Thursday, June 23, 2022

General Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose Burnside is best known today as the namesake for sideburns, that big-bushy growth of fuzz on the side of your face. However, Burnside took it to the extreme, connecting them to either end of his mustache, then shaved his face clean below the mouth.

Burnside graduated from West Point in 1847, then traveled to Veracruz, where he saw service in the Mexican-American War. After that, he fought Apaches in New Mexico. 

During the 1850s, he left the service and designed his own rifle, the Burnside Carbine. It fired a special .54 caliber cartridge, also designed by Burnside. The weapon saw widespread use during the civil war. It was much appreciated by soldiers who could load it from the rear of the gun body rather than having to jam a cartridge and powder into the muzzle. 

It’s easy to understand why Burnside became a founding member and served as the first president of the NRA.

He was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers after the first battle of Bull Run. He commanded three brigades in the North Carolina Expeditionary Force. Later, at Antietam, McClellan ordered him to take stone bridge number 3 and cut off the rebel army outside of Sharpsburg.

Less than a month after the battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln removed George McClellan. Instead, he appointed Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside insisted he was unfit for command, but Lincoln persisted. In his biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Ron Chernow described Burnside as a “military lightweight” who “was in way over his head.”[1]

In an interview conducted after the war, Ulysses S. Grant appeared to concur. He said Burnside was well-liked and respected but unfit to command an army. At best, he should have been made a colonel. 

[1] Chernow, Ron. Grant. 2017. P. 231.

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