Ambrose Burnside — Facts and APUSH Notes

May 23, 1824–September 13, 1881

APUSH Definition — Ambrose Burnside (1824–1881) was an officer in the United States Army during the Civil War. He was often controversial and was eventually relieved of command after the Battle of the Crater in 1864. Burnside is most well-known for his trademark sideburns, which he originated.

Ambrose Burnside, Civil War General

Ambrose Burnside was one of four generals to command the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. He also commanded the Second Army of the Ohio and the Department of the Ohio, where he worked to eradicate opposition to the Union war effort by Peace Democrats and Copperheads. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Who was Civil War officer Ambrose Burnside?

When the American Civil War began, Ambrose Burnside raised a volunteer regiment in Rhode Island and he received a commission as a colonel in the U.S. Volunteer Army on May 2, 1861. Soon thereafter, he took part in the First Battle of Bull Run. On August 20, 1861, the War Department promoted Burnside to brigadier general. For the next nine months, Burnside commanded successful operations off the Carolina coast, including the battles of Roanoke Island and New Bern, the first significant Union victories in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War. Those successes led to Burnside’s promotion to major general effective March 18, 1862. In September 1862, Burnside’s forces failed to capture “Burnside’s Bridge” during the Battle of Antietam.

On November 5, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order replacing Major General George C. McClellan with Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside’s command of the Army of the Potomac was short-lived. After a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the failed offensive known as the Mud March in January 1863, Burnside faced severe criticism from several of his subordinate officers, and President Lincoln relieved Burnside of his command.

On March 16, 1863, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck ordered Burnside to proceed to Cincinnati and take command of the Department of the Ohio. Soon after that, Burnside issued a controversial order making it a crime to express public opposition to the war. On May 5, 1863, Burnside had former Ohio congressman and Peace Democrat, Clement Vallandigham, arrested for violating the order. Burnside had Vallandigham tried before a military court, even though he was a civilian, and sentenced to prison for the rest of the war. As commander of the Army of the Ohio, Burnside successfully conducted the East Tennessee Campaign and he foiled the Confederate Knoxville Campaign of General James Longstreet.

During the spring of 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Burnside and his forces to support Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac. Burnside took part in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna, and Cold Harbor. During the Siege of Petersburg, Burnside commanded the ill-fated Battle of the Crater, prompting Grant to relieve him of his command and place him on leave. On April 15, 1865, Burnside resigned from the army.

After the Civil War, Burnside served three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island. From 1871 to 1872, he was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ association. Also in 1871, he served as the first president of the National Rifle Association. On March 5, 1875, Burnside began the first of two terms as a United States Senator from Rhode Island, serving until his death in 1881. Burnside died from heart disease on September 13, 1881, in Bristol, Rhode Island. He is buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

Battle of Cold Harbor, Illustration
Battle of Cold Harbor. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Ambrose Burnside Facts for APUSH

Birth and Early Life

  • Full Name: His full name was Ambrose Everett Burnside.
  • Parents: His parents were Edghill and Pamela (Brown) Burnside.
  • Date of Birth: He was born on May 23, 1824.
  • Birthplace: He was born near Liberty, Indiana.

Family Tree

  • Spouse: He was married to Mary Richmond Bishop in 1852.

Death

  • Death: He died on September 13, 1881.
  • Place of Death: He died in Bristol, Rhode Island.
  • Burial: He was buried at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

Education

He attended the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1847.

Career

He worked as a Military officer, politician, industrialist, and inventor.

Career Summary

He was a Major General (USA), Governor of Maryland, and United States Senator.

Nickname

He was known as “Burn.”

Ambrose Burnside — Summary of His Life and Accomplishments for APUSH

  • Ambrose Everett Burnside was born on May 23, 1824, near Liberty, Indiana.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside’s parents were Quakers.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside’s father was a slave owner who freed his slaves when the family moved to Indiana.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1843.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1847.
  • After graduating from the military academy, Ambrose Everett Burnside served in Mexico and on the western frontier.
  • In 1852, Ambrose Everett Burnside was appointed to the command of Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island.
  • On April 27, 1852, Ambrose Everett Burnside married Mary Richmond Bishop, of Providence, Rhode Island.
  • In 1853, Ambrose Everett Burnside resigned from his commission in the United States Army to focus his attention on the manufacture of the Burnside carbine rifle.
  • When Ambrose Everett Burnside’s industrial efforts failed, financial difficulties forced him to relocate to Illinois, where he worked for his fellow West Point cadet and future commanding officer, George B. McClellan, at the Illinois Central Railroad.
  • In 1858, Ambrose Everett Burnside was defeated in a bid to be elected to the United States House of Representatives from Rhode Island.
  • When the American Civil War began, Ambrose Everett Burnside raised a volunteer regiment in Rhode Island and was commissioned as a colonel on May 2, 1861.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside participated in the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside became a brigadier general in the regular army on August 6, 1861.
  • From September 1861 until July 1862, Ambrose Everett Burnside commanded successful coastal operations off the Carolina coast.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside commanded the battles of Roanoke Island (February 7 -8, 1862) and New Bern (March 14, 1862), the first significant Union victories in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside was promoted to major general on March 18, 1862.
  • Because of his friendship with Major General George B. McClellan, Ambrose Everett Burnside declined the offer to replace McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, following McClellan’s failure in the Peninsula Campaign (March – July 1862).
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside declined the offer to replace McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, following McClellan’s defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28 – 30, 1862).
  • McClellan criticized Ambrose Everett Burnside’s failure to take “Burnside Bridge” at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), thus enabling Confederates to bring up reinforcements, resulting in a stalemate in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside was assigned to command the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862, after McClellan was relieved of command.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside commanded the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11 – 15, 1862).
  • Accepting full blame for the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11 – 15, 1862), Ambrose Everett Burnside offered to retire from the U.S. Army, but President Lincoln refused his offer.
  • After a second failed offensive against General Robert E. Lee’s army in January 1863, known as the Mud March, Ambrose Everett Burnside again offered to resign his command and President Lincoln accepted.
  • On March 16, 1863, Burnside was reassigned to the Department of the Ohio.
  • On April 13, 1863, Burnside issued his controversial General Order Number 38, making it a crime to express public opposition to the war.
  • On May 5, 1863, Ambrose Everett Burnside had former Ohio congressman and Peace Democrat, Clement Vallandigham, arrested for violating General Order Number 38 during a speech delivered at Mount Vernon, Ohio, on May 1, 1863.
  • In May 1863, Ambrose Everett Burnside had Clement Vallandigham tried in a military court for violating General Order Number 38, despite the fact that Vallandigham was a civilian.
  • Troops under Ambrose Everett Burnside’s command performed successfully during the Knoxville Campaign in the autumn of 1863.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside was ordered back to the Eastern Theater on April 25, 1864 and participated at the battles of the Wilderness (May 5 – 7, 1864), Spotsylvania Court House (May 8 – 21, 1864), North Anna (May 23 – 26, 1864), and Cold Harbor (May 31 – June 12, 1864), as well as the Siege of Petersburg (June 9, 1864 – March 25, 1865).
  • Following a Union fiasco at the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864), General Ulysses S. Grant relieved Ambrose Everett Burnside of his command and placed him on leave.
  • On April 15, 1865, Ambrose Everett Burnside resigned from the army.
  • Following the Civil War, Ambrose Everett Burnside was the director of several railroad companies.
  • On April 4, 1866, Ambrose Everett Burnside was elected as Governor of Rhode Island and served three one-year terms from May 1866 to May 1869.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ association from 1871 to 1872.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside was chosen as the first president of the National Rifle Association in 1871.
  • On March 5, 1875, Ambrose Everett Burnside began the first of his two terms as a United States Senator from Rhode Island, serving until his death in 1881.
  • Ambrose Everett Burnside died from heart disease on September 13, 1881, in Bristol, Rhode Island.
  • The term sideburns originated from the unusual manner in which Ambrose Everett Burnside groomed his facial hair.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Ambrose Burnside — Facts and APUSH Notes
  • Date May 23, 1824–September 13, 1881
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 18, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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