Battle of Roanoke Island Online Exhibit

Portrait of Brigadier-General Ambrose E. Burnside

Black-and-white illustration from Harper's Weekly magazine, March 1, 1862 issue, showing portrait of Brigadier-General Ambrose E. Burnside.

Caption:[Head-and-shoulders portrait of] Brigadier-General [Ambrose E.] Burnside. Photographed by Brady – (See page 135 [for related story])

Source: Illustration and text (below) from Harper's Weekly, March 1, 1862, pages 135-136.

Acting Major-General Burnside.

The Commander-in-Chief of the expedition, Brigadier-General Ambrose Everitt Burnside, was born at Liberty, in Union County, Indiana, on the 23d of May, 1824, and is consequently now in his thirty-eighth year. In 1842 he entered the West Point Military Academy, and graduated in 1847, with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Second United States Artillery. In September of the same year he was transferred to the Third Artillery, and was attached to the rebel General (then Captain) Bragg's company, with which he marched in the division of General Patterson to the city of Mexico, and there remained until the close of hostilities. With this company he also was engaged for three or four years in the Indian Border Wars of New Mexico, distinguishing himself in an encounter with the Apache tribe in August, 1849, near Los [sic] Vegas, where he completely routed them, killing eighteen and taking nine prisoners, besides capturing a number of horses. For his gallantry on this occasion he was brought to the notice of the President and congress, and in December, 1851, was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant. In the commission appointed to settle the boundary lines between the United States and Mexico after the war between the two countries, General Burnside served as Quarter-Master; and in 1851, in the capacity of bearer of dispatches from Colonel Graham to President Fillmore, he traversed a distance of twelve hundred miles across the Plains, from the Gila River through the Indian country, attended by an escort of but three men, in seventeen days. Subsequent to this he was stationed at Fort Adams, in Newport harbor, and retired from service in October, 1853. In the interval to the outbreak of the present troubles he occupied himself in the civil walks of life. Shortly after his retirement from the army he turned his attention to the manufacture of a breech-loading rifle – well-known as the "Burnside rifle" – invented by himself, and possessed of peculiar and superior merit. During the administration of Buchanan it was submitted to Secretary of War Floyd, who gave assurances that it would be adopted. It transpired subsequently, however, that Floyd had made a bargain with another inventor, with whom he was to share the profits, and General Burnside, who had incurred considerable expense in bringing his weapon to perfection on the strength of Floyd's promises, was consequently involved in some pecuniary difficulties, from which an upright and honorable character and persevering industry have since entirely relieved him. He sold the establishment in Bristol, where his rifle was manufactured, to his brother-in-law, who has since carried it on, and furnished a considerable quantity of the arms to the Government. He was, subsequent to this transaction, connected with the Illinois Central Railroad, in company with General McClellan. While in Rhode Island he became acquainted with and married a charming and most estimable lady of Providence, named Miss Bishop, with whom he removed to Chicago when appointed to the position in the railroad company.

Having been elected treasurer of the company, he removed to New York, where he had been but a short time when summoned by Governor Sprague to take command of the First Brigade of Rhode Island Volunteers, with which he took part at the Battle of Bull Run, acting during the engagement as Brigadier-General of the Second Division. It may be interesting to mention in this connection that the First Company of his regiment was armed with the "Burnside rifle" - a weapon that did good .execution in the battle in avenging the wrongs of the inventor upon the co-rebels of the traitor FIoyd. Colonel Burnside's skillful generalship on this occasion brought him to the immediate notice of the authorities at Washington, and on 6th of August last he was promoted to a full Brigadier-General. Personally, General Burnside is a man of fine appearance, with a lofty forehead, expressive of deep penetration. His manners are very winning and pleasing, while at the same time his features denote a firmness and decisiveness of character eminently appropriate to the important position which he occupies. He is, withal, a strict disciplinarian, a most implacable enemy to military irregularity, and yet a most popular man with every one.

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Last Updated: February 16, 2012