Ambrose Everett Burnside (May 23, 1824 - September 13, 1881) was a United States Army General in the Civil War and a politician from Rhode Island.
Pre Civil War
Burnside graduated West Point in 1847 and served in the Mexican and Indian wars. He resigned in 1852 to manufacture a breech-loading rifle of his own invention; he settled in Rhode Island but failed to gain a government contract and had to assign his patent to creditors. During this period he was also a major general in the state militia. With the outbreak of the Civil War he raised a regiment of which he was appointed colonel.
He commanded a brigade at First Bull Run, commanded the North Carolina Expeditionary Corps which formed the nucleus for the IX Corps. For his successes at Roanoke Island and New Bern he was awarded a second star and was offered command of the main Union army following McClellan's failure on the Peninsula. Refusing this, he detached part of his corps to the aid of Pope in the Second Bull Run Campaign. Again offered command following that debacle, he again declined and was given charge of the lst and 9th Corps during the Maryland operations. He fought at South Mountain and then at Antietam, where his two corps were placed on opposite ends of the Union battle line. He nonetheless remained in wing command over the 9th Corps-a cumbersome arrangement that may explain his slowness in attacking at the Stone Bridge. The delay allowed A. P. Hill's Confederate division to come up from Harpers Ferry and contain the Union breakthrough.
With McClellan's removal he was assigned to the command of the army. He hesitated but was convinced that he had no alternative but to obey the order. On November 14, 1862, Union President Abraham Lincoln approved General Burnside's plan to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. This plan led to a dramatic Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13 that year. His advance upon Fredericksburg was rapid but later delays, some not his fault, allowed Lee to concentrate along the heights and easily repulse the Union attacks. Upset by the failure of his plan, Burnside declared that he himself would lead an assault by his old corps. He was talked out of it but relations between the commander and his subordinates were strained. Accepting full blame, he offered to retire but this was refused.
The next month he launched his ill-fated "Mud March," which bogged down before it was fairly underway. This time he asked that several officers be relieved of duty and court-martialed and also offered to resign. The latter was accepted; the former not.
Lincoln was unwilling to lose him and assigned him to the Department of the Ohio. Here Burnside dealt with copperheads like Clement Vallandigham and Confederate raiders such as John Hunt Morgan. In 1863 he advanced to and captured Knoxville, Tennessee but after the Union debacle at Chickamauga, Burnside found the tables turned and was besieged by Longstreet. The siege was raised after news got through of Bragg's defeat at Chattanooga. For his stand at Knoxville, Burnside received the Thanks of Congress on January 28, 1864.
He was then ordered to take 9th Corps back to Virginia were he fought directly under Grant instead of being assigned to the Army of the Potomac because Meade was his junior during the early part of the Overland Campaign. This cumbersome arrangement was soon rectified. He fought at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania where he did not shine, appearing reluctant to commit his troops after the Fredericksburg experience. After North Anna and Cold Harbor he took his place in the siege lines at Petersburg.
In the 1864 Battle of the Crater, Burnside ordered a hole be mined under a Confederate fort and explosives be placed accordingly. The fort was destroyed and many rebels died. But through interference from Meade, Burnside was ordered not to use his specially for this mission trained Black troops and had to use untrained white troops instead. Those troops - badly lead by their commanders entered the gap instead of skimming the border of the gap and got caught in the hole. Burnside got the blame for this failure and he was sent on leave and never recalled. He finally resigned on [[April 15], 1865.
Post Civil War
After his resignation he occupied numerous railroad and industrial directorships. During the course of his career, he was elected three times governor of Rhode Island (1866-'67-'68). During a visit to Europe in 1870 he tried to act as mediator between the French and the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71. In 1874 he was elected a US Senator from Rhode Island and served until his death at Bristol, Rhode Island, on September 13, 1881. He is buried in Swan Point Centary, Providence, Rhode Island.
Noted for his facial hair, joining his ears to his moustache but with chin clean-shaven; the word burnsides was coined to describe these strips of hair in front of the ears. The syllables were later reversed to give sideburns.
Burnside always was personally very popular - both in the army as in politics - but he was out of his depth as a senior army commander. A fact nobody better knew that Ambrose Burnside himself. Knowing his capabilities, he twice refused command of the Army of the Potomoc until finally having been forced to accept it under orders.