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Burnside, Ambrose

Burnside, Ambrose (1824–1881), Civil War general.Burnside graduated from West Point in 1847 and served as an artillery officer in the Mexican War. He resigned in 1853 to manufacture the breech‐loading rifle he had invented. After this venture failed, George B. McClellan hired him to work for the Illinois Central Railroad.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Burnside organized the First Rhode Island Infantry Regiment. Quickly promoted to brigadier general, he led the Federal campaign against Roanoke Island (February 1862) and became a major general. Joining the Army of the Potomac in July, Burnside fought at the Battle of Antietam, where his slow crossing of Antietam Creek has caused historical controversy. After McClellan's removal that November, Burnside reluctantly assumed command of the Army of the Potomac. The unsuccessful Fredericksburg campaign gave Burnside the reputation of a man unsuited to command an army. His move to Fredericksburg had merit, but a bureaucratic snarl over pontoon bridges, uncooperative subordinates, and his own fuzzy battle orders contributed to a stunning defeat. He was relieved from command after the unsuccessful “Mud March” up the Rappahannock River. He later successfully defended Knoxville, Tennessee, against a Confederate attack. Returning east, Burnside commanded the Ninth Corps in the Overland Company. His role in the Battle of the Crater near Petersburg provoked more controversy. Resigning near the end of the war, Burnside remained active in business and Rhode Island politics.


William Marvel , Burnside, 1991.
Gary W. Gallagher, ed., Decision on the Rappahannock: Causes and Consequences of the Fredericksburg Campaign, 1995.

George C. Rable

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