General Ambrose Burnside Takes Blame for Fredericksburg Defeat

December 21, 1862

Lincoln aide John Hay writes in an anonymous newspaper dispatch:  “General Burnside in this morning in Washington.  He says to every one with whom he converses, that the clamors against General Halleck and the Secretary of War, on account of the affair at Fredericksburg, are utterly unjust and unfounded; that the march upon Fredericksburg was his own original idea; that it was opposed both by General Halleck and the Secretary as well as by the President, who all afterwards yielded to the representations of General Burnside; that he received no orders from Washington in regard to his movements; that he crossed the river because he expected to beat the enemy; that he came back because he thought a further advance had become impracticable; that he asked for nothing from the Government which he had not received, and had no cause of complaint, but rather of sincere gratitude for the cordial and unwavering support he had received from the President, Secretary of War, and General Halleck.

“He says, further, that he has observed with pain the efforts that have been made, by newspapers of a certain class, to praise him at the expense of the Administration; to give to him all the credit, and to them all the blame, for recent movements. He thinks it would be cowardly and unmanly for him, by silence, to give a seeming assent to these atrocious insinuations, and it is understood that he has prepared a dispatch for the Associated Press giving an abstract of what I have stated.

“It is also understood that he has freely and frankly assured the President, that he hopes the Government will not have the least hesitation in removing him from the command of the army, if they can place there a man in whom they or the people have more confidence; that he will serve with cheerfulness under any commander they may choose to designate; and that he will not for an instant allow his personal feelings to weigh in the balance against what is, or seems to be, the public interest.

“It is further understood that he has been met in the same spirit of honest frankness by the President.  He has been told that no blame was attached to him by the Administration; that General Halleck, after a full survey of the army and the field, had reported that his dispositions were excellent, and that nothing but a chain of untoward circumstances prevented the realization of his most sanguine hopes.

Hay writes that “to a man like Burnside, insincerity is a crime.  His want of ambition verges upon a fault.  He went into this war with the sole thought and intention of doing his duty.  He has remained in it, to the daily sacrifice of his inclinations and detriment of his business.  He is a life-long Democrat, but a better patriot.  SO that he will not allow his friends to attack his superiors to shield him.  He will not countenance his party in charging the Administration with that for which, right or wrong, he is responsible.  HE has conquered, in this act of splendid manliness, the promptings of personal ambition and the instigations of party pressure.  And in so doing, he has done what no leading General has done before since the war began.”

Burnside may have been forthright and sincere.   Nevertheless,  Burnside’s subordinates were set on his replacement.

Published in: on December 21, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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