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General Ambrose Burnside

Subutai
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1/13/2013 10:00:40 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Anyone who knows anything about the Civil War knows about Ambrose Burnside's suicidal attempt to seize the Confederate position atop Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13th, 1862. However, we musn't look at him in such a bad light such that it was all his fault. In fact, it was more the lethargy and do-nothingness in the Government that continues to plague it to this very day.

First, a quick prelude to the battle:

The tangled mess on the banks of the Rappahannock that afternoon had its origin in Maryland earlier that autumn. Frustrated with the glacial pace of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in the wake of the Battle of Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln replaced his popular army commander with the affable Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. "Burnside is a pure man and a man of integrity of purpose," the surprisingly gracious McClellan said, "and such a man can"t go far astray."...

Burnside looked to shift his army from the area around Warrenton, Va., toward Fredericksburg. There, he could utilize a pair of roads to move his army southward toward the Confederate capital, while using the Richmond, Fredericksburg, & Potomac Railroad to keep the army supplied. The movement would draw Lee south, where Burnside could then lure him into battle. He never intended to fight in Fredericksburg.

Speed was the key. Burnside started his army forward on November 15, but rain showers and muddy roads immediately marred the march. Still, Burnside"s men traversed the 40 or so miles in just two days. "On! on! on! we went rapidly and without a single rest!" wrote a Pennsylvania private. "Sometimes we almost stopped, and we began to hope that we would ease our aching shoulders of their burdens, but soon we had to compensate for our slowness by going almost on a run! Never were we used so hard before!"

On November 17, Burnside"s army"123,000 men"reached Falmouth on the north bank of the Rappahannock. Fewer than 1,000 Confederates held Fredericksburg on the opposite shore. Burnside knew that the three bridges spanning the river had been destroyed prior to the Union occupation the previous spring, so he ordered ahead for materials to construct a pontoon bridge. Halleck promised Burnside that bridges would be waiting for him.
[1]

So here Burnside is, waiting for these pontoon boats to arrive.

They weren"t. For 10 days, Burnside waited while administrative errors were untangled enough to get the bridges to him. In the meantime, his element of surprise was swept down the Rappahannock...

Weeks passed. Federal engineers scouted the river, as Burnside cast about for a new plan. Although numerous fords offered possible crossing points, the Federal commander worried that if he forded the river and rain and snows swept across the valley, a portion of the army could be trapped on the southern side of the river and destroyed.
[1]

If those pontoon boats had arrived sooner like they were supposed to, it would have been a resounding victory for Burnside and his army. The Confederate army took two days to even get men into Fredericksburg once the Union reached the Rappahannock, and took an additional week getting the rest of his army there.

So yes, while Burnside was an idiot for calling for piecemeal assaults up those impregnable heights, we shouldn't dismiss him as a bad general. Indeed, he did actually make several contributions to the war both before and after Fredericksburg at places like the coast of North Carolina (Roanoke Island and New Bern), Knoxville, and the Crater (albeit the disaster wasn't his fault).[2]

Sources:

[1]: http://www.civilwar.org...
[2]: http://militaryhistory.about.com...
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.
Subutai
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1/16/2013 1:54:25 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Here is some more on Burnside's accomplishments. This is his battle record before the war:

Ambrose Burnside attended West Point and graduated in the top one-third of his class in 1847. Upon his commission he immediately rushed to join General Winfield Scott's expedition during the War with Mexico, traveling from West Point to Mexico at his own expense. By the time he arrived the war was over, but the occupation was as hot and at times just as violent as the war. Burnside was attached to Braxton Bragg's 3rd U.S, Artillery, converted to cavalry and guarded Scott's supply and communications from Mexico City to Vera Cruz. After the return of the American Army, Burnside participated in the Apache Wars of the 1850s and became a highly respected officer in the campaign.[1]

He was commissioned in the Civil War as a colonel, but quickly rose to brigader, and then major general.

Burnside's crowning achievements in the Civil War were his invasion of the coast of North Carolina and East Tennessee.[1]

This is a summary of the North Carolina campaign and Burnside's accomplishments here:

In late March, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside's army advanced on Fort Macon, a third system casemated masonry fort that commanded the channel to Beaufort, 35 miles southeast of New Berne.

The Union force invested the fort with siege works and, on April 26, opened an accurate fire on the fort, which soon breached the masonry walls.

Within a few hours the fort's scarp began to collapse, and the Confederates hoisted a white flag.

This action demonstrated the inadequacy of masonry forts against large-bore, rifled artillery.
[2]

And this is a summary of the East Tennessee capaign and Burnside's accomplishments here:

The Knoxville Campaign was a series of American Civil War battles and maneuvers in East Tennessee during the fall of 1863 designed to secure control of the city of Knoxville and with it the railroad that linked the Confederacy east and west. Union forces under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside occupied Knoxville, Tennessee, and Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet were detached from Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga to prevent Burnside's reinforcement of the besieged Union forces there. Ultimately, Longstreet's own siege of Knoxville ended when Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman led elements of the Army of the Tennessee and other troops to Burnside's relief after Union troops had broken the Confederate siege of Chattanooga. Although Longstreet was one of Gen. Robert E. Lee's best corps commanders in the East, he was unsuccessful in his role as an independent commander in the West and accomplished little in the Knoxville Campaign.[3]

And Burnside's contribution to the campaign:

Burnside's competent conduct of the campaign, despite apprehensions in Washington, partially restored his military reputation that had been damaged so severely at Fredericksburg. His successful hold on Knoxville, plus Grant's victory in Chattanooga, put much of East Tennessee under Union control for the rest of the war.[4]

Burnside wasn't really that bad. He was the victim of an inefficient bureaucracy, several bad generals, and a bad situation.

Sources:

[1]: http://suvcw.org...
[2]: http://americancivilwar.com...
[3]: http://en.wikipedia.org...
[4]: Hartley, William. "Knoxville Campaign." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.
I'm becoming less defined as days go by, fading away, and well you might say, I'm losing focus, kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself.