Burnside assumes command - HISTORY
Year
1862

Burnside assumes command

On this day in 1862, General Ambrose Burnside assumes command of the Union Army of the Potomac following the removal of George B. McClellan.

McClellan waswell likedby many soldiers, andhad a loyal following among some in the command structure.However, others detested him, and his successor would have a difficult time reconciling the pro- and anti-McClellan factions within the army’s leadership. Furthermore, Ambrose Burnside was not the obvious choiceto replace McClellan. Many favored General Joseph Hooker, who, like Burnside, commanded a corps in the army. Hooker had a strong reputation as a battlefield commander but had several liabilities: apenchant for drinking and cavorting with prostitutes and an acrimonious history with Henry Halleck, the general in chief of the Union armies. Halleck urged President Abraham Lincoln to name Burnside to head the Union’s premier fighting force.

Burnside was a solid corps commander, but by his own admission was not fit to command an army. The Indiana native graduated from West Point in 1847, and after serving for five years in the military,entered private business. He worked to develop a new rifle, but his firm went bankrupt when he refused to pay a bribe to secure a contract to sell his weapon to the U.S. army. Burnside then worked as treasurer for the Illinois Central Railroad under McClellan, who was president of the line.

When the Civil War erupted, Burnside became a colonel in charge of the First Rhode Island volunteers. He fought at theFirst Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861then headed an expeditionary force that captured Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in February 1862. Burnside returned to the Army of the Potomac and was given command of the Ninth Corps, which fought hard at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862. Afterward, he was tapped for the top position in the army over his own protestations. He reluctantly assumed command in November and proceeded to plan an attack on Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In December 1862,Burnside’s army moved toward Lee at Fredericksburg, Virginia.His forcesattacked Lee’s entrenched troops on December 13 and sufferedheavy loses.

Within one month, officers began to mutiny against Burnside’s authority, and Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomacin lateJanuary 1863. After the war, Burnside (whose unusual facial hair is said to have inspired the word sideburns)served as governor of Rhode Island and as a U.S. senator. He diedin 1881 at age 57.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Sartre renounces communists

The French philosopher and author Jean-Paul Sartre–long an admirer of the Soviet Union–denounces both the USSR and its communist system following the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary. Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris in 1905, was a leading exponent of existentialism, a ...read more

Roosevelt travels to Panama

On the first foreign trip by a U.S. president, President Theodore Roosevelt departs the United States for Panama aboard the battleship Louisiana.The visit came three years after Roosevelt gave tacit U.S. military support to the Panamanian revolt against Colombian rule. Panamanian ...read more

Willie Nelson’s assets are seized by the IRS

“We try to work with taxpayers,” Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman Valerie Thornton told TheNew York Times in the autumn of 1991, “[a]nd if we have to come up with some creative payment plan, that’s what we’re going to do, because it’s in everyone’s best interest.” The ...read more

The Great Northeast Blackout

At dusk, the biggest power failure in U.S. history occurs as all of New York state, portions of seven neighboring states, and parts of eastern Canada are plunged into darkness. The Great Northeast Blackout began at the height of rush hour, delaying millions of commuters, trapping ...read more

Nazis suppressed in Munich

In Munich, armed policeman and troops loyal to Germany’s democratic government crush the Beer Hall Putsch, the first attempt by the Nazi Party at seizing control of the German government.After World War I, the victorious allies demanded billions of dollars in war reparations from ...read more

Nazis launch Kristallnacht

On this day in 1938, in an event that would foreshadow the Holocaust, German Nazis launch a campaign of terror against Jewish people and their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed “Kristallnacht,” or ...read more

Antiwar protestor sets himself afire

In the second such antiwar incident within a week, Roger Allen LaPorte, a 22-year-old member of the Catholic Worker movement, immolates himself in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York. Before dying the next day, LaPorte declared, “I’m against wars, all wars. I ...read more

Army and Notre Dame fight to a draw

On November 9, 1946, the second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the first-ranked Army Cadets play to a historic 0-0 tie at Yankee Stadium in New York. Notre Dame-Army was college football’s biggest rivalry, and more than 74,000 people crowded the stands. At a time when ...read more

Kodak Theatre, new home of Oscars, opens

On this day in 2001, the 3,400-seat Kodak Theatre, which was designed as the permanent home of the Academy Awards, opens in Hollywood. The Oscars were held at the Kodak Theatre for the first time on March 24, 2002. During the show, which was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, A Beautiful ...read more

Fire rips through Boston

On this day in 1872, a fire in Boston destroys hundreds of buildings and kills 14 people. In the aftermath, the city established an entirely new system of firefighting and prevention. The fire also led to the creation of Boston’s financial district.The fire began in the basement ...read more

East Germany opens the Berlin Wall

East German officials today opened the Berlin Wall, allowing travel from East to West Berlin. The following day, celebrating Germans began to tear the wall down. One of the ugliest and most infamous symbols of the Cold War was soon reduced to rubble that was quickly snatched up ...read more