Why did Lincoln favor Burnside so much in 1862?

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Why was Lincoln so adamant about giving command to Burnside, when even Burnside himself expressed doubts he could do it? Wouldn't a simple study of after action reports of the most recent data point at Antietam at least give him pause?

Was it really just a lack of other candidates?
Grand Division Commanders at Fredericksburg: Hooker, Sumner, Franklin
Corp commanders: Couch, Wilcox, Butterfield, Reynolds, Smith, Sigel, Slocum, Stoneman
 

Pete Longstreet

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
Once McClellan was removed from command, Lincoln knew he didn't have many good candidates for the position. Burnside had done well earlier in the war in North Carolina and was liked by his men, although not necessarily respected. Burnside was friends with McClellan and hesitant to replace him. But after McClellan was removed by Lincoln, Burnside knew if he did not take the job... Hooker certainly would. So even though Burnside was hesitant about his ability to head the army, he knew it was either him, or his rival, Hooker.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Burnside had done well earlier in the war in North Carolina and was liked by his men,
Those 2 reasons are sufficiently worthwhile for Lincoln to have chosen Burnside. Lincoln could point to Burnside's leading effort in the successful landings at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, even though Burnside's later war career was diminished.
 

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
Location
Palm Coast, Florida
Why was Lincoln so adamant about giving command to Burnside, when even Burnside himself expressed doubts he could do it? Wouldn't a simple study of after action reports of the most recent data point at Antietam at least give him pause?

Was it really just a lack of other candidates?
Grand Division Commanders at Fredericksburg: Hooker, Sumner, Franklin
Corp commanders: Couch, Wilcox, Butterfield, Reynolds, Smith, Sigel, Slocum, Stoneman
Of the Corps commanders available to chose from, Burnside was the senior of the group, having been promoted to rank back March 18th. Most of the remaining men had been brigadiers until July; the only exception is Sigel who was promoted the 21st of March. Burnside's prior experience at independent command in North Carolina was considered a smashing success. His actions at Antietam nearly resulted in Union victory, had it not been for the arrival of the Light Division. Of the available options, Lincoln saw Burnside as his only real choice.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Of the Corps commanders available to chose from, Burnside was the senior of the group, having been promoted to rank back March 18th. Most of the remaining men had been brigadiers until July; the only exception is Sigel who was promoted the 21st of March. Burnside's prior experience at independent command in North Carolina was considered a smashing success. His actions at Antietam nearly resulted in Union victory, had it not been for the arrival of the Light Division. Of the available options, Lincoln saw Burnside as his only real choice.
I'm admittedly no expert in Antietam, but I thought the general consensus was Burnside bungled the attack on the left flank. Is this not the case, or at least, was this not the perception of the contemporaries?
 

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
Location
Palm Coast, Florida
I'm admittedly no expert in Antietam, but I thought the general consensus was Burnside bungled the attack on the left flank. Is this not the case, or at least, was this not the perception of the contemporaries?
I will agree he handled Burnside Bridge poorly. But in the end, he had broken the Confederate right, and nearly took the town and cut off Lee's line of retreat. Certainly a bad portent of things to come.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Why was Lincoln so adamant about giving command to Burnside, when even Burnside himself expressed doubts he could do it? Wouldn't a simple study of after action reports of the most recent data point at Antietam at least give him pause?

Was it really just a lack of other candidates?
Grand Division Commanders at Fredericksburg: Hooker, Sumner, Franklin
Corp commanders: Couch, Wilcox, Butterfield, Reynolds, Smith, Sigel, Slocum, Stoneman

Was Lincoln actually 'adamant" about elevating Burnisde? What's the evidence for that?
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Was Lincoln actually 'adamant" about elevating Burnisde? What's the evidence for that?
that's fair. my only evidence is that Burnside didn't want it and doubted his ability to handle it. That said, I guess I don't know if he officially turned it down and Lincoln promoted him anyway, or if these expressions of doubt were only in private and to confidants.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
that's fair. my only evidence is that Burnside didn't want it and doubted his ability to handle it. That said, I guess I don't know if he officially turned it down and Lincoln promoted him anyway, or if these expressions of doubt were only in private and to confidants.

Obviously, Joe Hooker was a ready alternative to Burnside, and its hard to see Lincoln objecting to Hooker's appointment if Burnisde had turned it down (again). I'm guessing Lincoln viewed the appointment of Burnside as the path of least resistance, rather than having any special preference for Burnside personally.

Lincoln showed no talent for picking generals, in marked contrast to his talent for picking cabinet secretaries, which was quite good by all accounts. US Grant rose to the top of the military heirarchy not because Lincoln had an eye for military talent, but because he was the only Union general who showed the he could consistently win battles.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
that's fair. my only evidence is that Burnside didn't want it and doubted his ability to handle it. That said, I guess I don't know if he officially turned it down and Lincoln promoted him anyway, or if these expressions of doubt were only in private and to confidants.
As I understand it, Burnside tried to turn it down and was told that it wasn't a request. Though, I can't recall where I read that.
 
Last edited:

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
Location
Palm Coast, Florida
Obviously, Joe Hooker was a ready alternative to Burnside, and its hard to see Lincoln objecting to Hooker's appointment if Burnisde had turned it down (again). I'm guessing Lincoln viewed the appointment of Burnside as the path of least resistance, rather than having any special preference for Burnside personally.

Lincoln showed no talent for picking generals, in marked contrast to his talent for picking cabinet secretaries, which was quite good by all accounts. US Grant rose to the top of the military heirarchy not because Lincoln had an eye for military talent, but because he was the only Union general who showed the he could consistently win battles.
To elaborate on this point:
Hooker was the best choice of the bunch; but the problem is Hooker is not that popular with his fellow commanders, or with folks like Halleck (who hates pretty much every major officer who hadn't served under his Western command in Spring of 1862). Burnside was the best compromise candidate, but he wasn't really Lincoln's favorite choice.
As for Lincoln not being good at picking generals: it makes sense, given he has no real military experience himself. But even then, he picks relatively solid officers for the time. McClellan, Burnside, Hooker all seemed quite promising when he made their appointments to army command. But a combination of their own mistakes and undermining by Halleck meant most of these guys failed eventually (McClellan on the Peninsula; Burnside at Fredericksburg; and Hooker at Chancellorsville). Tie in the fact no American had ever organized or led such massive armies before, and you are going to make some personnel mistakes, no matter what.
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
I've always held him in some regard because he wasn't shy about the fact he was not qualified to command large bodies of troops. I also believe that because he was so popular, that he didn't have the type of qualities needed by an officer in charge of say, the Army of the Potomac. When you recognize the fact that you're not qualified for the job, how do you go about commanding others, who were recently your peers who know they're probably better suited for the job and expect good results?

At the end of the day, I think Lincoln is somewhat to blame for what Burnside did at Fredericksburg. When an officer has rejected the idea of command, multiple times, do you really expect good results when you basically force him to take command?
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
I think Lincoln is somewhat to blame for what Burnside did at Fredericksburg
To some extent. Burnside was placed in an untenable position when being assigned the leadership of the AotP in November, virtually the end of the summer campaigning season. He was forced to act quickly before getting a feel for the pulse of the army. Moreover, Lincoln and Halleck had favored a more direct approach southward along the Orange and Alexandria RR, which Burnside (probably for good reason), rejected. While Lincoln then approved Burnside's plan of surreptitiously swinging around the Confederate right to cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, it meant placing the onus of blame on Burnside, should the plan fail (which it did in its execution).
 

Pat Answer

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Oct 8, 2013
Location
“...somewhere between NY and PA”
At the end of the day, I think Lincoln is somewhat to blame for what Burnside did at Fredericksburg. When an officer has rejected the idea of command, multiple times, do you really expect good results when you basically force him to take command?

And not really so much forcing him to take command as forcing (in not so many words) him to “do something” late in the season for political reasons… and then being all lukewarm about the plan the new commanding general comes up with…

(@jackt62 ’s post came in while I was typing… What he said. 😁)
 

rbasin

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jan 31, 2013
Location
Tampa, Fl
To some extent. Burnside was placed in an untenable position when being assigned the leadership of the AotP in November, virtually the end of the summer campaigning season. He was forced to act quickly before getting a feel for the pulse of the army. Moreover, Lincoln and Halleck had favored a more direct approach southward along the Orange and Alexandria RR, which Burnside (probably for good reason), rejected. While Lincoln then approved Burnside's plan of surreptitiously swinging around the Confederate right to cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, it meant placing the onus of blame on Burnside, should the plan fail (which it did in its execution).
Well, Burnside was the commander in the ground, so yeah, he was responsible.
 
Top