ierchant Tailors."
with veterans of the second war with Great Britain interested him
in military affairs. He read all the histories and other books bearing
on the subject that he could procure, and local tradition is to
the effect that Caleb B. Smith, congressman from the district, entering
the shop to have his coat repaired, found the young tailor with a copy
of "Cooper's Tactics" propped up against the "goose
" and kept open by a pair of shears, so that he could study and
work at the same time. Some conversation followed, and the congressman
was so impressed by the intelligence and appearance of the young man
that he sought his appointment as a cadet at the military academy,
and, although the first attempt was a failure, fortune at last favored
him, and he entered the class of 1847, when there were at the academy
more than a score of future generals, including McClellan, Hancock, and "Stonewall"
The war with
Mexico was nearly over when Burnside was graduated; but he accompanied
one of the last detachments of recruits to the conquered capital, and
remained there as second lieutenant of the 3d artillery during the
military occupation of the place. Then followed years of life in garrison
and on the frontier, including some Indian fighting.
In 1852 he
married Mary Richmond, daughter of Nathaniel Bishop, of Providence, R.
I., and in November of the same year resigned his commission, having
invented a breech-loading rifle, the manufacture of which he wished to
superintend. In August, 1857, a board of army officers reported
favorably upon the Burnside breechloader; but the inventor would not pay
his way among the underlings of the war department, and was forced to go
into bankruptcy. He devoted all his personal property to the liquidation
of his debts, sought employment, found it at Chicago, under George B.
McClellan, then vice-president of the Illinois central railroad, and, by
practicing strict economy, he eventually paid every obligation.
1860, he became treasurer of the Illinois central railroad, his office
being in New York City. In the autumn of that year he visited New
Orleans on business, and gained an insight into the movement for
secession that shook his lifelong faith in the democratic party. So
confidently did he anticipate war that he set his business affairs in
order, and was ready to start at once when, on 15 April, 1861, Gov.
Sprague, of Rhode Island, telegraphed for him to take command of the 1st
regiment of detached militia. On 20 April the regiment left Providence
by sea, and marched, with the other battalions that had been hurried
forward, from Annapolis to Washington, reaching the capital on 26 April.
The preliminary operations about Washington soon culminated, owing
mainly to popular outcry and political pressure at the north, in the
premature advance of the federal army, and the battle of Manassas or
Bull Run (21 July). Col. Burnside commanded a brigade on the extreme
right of Hunter's division, which was detached from the main army early
in the morning, and sent across an upper ford to turn the confederate
left. The movement was anticipated by the enemy, and a sharp engagement
took place, at the beginning of which Gen. Hunter was wounded, leaving
Burnside in command.
Confederates were forced back, losing heavily, until nearly noon, when
they were re-enforced by Gen. Johnston's advance brigade under Jackson,
who stemmed the tide of fugitives, and there won his name of "Stonewall."
By this time Burnside's ammunition was exhausted, and his command had to
fall back. It made no further aggressive movement, but retained its
organization after the rout of the main army, and on the retreat toward
Washington. A period of comparative inactivity followed, during which
Col. Burnside's regiment was mustered out on the expiration of its term
of service. On 6 Aug., 1861, he was commissioned a brigadier-general of
volunteers, and given a command composed of the three-year regiments
then assembling at Washington.
On 23 Oct.,
Gen. Burnside was directed to organize a "coast division"
with headquarters at Annapolis. This force was largely composed of
regiments recruited on the New England coasts, and was intended for
operations along the lower Potomac and Chesapeake bay. The plan was
changed, however, the expeditionary force was
largely increased, and, on 12 Jan., 1862, a corps of 12,000 men, on a
fleet of forty-six transports, sailed from Hampton Roads with sealed
orders, directing them to rendezvous in Pamlico sound by way of Hatteras
inlet. Within twenty-four hours a heavy gale arose, which lasted nearly
two weeks, scattered the fleet, and imperiled its safety. On 25 Jan.,
however, all the vessels had passed through Hatteras inlet and were safe
in the sound. On 5 Feb. the fleet, with an escort of gun-boats, moved
toward Roanoke island, a fortified post of the confederates, and engaged
the gun-boats and batteries. Within a few hours a landing was effected,
and on 8 Feb. the confederate position near the middle of the island was
carried and the garrison captured, numbering 2,500 men. The possession
of Roanoke island gave command of the extensive land-locked waters of
Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, and was one of the earliest substantial
successes of the national arms. Newbern, N. C., was occupied, after a
sharp struggle, on 14 March. The surrender of Fort Macon and Beaufort
soon followed, and, when Gen. Burnside visited the north on a short
leave of absence, he found himself welcomed as the most uniformly
successful of the federal leaders.
campaign in the Carolinas and the early summer following, the army of
the Potomac, under McClellan, had been defeated before Richmond, and had
in turn repelled the confederates at Malvern Hill. Burnside relinquished
the command of the department of North Carolina, and, with his old
divisions reorganized as the 9th corps, was transferred to the army of
the Potomac, which held the north shore of the Rappahannock opposite
Fredericksburg. The chief command was offered to Burnside, but he
resolutely declined it, frankly declaring that he did not consider
himself competent. On 27 June the order was issued relieving McClellan
and placing Pope in command. The fortunes of the confederacy now seemed
so distinctly in the ascendant that it was determined at Richmond to
assume the offensive. The preparations for the movement were at once
known in Washington, and the administration urged Gen. Pope to create a
diversion along the line of the Rappahannock. This he attempted, but was
foiled almost at all points, and the army of Virginia, as it was
temporarily designated, fell back sullen and demoralized after a second
defeat at Manassas, upon the defenses of Washington, where Burnside was
again asked to take command, but again declined.
extremity, the administration again called upon McClellan, who in a
remarkably short time brought order out of chaos and re-inspired the
army with a degree of confidence. By this time Lee's advance had crossed
the Potomac near Sharpsburg, and Burnside was sent to meet him with the
1st and 9th corps. He left Washington Sept. 3. On 12 Sept. he met the
enemy's pickets at Frederick City, and on the 14th encountered the
confederates in force at South Mountain, and very handsomely dislodged
them from a strong position. The energy of this movement was probably
not anticipated by Gen. Lee.
to Antietam creek, threw up entrenchments, and awaited attack. To
Burnside's 9th corps, on the morning of the battle of Antietam (Sept.
17), was assigned the task of capturing and holding a stone bridge. This
was done at a terrible sacrifice of life; but it was the key of the
position, and, according to a high Confederate authority (Edward A.
Pollard, the historian), if the bridge could have been re-captured, the
result of the battle of Antietam would have been decisive. The army
remained in the neighborhood of Sharpsburg until early in
November, when McClellan was relieved, and on 10 Nov. Burnside
reluctantly assumed command. At this time the Confederate army was
divided, Longstreet and Jackson commanding, respectively, its right and
left wings, being separated by at least two days' march. McClellan and
Burnside were always warm personal friends, and the former gave his
successor in command the benefit of his projected plans.
passed in reorganizing the army in three grand divisions, under Generals
Sumner, Franklin, and Hooker, with the 11th corps under Sigel as a
reserve. The plan was to cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg and,
if possible, crush the separated wings of the confederate army in
detail. The movement began 15 Nov., and four days later the army
occupied the heights opposite Fredericksburg, but with the river
intervening and no pontoon-train ready. The responsibility for this
failure has never been charged to Gen. Burnside, nor has it ever been
definitely fixed upon any one save a vague and impersonal "department";
but it necessitated a fatal delay, for Lee had moved nearly as rapidly
as Burnside, and promptly occupied and fortified the heights south of
the period of enforced inaction that followed, Gen. Burnside went to
Washington and expressed his doubts as to the policy of crossing the
river, in view of the failure of the attempt to divide Lee's. forces.
But he was urged to push a winter campaign against Richmond, and,
returning to the front, gave orders to place the bridges. This was
gallantly effected in the face of a sharp resistance, Fredericksburg was
cleared of the enemy, and on 13 Dec, the whole national army had crossed
and was in position south of the Rappahannock. The situation in brief
was this: South and in the rear of Fredericksburg is a range of hills
irregularly parallel to the course of the river; the space between is a
plateau well adapted for the movement of troops. This was occupied by
the national army in the three grand divisions specified, Sumner holding
the right, Hooker the centre, and Franklin the left.
Confederates occupied the naturally strong position along the crest of
the hills, and were well entrenched, with batteries in position.
Longstreet commanded the right wing, and Jackson the left. The weak
point of the Confederate line was at its right, owing to a depression of
the hills, and here it was at first intended to make a determined
assault; but, for some reason, orders were sent to Franklin, at the last
moment, merely to make a demonstration, while Sumner attempted to carry
Marye's hill, which, naturally a strong position, was rendered nearly
impregnable by a sunken road, bordered by a stone wall, along its base.
The best battalions in the army were sent against this position; but the
fire of artillery and infantry was so severe that nothing was gained,
although the struggle was kept up till nightfall, Gen. Hooker's division
being the last to attack, only to be repelled as its predecessors had
been. Burnside would have renewed the attack on the next day, but Sumner
dissuaded him at the last moment, and that night the whole army re-crossed
the river, having lost, in killed, wounded, and missing, more than
12,000 men. Some of these, however, afterward returned to their
Confederate loss was 5,309. Insubordination was soon developed among the
corps and division commanders, and Burnside issued an order, subject to
the president's approval, summarily dismissing several of them from the
service, and relieving others from duty. The order, which sweepingly
included Hooker, Franklin, Newton, and Brooks, was not approved,
and Gen. Burnside was superseded by Maj.-Gen. Hooker.
to the department of the Ohio, with headquarters at Cincinnati, Burnside
found himself forced to take stringent measures in regard to the
proceedings of southern sympathizers on both sides of the river. On 13
April, 1863, he issued his famous general order defining certain
treasonable offences, and announcing that they would not be tolerated.
Numerous arrests followed, including that of Clement L. Vallandigham,
who was tried by military commission for making a treasonable speech,
was found guilty, and sentenced to imprisonment during the remainder of
the war. This sentence the president commuted to banishment, and
Vallandigham was sent within the lines of the Confederacy. The democrats
of Ohio thereupon nominated him for governor, but he was defeated by a
majority of more than 100,000.
1863, Burnside crossed the Cumberland mountains at the head of 18,000
men, marching 250 miles in 14 days, causing the Confederates, who had
their headquarters at Knoxville, to make a hasty retreat. He pushed
forward, and Cumberland Gap was captured, with its garrison and stores.
Attacked by Longstreet, with a superior force, Gen. Burnside retreated
in good order, fighting all the way to Knoxville, where he was fortified
and provisioned for a siege by the time Longstreet was ready to invest
the place. This movement, according to Gen. Burnside's biographer, was
made, on his own responsibility, to draw Longstreet away from Grant's
front, and thus facilitate the defeat of Gen. Bragg, which soon
followed. The siege of Knoxville was prosecuted with great vigor for a
month, when the approach of Gen. Sherman compelled Longstreet to raise
afterward Gen. Burnside was relieved, and devoted himself to recruiting
and reorganizing the 9th corps. In April, 1864, he resumed command at
Annapolis, with the corps nearly 20,000 strong. Attached once more to
the army of the Potomac, this time under Gen. Grant, he led his corps
through the battles of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, and the
operations against Petersburg. In these latter engagements the corps
suffered very heavily, and Gen. Meade preferred charges of disobedience
against Burnside, and ordered a court-martial for his trial. This course
was disapproved by Gen. Grant, and, at Burnside's request, a court of
inquiry was ordered, which eventually found him "answerable for the
want of success." He always held that the failure was due to
interference with his plan of assault, and before a congressional
committee of investigation much testimony was adduced to show that this
was really the case.
Burnside resigned from the army on 15 April, 1865, with a military
record that does him high honor as a patriotic, brave, and able officer,
to whom that bane of army life, professional jealousy, was unknown. He
always frankly admitted his own unfitness for the command of a large
army, and accepted such commands only under stress of circumstances.
Returning to civil life, he became at once identified with railroad
construction and management.
elected governor of Rhode Island in April, 1866, and re-elected in 1867
and 1868. Declining a fourth nomination, he devoted himself successfully
to the great railroad interests with which he was identified. He went to
Europe on business during the height of the Franco-Prussian war, and, as
a soldier, naturally wished to witness some of the siege operations
before Paris. Visiting the Prussian headquarters at Versailles simply in
a private capacity, he found himself called upon
to act as an envoy between the hostile forces, which he did, passing
back and forth under a flag-of-truce, endeavoring to further
negotiations for peace. In Paris, and among the German besiegers, he was
looked upon with the greatest curiosity, and, although his efforts at
peace-making were unsuccessful, he secured the lasting respect and
confidence of both sides.
1875, after his return to this country, he was elected U. S. senator
from Rhode Island, and in 1880 was re-elected. He took a leading
position in the senate, was chairman of the committee on foreign
affairs, and sustained his life-long character as a fair-minded and
patriotic citizen. His death, which was very sudden, from neuralgia of
the heart, occurred at his home in Bristol, R.I. The funeral ceremonies
as-stoned an almost national character, for his valuable services as a
soldier and as a statesman had secured general recognition, and in his
own state he was the most conspicuous man of his time. Burnside was a
tall and handsome man of soldierly bearing, with charming manners, which
won for him troops of friends and admirers. He outlived his wife, and
died childless. See "Life and Public Services of Ambrose E.
Burnside," by Benjamin Perley Poore (Providence, 1882) --
Edited Appleton's Cyclopedia
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