The 1970s owe him so much.
Okay, so Ambrose Burnside wasn't actually born in Rhode Island, but in Liberty, Indiana, on May 23, 1824. Still, he's commonly referred to as "Rhode Island's Own" in recognition of his years of loyal service to his adopted state.
Today Burnside is perhaps best remembered by non-historians for his absurdly huge, bushy side-whiskers. It is from these that we get the term "sideburns." But he did other stuff, too.
Graduating from West Point in 1847, Burnside served with an artillery unit in the Mexican-American War. During a brief posting to Fort Adams, in Newport, he fell in love with a local girl, Mary Bishop. Another stint out west to serve in the Apache Wars interrupted their romance, but he soon returned to Rhode Island and married Miss Bishop on April 27, 1852. Shortly afterward he resigned his commission in the army to live permanently in Rhode Island and open an arms factory. Unfortunately for him, Burnside's Bristol Rifle Works failed when a government contract fell through.
When war broke out between the states in April 1861, Burnside was a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Militia. He raised a field regiment—the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry—and was appointed its colonel on May 2, 1861. Though best known for his Civil War career (and his facial hair—don't forget the facial hair!), his record in that conflict was less than distinguished. He inexpertly commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run in August of 1861, led a successful amphibious landing on the North Carolina coast in 1862, and led the Army of the Potomac to a terrible defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862. Burnside was able to hold Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1863, but displayed unexceptional leadership of the 9th Corps under General Ulysses Grant in 1864.
Quitting while he was behind, Burnside resigned once more from service in 1865. He went on to serve three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island from 1866 to 1869, and two six-year terms in the United States Senate in 1870 and 1876, which post he held until his sudden death in Bristol on September 13, 1881.
Some Rhode Island historians believe that Burnside has been treated unfairly, not only during his lifetime but throughout written history as well. The traditional view is that he was just a lousy commander. Those who are disposed to be more charitable toward him ascribe his failures to politics, insubordination, a lack of adequate communication in the field, or just plain rotten luck.
He is buried in Swan Point next to his wife, Mary, who died five years before him. Their distinctively designed house (built in 1866) can still be seen at the corner of Benefit and Planet Streets in Providence. An equestrian statue of the general adorns Burnside Park in downtown Providence.
Other Famous Sideburns
Burnside's Grave Inscriptions
|Ambrose Everett Burnside.
Born May 23, 1824.
Died Sept. 13, 1881.
My glory was fresh in me,
And my bow was renewd in my hand.
This is the Lord's doing:
It is marvellous in our eyes.
AMBROSE E. BURNSIDE
UNDER THE CONSTITUTION
1866 - 1869
|GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
|MARY R. BURNSIDE
Born Oct. 26, 1828
Died March 9, 1876
I know that my Redeemer liveth
Hours: Daily 8am-7pm, April 1-September 30; 8am-5pm, October 1-March 31
Remember, this is a cemetery. Please be respectful. Please note that, for reasons of privacy, Swan Point actively discourages photography. If they see you doing it, they will ask you to stop.
Directions: from the north: take exit 27 off Route 95; turn east onto East Street and go two blocks to a fork; bear left at the fork; go .8 miles and turn left onto Blackstone Boulevard; Swan Point is the second left across the Boulevard.
From the south: take exit 3 off Route 195; turn right onto Gano Street; go north on Gano to Waterman Street; turn right on Waterman; at the second light, turn left on Butler Avenue; Butler turns into Blackstone Boulevard; Swan Point is 1.7 miles on the right.
Enter through the front gates of the cemetery and drive straight ahead; at the Barnaby monument, turn left onto Junction Avenue and then bear right at the Daniels grave marker onto Pond Avenue; go as straight as you can until you reach a "T" intersection with Avenue B; turn left onto Avenue B and proceed along a gentle right-hand curve to the intersection of Spruce Avenue and Hemlock; Burnside and his wife, Mary, are buried to your right, side by each under horizontal stones.