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Reevaluating General Ambrose Burnside

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Bryan_C, Aug 19, 2016.

  1. Bryan_C

    Bryan_C First Sergeant

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    Can anyone make a case for General Burnside as a better general than history gives him credit for? I know he doesn't rank as one of the best generals of the war but I'm wondering if he might be better than many would like to believe. Just wanted to get some thoughts. Thanks! :smile:
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2016
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  3. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    I think he showed a good amount of ability in two places in particular: his administration of the Cincinnati area and his mobilization to meet Confederate threats to the area (Morgan's raid, for instance), and most of all the 'Burnside Expedition,' where a purpose-raised amphibious division seized control of the North Carolina Sounds and a good deal of the nearby mainland in conjunction with a small gunboat flotilla. (See Burnside's North Carolina Expedition for a summary)
     
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  4. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    He did very well against Longstreet but I think that says more about Longstreet than it does Burnside.
     
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  5. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    Burnside, seems to me, to have been that rare commander who worked best as an Independent Commander and the closer the supervision, the less initiative(and confidence) he exhibited. He had no political insight and thus, the further he was from political interference(civil and military) the better his performance.
     
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  6. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

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    What about Fredericksburg where Burnside was the commander of the AoP?
    Leftyhunter
     
  7. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

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    One author noted that if Burnside would of moved west of New Bern he could of cut of the railroad lines to Richmond. I wonder why it didn't occur?
    Leftyhunter
     
  8. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    It did occur, and it was what he wanted to do; but he couldn't get authorization for additional troops to do it, and he was already stretched pretty thin. There were some minor attempts to do so, but it all came to nothing when McClellan called every available soldier back to the Peninsula after the Seven Days.

    There was a similar situation in the Department of the South after the seizure of Port Royal and Hilton Head-- a few attempts were made to move inland and cut the rail line, but there just weren't enough troops and HQ was not interested in supporting the effort. (McClellan wanted the maximum force with him, and then Halleck labeled those sorts of things "eccentric and centrifugal movements," I believe was how he described them.)
     
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  9. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail 2nd Lieutenant

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    Bruce Catton was totally unforgiving in his treatment of Burnside's performance at Antietam. I was just re-reading parts of Catton's AoP trilogy last week.

    Elsewhere I read a snarky comment that Burnside was smarter than people gave him credit for. Prior to Fredericksburg, Burnside reportedly told Lincoln that he was really unqualified to command the AoP, but Lincoln insisted he take the position anyway. Turns out Lincoln was wrong -- and Burnside was right.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2016
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  10. James_tiberous

    James_tiberous Corporal

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    He organize amphibious operations off the North Carolina coast that were brilliant army/navy operations and forerunners of landing operations in other wars. His operations helped seal off sections of the coast and were pretty big successes early in the war
     
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  11. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    My favorite and highly unfavorable description of him, written by one of Meade's aides, was repeated in Edward Steere's The Wilderness Campaign. It seemed to portray him as an uncomprehending blockhead during that battle.
     
  12. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    A few relevant titles:

    Sauers, Richard. A Succession of Honorable Victories: The Burnside Expedition in North Carolina. Dayton, OH: Morningside, 1996. 542 pp. (This is probably the deepest dive into the campaign. It is also, unfortunately, not an easy book to find.)

    Hinds, John W. Invasion and Conquest of North Carolina: Anatomy of a Gunboat War. Shippensburg, Pa.: Burd Street Press, 1998. 300 pp.

    Trotter, William R. Ironclads and Columbiads: The Civil War in North Carolina, The Coast. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair Publisher, 1989. 456 pp.
     
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  13. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail 2nd Lieutenant

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    I used to be an annual visitor to Atlantic Beach, N.C., as part of a series of family get-togethers. Over the years, we made a bunch of trips with the kids to nearby Fort Macon, so we heard the stories of Burnside's capture of the fort on more than one occaison. It was a cleanly done operation by the Federals.
     
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  14. James_tiberous

    James_tiberous Corporal

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    Wasn't everyone an uncomprehending blockhead during that battle??
     
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  15. James_tiberous

    James_tiberous Corporal

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    Burnside arrived from the west before the battle and technically outranked Meade. But no one wanted the loser of Fredericksburg in charge so he reported directly to Grant.
     
  16. AlexPensFan86

    AlexPensFan86 Private

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    In the case of Fredericksburg, I view Burnside as more unlucky than anything. His initial plan was solid and it was not his fault that the pontoons failed to arrive on time. By the time they did arrive the constant badgering from Lincoln and Halleck basically forced his hand into attacking. Again the plan was solid, on paper, but his tenuous relationship with subordinates, namely Franklin, led to total disaster. The same thing could be said about the Mud March. Again good plan but bad luck. One can hardly fault the man for the weather suddenly turning absolutely terrible. I would make the same case for The Crater as well but he kind of loses me at drawing straws to determine who leads the attack.
     
  17. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    Check out what 'he' really wanted to do.
     
  18. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

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    [QUOTEireveaet, post: 1378608, member: 2830"]Check out what 'he' really wanted to do.[/QUOTE]
    It is irevealent what Burnside wanted to do. Burnside's men made a suicidal charge at Marysres (sp?) Heights and had to spend something like 24 hours lying on the field listening to their wounded buddies wail in anguish vs Burnside withdrawing his troops and attempting a flag of truce to save his wounded men.
    Not to say Burnside was the worse general of the Civil War. Burnside was in command at Knoxville so he does get credit for beating Longstreet. On the other hand Burnside was in command at Fredericksburg so the buck stops at his desk to paraphrase President Truman.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  19. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    The point is, in ref. to this particular thread, is there a case to be made, that Burnside was probably a better Army commander than he is generally given credit for?
     
  20. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

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    To paraphrase the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals we have to "balance the equities". We should look at all of his major command performances at Antietam , New Bern, Fredericksburg and East Tennessee and see how they balance out.
    Leftyhunter
     
  21. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    ...and they balance out........?
     

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