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U. S. Major General Ambrose Everett Burnside
Ambrose E. Burnside

Painting: A. E. Burnside
Massachusetts MOLLUS Commandery I.D.# 00889

"Rhode Island's Own"   Part One

A Biography By: G. A. Mierka


Ambrose E. Burnside
A likable and Loyal Soldier
National & International Statesman
Prominant MOLLUS Member & Commander-in-Chief of the GAR
Rhode Island United States Senator & Rhode Island Governor
Warrior, Patriot & Peacemaker

Burnside Burnside Being Giddy Burnside
Major General Burnside, respected by those who knew him,
had a mild manner, a quick sense of humor and a calming ability to those around him in times of danger and adversity.
He issued his orders similar to the style that Lee issued his orders,
trusting and leaving the exact details of his intentions up to his subordinates.
However in Burnside's case, at times some of the men around him were blatantly disloyal,
insubordinate or completely let him down.

The Post War Years

      At the close of the war, Burnside for a brief time went back to work for the railroad interests he left just prior to the Rebellion, of which he was very successful.    Ambrose and Mary Burnside attended the Lincoln Funeral then took up residence again in New York in the summer of 1865, however they maintained their homes in Providence and at Edghill Farm (Bristol) Rhode Island.    Later that summer close friends Rev. Augustus Woodbury, William Greene, George Tew, Henry Spooner, Horatio Rogers and John Bartlett had occasion to visit Burnside while at Edghill Farm to ask him to stay in Rhode Island permanently and run for Governor in the election of 1866.    His outstanding Public Life began when he was elected to serve two terms as Governor of Rhode Island from 1866 through 1867 and 1867 through 1869.    Afterwards he was elected to the United States Senate in 1875.    He served office in the Senate until his sudden death on the eve of his re-election, while at his private farm overlooking Narragansett Bay near Bristol, R.I., on September 13, 1881.    The Senior U.S. Congressman of Rhode Island, Nelson W. Aldrich was appointed by the R.I. Governor to finish out Burnside's term of office.

      Burnside never aggressively sought political office as Governor of Rhode Island or U.S. Senator.    For the most part, the people and the veterans of Rhode Island asked him to serve, so he served.    He was never involved in what might be considered shady politics, illegal actions or public scandals of any kind.    As a war hero and political figure he always spoke and voted his conscience in the Senate, siding in all matters for the people and combat veterans.    For that he was highly regarded by his constituents and admired by his colleagues in the Rhode Island State Legislature and in the U.S. Senate.    As U.S. Senator in Washington Burnside served on the Senate Military Affairs Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee, and he Chaired the Senate Education and Labor Committee.    He served as Republican Committee Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee until the election of 1878, when the Democrats gained control of the House and Senate during the forty-sixth Congress, requiring a member of that political party to assume his Chairmanship on March 4, 1879.

      Burnside became a prominent member of the Republican Party in the late 1870s.    As Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee he was a major proponent of public education.    He supported the John Dewey principles of a guaranteed right to obtain an education in America vs. the view of securing an education as being only a privilege, or a nonpublic private education system designed only for those who could afford it.    Burnside also believed in a worker's rights to the formation of Labor Unions and a safe work environment, but he believed such matters should be kept in a correct perspective so as not to impede the proper economics of business and free enterprise.    Since Burnside had worked as an indentured servant as a boy, he well understood the plight of children in the workplace.

      During Burnside's tenure in the Senate, his home State of Rhode Island had become one of the top five most industrialized States in the entire country.    Therefore as Senate Committee Chairman his views about labor and education became very important, especially concerning how the country would continue its revenue policies to encourage the growth and western expansion of America.    For example he viewed the Government's Internal Revenue taxation policy the same as Abraham Lincoln, who created the early version of the IRS, primarily to enable the Federal Government to raise the necessary funds to put down the Rebellion.    In its inception the Internal Revenue of the Department of the Treasury, under Salmon P. Chase, interpreted only business profits to be taxable income, not a worker's weekly salary.    It is not clear what Burnside's views were about women's suffrage, but he believed all American's had the right under the Constitution to vote.    Given the strength and character of his wife Mary and their close relationship together, it is probable that Burnside was very sympathetic of the Women's Suffrage Movement of the Post Civil War Era, keeping in mind that women in America did not receive the same Constitutional rights as men until 1920, 39 years after Burnside's death.

      As Governor of Rhode Island in the late 1860s, he concentrated his energy on the improvement of the infrastructure of the State's transportation system, and was the first political leader to envision the safe navigation and preservation of Narragansett Bay.    He also supported fair and equal rights under the Rhode Island State Constitution similar to the principles of the founder of Rhode Island as a Colony, Roger Williams.    Under his tenure as Governor he authorized construction of many of the lighthouses built off the State's Atlantic Coast and around Narragansett Bay that served Rhode Island commerce well in to the 20th Century.    However, after the war he always felt a strong conviction to insure that the vision Abraham Lincoln saw for the country would be carried out through Reconstruction and beyond.    Since he was an active member of the GAR and MOLLUS he also focused his political interests on the needs of the veterans and their families.    In this regard, Burnside was well known and highly respected, but he felt the country still needed to fully address the social and moral issues at the root of the late unpleasantness of the 1860s, which nearly destroyed the country.

      He tried his best to mirror his political statesmanship and career after the man who he served during the Civil War, the man he admired most, who he gave unquestionable loyalty.    During the difficult years of Reconstruction Burnside staunchly insisted on following the principles and spirit of Abraham Lincoln's vision for the future, "With Malice Towards None".    He was among a minority of Republican Senators, considered liberal in their thinking, who welcomed and encouraged southern leaders, who served the Confederacy in the war, to return to the Senate and serve their State and country once again.    In that regard Burnside rekindled his old relationship with his former adversary James Longstreet who chose to serve under President Grant.    From 1866 through the 1870s, Burnside was completely behind all efforts to pass new laws and amended the U.S. Constitution to forever ban slavery and provide the benefits and recognition of full citizenship for men and women of all races and ethnic origins.    In all these important matters as Rhode Island's Junior U.S. Senator, Burnside felt a personal duty to fulfill the objects of his old friend and leader, taken from him that fateful night at Ford's Theater, former President Abraham Lincoln.

      Shortly after his election to the Senate, in late fall of 1875, Mrs. Mary Burnside, the General's beloved wife and closest confidant became ill.    She was unable to accompany her husband to Washington for his swearing in as Senator as everyone expected, but no one thought her illness life threatening at the time.    He hastened home during the Senate Christmas Vacation to find his wife in far worse health than anyone realized.    Sadly she died on March 9, 1876, at he age of 48.    Ambrose was at Mary's bedside when she passed away.    Mary was her General's closest confidant, his truest supporter and his encouragement through all his trying moments in the military and in public life.    She was a woman of great strength and character.    Throughout their lives together they shared all the same interests, tastes and inclinations.    Mary was the General's life long sole mate.    Her death shook and grieved the General tremendously; so much so, that his personality seemed to change.    He was no longer the jovial and witty man he had been all his life.    For the remaining five years of his life, Burnside never talked about his late wife Mary in the past tense, always in the present, as if she was still alive within him.    They were married just 23 years.    She was the youngest daughter in her family, born October 26, 1828.    According to the historians Poore and Woodbury, Mary's death was like a full eclipse upon the face of his noble portrait.

      By April of 1876, Burnside seriously considered retiring from his seat in the U.S. Senate, fearing he could not perform his duties for the people to the best of his ability.    His Senate Colleagues and friends in Rhode Island did as much as they could to raise his spirits and convinced him to continue his work in Washington, however his loneliness for Mary was clearly and constantly on his mind and it showed.    Those who knew Burnside said his life seemed very dark and lonely after Maryís death.    Mary and Ambrose had no children, but they shared a family bond with two favorite nieces who cared for the General as much as they could.    They watched over his affairs and assisted in the management of his homes in Washington D.C., Providence and Bristol.

      To make matters worse, on April 17, 1876, after tremendous angst, Burnside was persuaded by his colleagues in the Senate to hold a seat on the U.S. Senate court of inquiry during the impeachment proceedings of Secretary of War Belknap.    He was extremely reluctant to agree to sit in judgment of the Grant Administration and the Belknap Scandal, since his friendship with President Grant was very strong and his loyalty to Grant was well known by Democrat and Republican Lawmakers on the Hill, and respected both North and South.    President Grant knew his Administration would receive fair treatment by Burnside.    He was needed by his President and the country once again.    However, it seemed as though everything in his life was coming to an end.    Even the horse he loved that was with him through the war, Major, living out his final years at Edghill Farm was sick, old and on its last leg.    Burnside couldn't bring himself to destroy his favorite animal, so he asked a friend to put Major down after he left for Washington.    His other horse, Dick was a spirited animal, hard to handle and caused Burnside to be thrown injuring his leg.    His friends said Dick would be the death of him.

Edghill Farm Providence City Hall
Photos from left to right:
Burnside's Home, called Edghill Farm, located just south of the town of Bristol, Rhode Island,
on the east side of Narragansett Bay.
Burnside's trusty horse Major is tied to a hitching post in front.

City Hall in down town Providence, where Burnside's remains were placed on public view
until he was interred next to his wife Mary at Swan Point Cemetery on the East Side of Providence.
In front of City Hall is the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Monument,
one of the last projects Burnside supervised.

      Burnside's home in Providence was modest in its elegance, but rich with its display of Civil War memorabilia and artifacts attesting to his military career as well as gifts given to him by the veterans he respected and respected him.    His frequent out of State guests, such as Presidents and former military men Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Chester Arthur and Rutherford B. Hayes, as well as Philip H. Sheridan and David Farragut, all remarked how his home emulated a museum quality of remembrances conveying important and personal moments of the Rebellion.    Burnside's favorite dwelling, a barn roofed summer estate where his old warhorse Major was kept until his final days, was a place called Edghill Farm.    He loved taking excursions up and down Narragansett Bay aboard a friend's steam yacht, which was one of the fastest crafts on the water, a cruising speed of about 12 to 14 knots.    In 1875, President Grant was a guest and relaxed at Edghill Farm for three days.    Grant went to Rhode Island to support Burnside's election.    Burnside's Edghill Farm, named after his father, was just south of Bristol overlooking Narragansett Bay on the eastern side.    Both of his homes still exist as private residences today.    On occasion Burnside loved returning to the place of his youth for a well-deserved vacation in Indiana, where he maintained a small farm rich with many of the things he planted as a boy.

The Franco ~ Prussian War

The Siege of Paris
French Defenses
Siege of Paris; Franco ~ Prussian War

      In late 1870, then Rhode Island Ex-Governor Burnside, had occasion to visit Europe as part of an American team of "Good Will Ambassadors" for business matters during the height of the Franco~Prussian War.    Burnside was part of a contingent of American Governors, Ex-Governors and businessmen touring Europe.    The group started their European tour in England, to share industrial activities and bring new advancements back to America.    Burnside at the time was Commander-in-Chief of the National Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), and thought the most prominent member of the group, because of his position in the GAR and his reputation as an honest man.    The GAR was the powerful American Civil War Veterans organization in the country.    Field Marshal, Count Otto Von Bismark, commanding the Prussian Army had about 500,000 French Troops (mostly untrained citizens of Paris) surronded and bottled up in the French capitol city.    The Germans were threatening the total destruction of Paris, its military inhaitants and anyone who got in their way.    A great number of American Citizens were also trapped in Paris due to the situation.    Ex-Governor Burnside was asked by U.S. State Department and the American Consulate in London to go to France to try to do something.    President Grant was concerned if Americans were killed in the crossfire of the Franco-Prussian War, Congress might declare war on Prussia and its King Wilhelm, I, which then might bring on another possible confrontation with England.    Grant wanted no part of anything like that only five years away from America's Independence Centennial, so he trusted his old friend Burnside to resolve the matter.    In the end, Burnside's efforts enabled the rescue of all Americans in Paris, easing fears in America.

      Being a former soldier, he was allowed to observe Prussian General Von Bismark's siege operations, European weapons technology, troop discipline, and the French defenses of Paris.    While visiting the Prussian Army headquarters at Versailles, he was called upon by the French and Prussian-German Governments and their military to serve as a peace envoy.    During the affair he also traveled back and forth between the Prussian and French battle lines under a flag of truce, arbitraiting peace negotiations for both sides.    Occasionally he was blind-folded and taken through the battle lines under great danger, being mistakenly shot at by nervous French Troops no less than eight times.    Among the Prussian-Germans who had Paris in the grips of a seige, Burnside was looked upon by their Generals and officers with great respect.    He enjoyed very popular curiosity and admiration by the Prussians, due to their high regard of Burnside's reputation as a Battle Tested retired American Civil War General, experienced at commanding a large army in combat.

      Since Burnside had designed comfortable field uniforms for the Rhode Island State Militia at the begining of the Civil War, he noticed the features of the German uniforms while conducting negotiations to save Paris.    He kept several of the Prussian designs and ideas in his head.    When he returned to America he suggested a few changes to the U.S. War Department.    Some of these ideas were incorporated by the U.S. Army in the later 19th Century as part of American Army Dress.

      Because of Von Bismark's agenda to unify all the western Feudal German States under the Prussian Crown in the 1870s, to make a unified Germany a world power, at first Burnside's efforts at making peace with the French and Prussian Armies seemed to end with only marginal success.    However, he acheived the highest accolades as well as the complete confidence and trust of both the French and the Germans as a humanitarian, peace broker, and military hero, helping them to bring an end to the crisis.    In the end, due in a large part to Governor Burnside's efforts, the French finally agreed to honorable terms of surrender and Von Bismark eventually withdrew his forces from the gates of Paris.

      Since Paris and most of France was saved from destruction and conquest, in return King Louis Napoleon III agreed to cede all French claims to the Alsace, 2/5 of the Lorraine and the Palatinate regions along the south western portions of the Rhine River to the Prussian Crown (Wilhelm I).    Later the French also recognized Prussian control over all the south western German Feudal States from Baden to Bavaria at the Treaty of Frankfort in early 1871, shortly after Burnside's return to America.    Peace in Europe and the treaty that lasted until WWI, was largely due to the negociations and groundwork principles for peace laid by Rhode Island's former Governor Burnside.

Otto Von Bismark Prussian Arms King Napoleon III
Photos from left to right: Prussian Count and Commanding Field Marshal, Otto Von Bismark
A Prussian Patriotic Post Card; and French King Louis Napoleon, III

The Passing of A Hero

      As a Post War public figure, Senator Burnside was considered second to none by his colleagues.    According to Benjamin Perley Poore, in his biography about Burnside, published in 1882, a year after his sudden death at age 57, Burnside as a political figure spoke in practical terms and common rhetoric.    He was a man who didn't mince his words.    He went straight to the heart of what he meant to say.    He always, without exception, said what he meant and always did what he said.    This made him popular in the Rhode Island Governor's Office and in the Senate Chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington.    He never backed down to the array of Senators trained as lawyers who from time to time were in opposition in debate with him.    "In his speeches before public assemblages, his thoughts took the shape of axioms, maxims, ascertained principles, and fixed conclusions."    During the final hours of his life, Burnside at first seemed fine.    He visited a friend the evening before he died.    At the end of his visit his friend asked to call a carriage for him, but he said he'd rather walk to the station where a member of his house staff was waiting for him.    When he arrived home he changed from his boots and coat to his slippers and house coat as normal, but late that evening as his staff prepared to go home he commented he was experiencing a minor ache in his chest.    A staff person wanted to call on his physician, but Burnside didn't think it serious.    When they returned in the morning they found Burnside still in the cloths he was wearing the night before with severe chest pains that kept him up all night long.    They immediately called his doctor, however by the time the doctor arrived Burnside had fallen on to his bed and lost conscious.    Within minutes of the doctor's arrival Burnside died of a heart attack.    Everyone in the house stood in complete disbelief as his physician closed the General's eyes for the last time.

      His body was first taken briefly to the Old Rhode Island State House on Benefit Street in Providence, then to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.    Upon its return by train, the Generalís remains were put for public viewing in the newly built Providence City Hall, across the square from where Burnside had chaired and supervised the construction of the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Monument.    According to Augustus Woodbury, John Bartlett and Benjamin Poore, it seemed as if everyone in the entire State of Rhode Island went to Providence to pay their last respects to Ambrose E. Burnside.    Members of every Post of the Rhode Island GAR provided the uniformed military detail of Burnside's coffin, assisted by the State Militia.    Every hour they changed details and saluted their General wearing their white gloves and dark blue GAR uniforms.    The Massachusetts MOLLUS State Commandery assisted in uniform as well.    City Hall was draped in black as thousands of teary eyed mourners passed by the man everyone loved for one final good by.    All this took place even as former General and current President, James Garfield struggled for his life to no avail after his assassination.    The entire country was in disbelief over the loss of both men.

      Upon his death in 1881, Burnside's funeral was attended by dignataries from Washington, and throughout New England.    All the State Militia units as well as the State's GAR Veterans accompanied the cemetery procession and gave somber eulogies mourning the loss of Burnside.    The funeral procession was led by the Massachusetts Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS).    On October 5th 1881, MOLLUS gave a rare and special tribute to Burnside in Boston, which captured the complete attention of the city.

      Colonel William Goddard, who served on Burnside's staff in the 9th Corps during the war, said of him in a memoir written for the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), "His hospitality was proverbial.    Under his roof Presidents and Heads of Departments shared with his old Companions in Arms, and with troops of congenial friends, a hospitality at once simple and profuse, and all were welcomed with the same cordial and attractive grace....but pervading all his social intercourse was the sense dignity of life and moral elevation of character, which could never confound the distinctions of right and wrong."

      In observance of the passing of Burnside, both Houses of the United States Congress unanimously passed resolutions to suspend business so all could rise to deliver their condolences to Burnside and the people of the country.    Fellow Rhode Island Senior U.S. Senator, Henry B. Anthony, the most powerful politician in Rhode Island, on the State and Federal levels (a non-veteran member of Washington DC MOLLUS, 3rd Class, No. 02703) took the floor of the Senate Chamber and said, "Mr. President: I have risen to perform the very saddest office that has fallen to me, in all my public service.    The Nation, which was watching, in alternate hope and fear, the ebbing life of its elected chief, turned for a moment from the bedside of the dying Garfield, to lament the death of Burnside.    He was the most lovable and honest man I ever knew....."    Let us find consolation for that portion of him which has died, in the contemplation of that portion which could not die, in the memory of his services to his country, his great achievements, his unselfish generosity, his patriotism, his public and private virtues.    He was a Friend !    Companion !    Comrade !    Brother !    Hail and Farewell !"

      South Carolina Senator, former West Point friend and Confederate Cavalry General who served under Lee's General Jeb Stuart, Wade Hampton said, "Mr President: It was with good fortune the honorable Senator from Rhode Island, the Father of the Senate, has just spoken so feelingly of his distinguished colleague, whose untimely death we deplore.    To have known Senator Burnside long and intimately, to have thus known him as I, was to love him.    When he sheathed his sword, which had never been tarnished with dishonor nor stained by cruelty, he promply extended the hand which had so resolutely grasped that sword in war, to those who had been his enemies.    Magnanimous as he was brave, his heart was large enough and generous enough to recognize, when peace came to our distracted country, every American citizen was his fellow-countryman; and no act of his since the war was inspired by sectional hate or political animosity".

      Rhode Island Senior U.S. Congressman, and former Colonel Henry J. Spooner, who served on staff for Burnside durring the Civil War, took the floor of the House Chamber and said, "Mr Speaker: The sudden death of Senator Burnside, which has been so properly recognized as a national affliction, overwhelmed the people of Rhode Island in a great common sorrow.    Burnside was of the foremost of our most eminent men, and held the largest share in the affections of our people.    His commanding form was the most familiar figure in our State; his presence in any public gathering always evoked the heartiest greeting; his name was a house-hold word".    Many Congressmen and Senators conveyed in their speeches that Rhode Islanders were called upon to, "Part with their Favored Son".

H.J. Spooner Senator Burnside Wade Hampton

Photo on the left:
Rhode Island U.S. Congressman, Henry J. Spooner, served as a 1st Lieut., Co. B, Unit Adjutant & Commander of the 4th R.I. Volunteer Infantry, of Burnside's 9th Corps during the war.
Charles 'Boss' Brayton and U.S. Senator H. B. Anthony arranged for the Governor to appoint Spooner's Congressional colleague Nelson W. Aldrich to finish Burnside's term of office as U.S. Senator from Rhode Island upon Burnside's death.
Spooner was also a member of R.I. GAR Isaac P. Rodman Post No. 12, he served as R.I. GAR Department Commander in 1877, and was a member of the Massachusetts Commandery of MOLLUS, No.02822.

Center Photo:
Rhode Island's U.S. Senator Ambrose E. Burnside, one of the last images of him prior to his death.

Photo on the right:
War time photo of former Confederate Cavalry General and post war U.S. Senator, Wade Hampton.

Note: With the passing of A.E. Burnside, Spooner, like Burnside was a Statesman who fought against Party Boss Politics.    Nevertheless, "Boss" Brayton, H.B. Anthony and N.W. Aldrich quickly took complete control of the R.I. Republican Party, the State Legislature, the R.I. Postal Services, and used the veteran's pension fund in Rhode Island to hold the largest block of voter authority for 30 years.    Together they became the most powerful Rhode Islanders in the State's political history from 1881 to 1910.

Military Order of the Loyal Legion Medal 9th Corps Veterans Assoc Ribbon Burnside in 1879 RI GAR Burnside Dept Commander Medal Grand Army of the Republic Medal
Left & Right images:
Burnside MOLLUS, 9th Corps Assoc. & GAR insignia
At age 55, Burnside digs his best uniform out of the trunk one last time
to attend the funeral of MOLLUS Commander-in-Chief, General George Cadwalader in Philadelphia,
Cadwalader (the 1st CnC of MOLLUS) died while serving office in 1879.
Burnside passed away just two years later in 1881, due to a sudden heart attack at the age of 57.
Burnside Photo, Collection: Cranston Historical Society.

Burnside's Derringer
Close Up Close Up
The Burnside Presentation Derringer,
a war memento believed to have been given to Burnside after the war by the men of New York,
Long Island units who served under him
in his many campaigns with the 9th Army Corps.  Private Collection.

      Burnside was also one of the founding members and the first National President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which began on November 17, 1871.    When Burnside returned from Europe, while semi-retired from Rhode Island politics, as former Rhode Island Governor, a Past RI GAR Department Commander and an active member of the Massachusetts MOLLUS State Commandery, he and his wife Mary spent quite a bit of time in New York City.    During the early formation of the GAR, Burnside served as the National Junior Vice, Senior Vice Commander from 1869-1871, then he became the third Commander-in-Chief of the National Grand Army of the Republic (twice elected) first at the 5th National GAR Encampment in Boston and again at the 6th National GAR Encampment in Cleveland.    In all he served as GAR Commander-in-Chief from 1871 to 1873, preceeded by John A. Logan and succeeded by Charles Devens.    While Burnside was GAR Commander-in-Chief, New York City was the National Headquarters of the GAR.    As NRA President and GAR Commander-in-Chief he loved taking excursions to Long Island with his friends.

      Originally the NRA was an exclusive club, mostly comprised of wealthy New York aristocrats and Union Officer Veterans of the Civil War, many being Burnside's MOLLUS Companions.    However, several members were also former Southern military leaders, which Burnside and Northern NRA members fought against during the Civil War.    In effect, the NRA also became a forum for resolution of matters concerning Reconstruction with Burnside presiding as a Lincoln Policy promoter of fair treatment, all discussed on occasion over a friendly snifter of brandy, while sitting in stuffed chairs puffing their cigars by the fire in the NRA clubhouse.    In 1873, the NRA established its first headquarters replete with state of the art rifle and pistol ranges for competitions and marksmanship events at the Creedmoor Estate on Long Island, New York.    Like his friends and GAR/MOLLUS Civil War Comrades/Companions, U.S. Grant and 'Little Phil' Sheridan, also spent time at the NRA European style Creedmoor Clubhouse.    They and many others considered Burnside an excellent horseman, a master of fencing, and an outstanding marksman with long and short firearms, which is also another reason why Von Bismarck liked Burnside.

      By 1874, Burnside expected to retire from public life at Edghill Farm.    He and Mary fully intended to spend the remainder of their lives together on their farm while Ambrose imerced himself with his agriculture and horticultural experiments, that is, unitil the incident when Senator William Sprague, in an intoxicated state, denounced his military career and the service of all Rhode Island Civil War Veterans as unworthy, on the floor of the U.S. Senate and was censured by the Senate for his actions.    Most Rhode Islanders, including former officers and MOLLUS/GAR members like Elisha Hunt Rhodes were outraged at Sprague's behavior.    Once again Rev. Augustus Woodbury, former Lieutenant Governor William Greene, Rhode Island U.S. Congressman Henry Spooner, former RI Department GAR Commander and MOLLUS Companion Horatio Rogers, and former RI Secretary of State John Bartlett, as well as Senior Rhode Island U.S. Senator Henry B. Anthony and others went to see Burnside to ask him to run for the Senate to replace Sprague.    He agreed and was overwhelmingly elected by one of the largest turnouts of Rhode Island Civil War Veteran voters in 1875.    Unfortunately his dear wife Mary would be unable to be at his side once again for his final campaign in life and service of the people.

The Men Who Knew Him Best

Rev Agustus P. Woodbury LT. Daniel R. Ballou John R Bartlett
Photos Left to Right:
The Reverand Agustus P. Woodbury
Close friend of Burnside, Author/Historian
and Chaplain 1st & 2nd RIVI and Battery A, 1st RILA

Lieutenant Daniel R. Ballou, MOLLUS ID# 08051, 9th Corps Staff, & 12th RIVI,
1895 Dept. Commander RI GAR and Historian

RI Secretary of State the Honorable John Russell Bartlett
artist, author, historian and surveyor of the Gadsden Purchase
after the War with Mexico.

All three men knew Burnside well and served with him.
They wrote the most accurate accounts about Ambrose E. Burnside's military career.

A Postscript

      Like most people in life, now and then, Ambrose E. Burnside was a complex person.    However, throughout the complexities of all the situations he faced during the course of his lifetime, he never once compromised his principles.    Even his staunchest critics knew he could be expected to do the right thing, no matter what, and many took full advantage of that.    He always stood totally prepared to answer for his mistakes and never lorded his successes.    He was always unflinchingly ready and willing to completely sacrifice himself for the good of others and his country.    Through all the ups and downs of Burnside's life, his life ended on a high and honorable plateau, in service of the people.    His passing was mourned by all those who knew him well.    The best that can be said about Burnside is, he was a totally honest man, involved at times in situations whereby the honorable traits of his personality were not necessarily the tools needed for political success.

      Unfortunately very few people today understand that Burnside has been treated unfairly; not only at times throughout his life, but also by Civil War Historians, writers and movie makers; such as in the film, "Gods and Generals".    The portrayal of Burnside in many books as well as in the film media is most unfortunate.    Today some historians point to Burnside's actions at Antietam, Fredericksburg and the Crater (Petersburg) as examples proving a modern perception of the General's incompetence, when in fact the oposite is actually true about Burnside.    Those who in modern times possess a negative veiw of Burnside are quite often confined to accepting history based on inaccurate, bias, or incomplete research; or research mostly based on the accounts of those who were adversaries of Burnside; as described by Agustus Woodbury in his eulogy to the man upon his death.    In reality Burnside possessed a rare gift of always seeing the best in the people he met in life, even at his own peril.    This trait made him highly vulnerable to his competitors, who took full advantage of it.    Abraham Lincoln, who admired Burnside, never doubted his value to the Union Cause and the contributions he made to preserving the Nation.

      In fact two of America's best modern historians also appear to have gotten it wrong about Burnside, which have led to the inaccurate opinions about him today.    From the following quotations even they appear to have fallen in to the same trap of basing their assessments of the man based on the words of McClellan, Hooker, Meade and others, many who were McClellan Men, trying to protect their own reputations in the post war material they wrote, which used Burnside as a whipping boy.    For example: Jeffry D. Wert, in his book, "The Sword of Lincoln", wrote Burnside was, "a man who believed he was unfit for the post" and "he lacked the power of personality and will to direct recalcitrant generals".    That is simply not true.    And, Bruce Catton, who most historians today admire as the man who enticed the Civil War Centenial Generation's interest in the period, starting with his 1951 novel "Mr. Lincoln's Army", wrote, "Burnside had repeatedly demonstrated that it had been a military tragedy to give him a rank higher than colonel.    One reason might have been that, with all his deficiencies, Burnside never had any angles of his own to play".    It would appear from all that President Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton and Ulysses Grant said and did, that Catton completely missed the mark on his assessment of Burnside.    Every issue has a flip side.    Perhaps Wert and Catton should have examined the flip side of available information provided by others about Burnside more closely and carefully.

      Amidst all the controversy concerning his performance on the battlefield in the Civil War, the truth is by all accurate accounts, Abraham Lincoln and most men who served under Burnside thought he was a pretty good general.    Still, Burnside today receives criticism from historians who may also not fully understand the experience and nature of combat, or the true nature of the stuations Burnside faced.    Burnside was first and foremost a combat soldier.    Like Grant, Lee, Sherman, Jackson and all the other important leaders of the Civil War, and as in all conflicts before and since, Burnside understood the price of preserving America does not come without expense.    To prevail against a determined foe the country had to be prepared to bear the cost.    This axiom predicated Burnside's decisions in every difficult moment he experienced in combat.

      Throughout the four and a half years of the American Civil War, and the combat resume of the Union Grand Army of the Potomac, only three men emerged as leaders possessing little or no ego or political aspirations that posed a challenge to Abraham Lincoln's Presidency; John F. Reynolds, Ulysses S. Grant and Ambrose E. Burnside.    All three knew the only way to beat Robert E. Lee was to find him somewhere in Virginia, initiate combat, and keep at Lee, never letting up, no matter what, as Grant finally did, and as George S. Patton did to the German War Machine in World War II.

      After Chancellorsville, Lincoln and Stanton first turned to General John F. Reynolds, commander of the 1st Corps and Iron Brigade, who Burnside regarded as a good man and a warrior of great promise.    Lincoln first asked Reynolds to relieve Hooker and go after Lee, who was invading Pennsylvania.    Reynolds saw what happened to Burnside and told President Lincoln he must have total tactical control over the Army of the Potomac, without political interference.    Lincoln baulked at that because of the bad experience he had with George B. McClellan.    Therefore Reynolds turned down command of the army, which went instead to General George Gordon Meade, just prior to Gettysburg.    Of the three men, (Burnside, Reynolds and Grant), Burnside was the only leader who accepted command conditions as the President and the War Department prescribed, which did not address the political problems of the Army of the Potomac.    History reveals no man was more loyal to the President than Burnside.    That is why Lincoln returned such loyalty and favor to Burnside, and gave Burnside another command after Fredericksburg.    In the months after Burnside stepped asside from command of the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln and Stanton systemattically weeded out all those who undermined Burnside, men who they felt caused the loss at Fredericksburg.    Lincoln reluctantly gave Hooker command of the army replacing Burnside.    After Chancellorsville, Lincoln knew replacing Burnside was a mistake.

      After Chancellorsville Stanton was fed-up with glory seeking Generals and McClellan men.    Reynolds was the best man to take over who wouldn't arouse the concern of Congressional adversaries.    Reynolds wanted no part of what Burnside endoured.    Unfortunately Reynolds was killed at Gettysburg.    After Gettysburg in the fall of 1863, with the absence of Reynolds, Lincoln realized Meade lacked the tenacity and imagination to do what was necessary to defeat Lee once and for all, so he turned to Grant.    Grant became Lincoln's best choice to take over due to his record of victories in the west.    Lincoln could not re-appoint Burnside over Meade, the victor of Gettysburg, because returning command to Burnside would have caused too much descention in Congress, but Grant didn't care about that.

      By 1864, Lincoln was ready to take another chance with a General given complete control, risking his power as President.    In giving Grant the control he needed (that Burnside and Reynolds did not or would not have had), Lincoln wisely gave Grant the wherewithall he needed to defeat Lee.    When Burnside commanded the army he had no such power.    When Burnside commanded the army he essentially had to contend with the same kind of subordinate political infighting and men seeking his job that Eisenhower had to deal with in World War II, however the political pressures were too great in Burnside's case and he chose to serve his President best by stepping aside for the good of the war effort and his President.    He did not step asside due to incompetence.    He did so due to his strong sense of patriotism and loyalty to President Lincoln.

      After Grant's great victory at Chattanooga, Lincoln turned to Grant and gave Grant all the power Reynolds said the commander in the east needed to defeat Lee.    Lincoln knew that Grant, like Burnside was no McClellan, wanting the President's job, or, as Hooker proposed, wanting McClellan to become America's first Dictator.    When Grant came east to lead the 1864 campaign against Lee he brought two men with him, General Philip H. Sheridan and General Ambrose E. Burnside.    The moment all three men arrived in the field all posed a threat to to authority of Meade who still commanded the Army of the Potomac.    However, Grant knew he could trust Sheridan and Burnside.    He knew their combat experience and the charisma with the men they commanded was rock solid.    He knew their loyalty to a superior officer was un-wavering.

      So why is Burnside treated so unfairly by history and modern day historians ?    After Burnside's death in 1881, Augustus P. Woodbury and Daniel R. Ballou believed Burnside became an easy mark for others to blame for their own mistakes and incompetence as they published their memoirs in the later half of the 19th Century.    Since Burnside died so soon after the war he could not answer or counter what his opponents wrote about him.    Ballou, who became Department Commander of the Rhode Island GAR, was furious about that to the last of his dying days.    Even Otto Von Bismark, the great Prussian General who is regarded by many historians as arguably one of the greatest soldiers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, believed Burnside was a great General and peacemaker.

      Ulysses S. Grant was perhaps the only man who could have changed or prevented the tarnishing of Burnside's career by others when he wrote his memoirs.    One can only speculate why Grant avoided in depth discussion about Burnside in his memoirs.    Just prior to Grant's death he was bankrupt.    Author Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain) assisted Grant with his memoirs as Grant was dying of cancer.    Grant knew before he died he needed to publish his story in such a way that would draw strong public appeal and allow Grant to leave his wife and children financially secure.    Opening an alternative or true explanation about Burnside might have risked the success of Grant's Memoirs.    That might be an explanation why Grant wrote so little about Burnside.    Grant may have wanted to avoid a lengthy detailed account that would have caused a public controversy, because it was Meade (Burnside's junior in rank) who ordered charges against Burnside after the Battle of the Crater.    It was Meade who went against the findings of the court and sent Burnside home to Rhode Island never to be recalled, not Grant.    Had Grant revealed the truth about the matter in his memoirs it might have risked the success of his two-volume book and he couldn't take that chance.

      Unfortunately "Burnside" has become mostly known for his whiskers, these days called 'Sideburns'.    But again the truth is, durring the American Civil War Period, Burnside's style of facial hair was quite common for men who didn't wish to grow a full beard.    It was natural for Burnside to lead his life the way he did; never pretentious, sometimes humorous, but always honest, respectful and friendly.    Burnside died at the age of 57.    The final images taken of Burnside by photgraphers show a man aged well beyond his years.    His years of service took a toll on his appearance as well as his heart.    Perhaps time has come for Americans and historians to understand the full truth about Burnside as a great and loyal soldier.

      Today, a statue and monument to Burnside proudly resides in the heart of down town Providence, Rhode Island; in Kennedy Square, symbolizing that Rhode Islanders continue to salute the name and memory of Ambrose Everett Burnside; Major General U.S. Army Volunteers, Servant of the People, Creative Inventor, Humanitarian, Champion of Freedom, Patriotism and Equality, Organizer and Eternal Optimist to everyone but himself, and a Highly Distinguished Civic Leader, Statesman and General.óGAM

Rhode Island SUVCW
Camp 7 Honor Burnside at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence

Graves of Ambrose & Mary Burnside

Col Burnside's Sash RI SUVCW Camp7 Burnside Ceremony Swan Point Cemetery Providence RI

      Visitors to Rhode Island can view Burnside memorabilia in several locations.    Burnside military artifacts can be viewed in Bristol at the Bristol Historical Society museum room by contacting Bristol City Hall.    Papers and Post War material can be viewed at the Rhode Island State Archives and the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence.    GAR and Post War material including Burnside's death mask, owned by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, can be viewed at the 'Old Arsenal' on Benefit Street in Providence where Burnside receivced his first Rhode Island commission.

      One hundred and sixteen years later, at their 1997 Memorial Day Ceremony (Memorial Day or Decoration Day, an annual time of observance, May 30th, the "True Memorial Day", started by the GAR in 1868), the Elisha Dyer Camp No. 7 and the R.I. Department Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War hosted the Adjutant General of the R.I. National Guard with a ceremony honoring Burnside to try to give Burnside just recognition for his patriotic contributions during the Civil War and draw attention to the deteriorating graves of the General Ambrose E. Burnside and his wife Mary.    A solemn SUVCW-GAR traditional ceremony was conducted including a display of Burnside memorabilia, featuring his original wine colored Colonel's sash bearing his initials, which he wore at the 1st Battle of Bull Run, was placed in homage on the General's above ground tomb.    A wreath and Veteran's Flags, as well as sprigs of wheat taken from the Wheat Field of Gettysburg and laurel, tied with a black mourning ribbon were placed on the General's grave by Camp 7 and RI ASUVCW Elisha Dyer Auxiliary No. 2.    Many Rhode Islanders believe Burnside was a true Soldier and Statesman who gave his best for his country and the people of his state.    He was an energetic Public Servant and Military Hero who served to his last days working on behalf of the people as well as his fellow veterans.    He became the only Rhode Islander to be elected Commander in Chief of the National veterans organization---the Grand Army of the Republic and he was an early distinguished original member of the Massachusetts Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, MOLLUS I.D. # 00889.

9th Corps Badge Burnside Memorabilia 9th Corps Badge

First Bivouac RI Sons of Veterans Burnside Camp 5 Ribbon RI Governor Burnside Third Bivouac RI Sons of Veterans Burnside Camp 5 Ribbon

Lest We Forget

This page written, designed and researched by: Gregg A. Mierka, 1997 - 2007.     This Web Page was partly created to try to correct the gross inacuracies about the life and military career of A.E. Burnside, perpetuated mostly by modern historians who continue to base their writing on highly questionable or bias research based on the memoirs of McClellan Men, who took advantage of Burnside to further their careers.

"The Life of Burnside: Soldier, Citizen, Statesman", by Benjamin Perley Poore, 1882; the "R.I. GAR Encampment Proceedings", 1867; "Memoirs of Rhode Island Officers", By John Russell Bartlett, Published by Sidney S. Rider & Brother, Providence, 1867; the RI MOLLUS War Papers Volumes, "Personal Narratives of the Rebellion", by August P. Woodbury and by Daniel R. Ballou, published by the R.I. Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, assisting MOLLUS 1870 Ė 1920; "Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant", Vol. I&II, 1885; "Reminiscences of the War of the Rebellion", Col. Elbridge J. Copp, 1911; "Mr. Lincoln's Army", Bruce Catton, 1951; "The Life of Abraham Lincoln", J.G. Holland, 1865; "Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography", Kunhardt, Jr.-Krunhardt, III, and Peter Krunhardt, 1992; "Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War" & "Harper's Weekly", Guernsey & Alden, originally published in 1886, including original volumes of the original series; "The Great Rebellion", Elliot G. Storke, original Volumes I&II published 1863-65; "The Great Rebellion", J.T. Headley, original Vols. I&II, published 1863 to 1865; Numerous volumes of the original "War of the Rebellion" series; "The Personal Memoirs of General William T. Sherman", 1890; "Civil War Times Illustrated", several early issues, 1964 to 1975; "The Civil War", Vol. I to Master Index, Time-Life Books, T.H. Flerhty and Staff, 1987; "Union Blue", Carroon & Shoaf, published by MOLLUS, 2001; "Glorious Contentment: The GAR 1865-1900", Stuart McConnell, 1992; "A Narrative of the First Campaign of the First Rhode Island Regiment in the Spring of 1861", A.P. Woodbury, 1862; "The Second Rhode Island Regiment: A Narrative of Military Opperations", A.P. Woodbury, 1875; and additional "Burnside Genealogy" research contributed by Nicole Burnside Prohuska, 2004.

This site was created and is owned by: Gregg A. Mierka
RI SUVCW PDC, RI MOLLUS State Commandery Commander

at the Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead Museum, at Spell Hall, Coventry, R.I.
This page or portions hereof requires the author's permission to copy,
edit or use in any manner, and must be properly referenced if used in other context.

Publication Data

Rhode Island's Own: Part I; "U.S. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, The Most Unfairly Maligned Rhode Islander In American History", published under this author for the Internet by RI MOLLUS & National MOLLUS and read before the RI MOLLUS-Rhode Island Soldiers & Sailors Historical Society in 2006.    The first two versions of this story, "A.E. Burnside's Full & True Biography", and "Lincoln's Most Loyal Officer", were published under this author for the RI SUVCW Elisha Dyer Camp No. 7 magazine, "The Camp Courier", in 1998 and 2001.

(c)1997 & 2007, All Rights Reserved,
Photos Courtesy Library of Congress, RI SUVCW Elisha Dyer Camp No.7, private sources and MOLLUS

      "Rhode Island's Own" Part I: U.S. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside was selected in 2007 by Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, as a primary resource on the life and career of Ambrose E. Burnside, a MOLLUS Biography authored by Gregg A. Mierka.

Other notable historical works by this author:
Gregg A. Mierka
"Nathanael Greene: The General Who Saved The Revolution"
Rhode Island's General Nathanael Greene
A Pictorial Biography, Published By: OTTN Publishers, Stockton, New Jersey
Available in over 30,000 libraries across the country, including the Library of Congress,
The Smithsonian Institute & The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, as well as most books stores.
The graphic above is linked to the
"official" General Nathanael Greene Homestead, Spell Hall Website,
teacher resource education center.

Rhode Island's Own BY RI MOLLUS

Thank You For Visiting My Page

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You are among over 20,000 visitors to this Website
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We hope you enjoyed learning the truth about the life of Burnside.



    by Rev. Augustus Woodbury
    Volume No. 3 of the RI MOLLUS "Personal Narratives", published under the R.I. Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society) MOLLUS War Paper, transcrbed for the Internet un-edited by G.A. Mierka, "3" Webpages,
    Click HERE

  • Go to "The Military Services of Major General Ambrose E. Burnside in the Civil War, Part "ONE",
    by Lieut. Daniel R. Ballou, RI GAR PDC
    Volume No. 10 of the RI MOLLUS "Personal Narratives", (published under the R.I. Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society) MOLLUS War Paper, transcrbed for the Internet un-edited by G.A. Mierka, One Webpage, Compiled for RI MOLLUS & National MOLLUS,
    Click HERE

  • Go to "The Military Services of Major General Ambrose E. Burnside in the Civil War, Part "TWO", by Lieut. Daniel R. Ballou, RI GAR PDC
    Volume No. 10 of the RI MOLLUS "Personal Narratives", published under the R.I. Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society) MOLLUS War Paper transcrbed for the Internet un-edited by G.A. Mierka, One Webpage, Compiled for RI MOLLUS & National MOLLUS from original records,
    Click HERE

  • Go to "The First Campaign of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry", by Lt. Col. Elisha Hunt Rhodes, RI MOLLUS (published under the RI Soldiers & Sailors Historical Society) MOLLUS War Paper, Transcribed for the Internet un-edited by G.A. Mierka, One Webpage, Compiled for RI MOLLUS & National MOLLUS from original records,
    Click HERE

  • Go to "Battery A, 1st Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery (the 2nd RI Light Artillery Battery, RIM)at First Bull Run", by Captain J. Albert Monroe, RI MOLLUS (published under the RI Soldiers & Sailors Historical Society) MOLLUS War Paper, Transcribed un-edited for the Internet by G.A. Mierka, One Webpage, Compiled for RI MOLLUS & National MOLLUS from original records,
    Click HERE

  • Go to "The History of Battery A, 1st Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery", by G.A. Mierka, with direct refference by Thomas M. Aldrich, Battery A Veteran & Unit Historian, "6" Webpages, Written for the RI GAR Civil War Museum,
    Click HERE

  • Go to "History of the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry", by G.A. Mierka, with direct refference by Rev. Augustus Woodbury Unit Chaplain & Unit Historian, with additional refference by John Russell Bartlett, US-Mexico Boundary Commissioner, RI Sec. of State & Historian, "3" Webpages, Written for the RI GAR Civil War Museum,
    Click HERE

  • Go to Wikipedia for more about Burnside HERE

  • Go to "The History of National GAR Commander-in-Chief", Short Biography written for the National Sons of Union Veteran of the Civil War Website, One Webpage, "Ambrose E. Burnside", by G.A. Mierka,
    Click HERE

  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


    Go to "Rhode Island's Own" Part Two,
    The Biography of Major General George Sears Greene

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    For Additional Information about other Rhode Islanders in the Civil War,
    Go to the R.I. Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, War Papers Index Home Page to access the 10 Volumes of "Personal Narratives", published under the R.I. Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society representing MOLLUS in Rhode Island from 1870 to 2001,
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    ~ CREDITS ~

    You have listened to the wonderful period music of the following artists:
    Song Heard on Page ONE:
    "Salley Guarden", By "Alisa Jones", and acompanying musicians
    from her CD, "Irish Dreams",
    (c)1989 All Rights Reserved, Green Hill Productions, Nashville, TN.
    Song Heard on Page TWO
    "Johnny Has Gone", By Alisia Jones, from her CD, "Irish Dreams".

    Song Heard on Page Page THREE
    The music of "Ed Sweeney", and accompanuing musicians
    from his CD, "American Sampler" (c)1988, All Rights Reserved, North Star Records, Inc., Providence, Rhode Island.

    Song Heard on Page FOUR
    "The Clear Air", By Alisia Jones Heard, from her CD, "Irish Dreams".

    The Song on this page (Page FIVE): "All Quiet Along The Potomac"
    Music by Swinging Door Music-BMI (c)1983.

    Use of any of the music on this Website must be licensed.
    Our thanks to the General Nathanael Greene Homestead Museum, Spell Hall, Coventry, Rhode Island for allowing RI MOLLUS to play the songs of Alisia Jones and Ed Sweeney.  See the Homestead Education Center HERE for contacts to acquire recommended music for schools, teachers and students.
    A special thanks also to all musicians for their wonderful music helping define the character of the American People and the history of Rhode Island in the Civil War.
    NOTE: Viewers are not authorized by law to copy the sound or imagry contained on this Web Page.  FBI Warning: Unauthorized duplication or recording of this material is prohibited by U.S. Federal Law and is protected by copyrights including all sound and imagery, which are (c)2006 RI MOLLUS, National MOLLUS, the Nathanael Greene Homestead Museum, Spell Hall, Alisia Jones, Greene Hill Productions, and/or, by all other contributing artists, designers and authors of this Website.

    Thanks also to Robert Hunt Rhodes for allowing us to use some of his material about his ancestor, Elisha Hunt Rhodes and to Ken Burns for featuring E.H. Rhodes and our State's Civil War History in his PBS series on "The Civil War".    And a special thanks to Edwin Bearrs, Brian Pohanka, Jeff Shaara and Ron Maxwell for their support for Rhode Island Civil War History and raising the American conscience about the triumphs and tragidies of the Great War of the Rebellion 1861 to 1865.

    We wish to thank Brother/Companion Keith G. Harrison, Past National SUVCW Commander-in-Chief and, current National SUVCW and MOLLUS Webmaster, as well as all the artists/musicians for the use of their music on all the pages in our site.    (c)1983 by Swinging Door Music-BMI.    Used by permission.    All rights reserved.


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