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The limitations of a famous R.I. general

A recent story in the Journal describes the refurbishment of Providence’s equestrian statue of Ambrose Burnside, Rhode Island industrialist, Civil War general, governor and U.S. senator during the post-Civil War era. As the article notes, “Burnside is better remembered for hirsute jowls — the term ‘burnsides’ was coined to describe them, later reversed to ‘sideburns’ — than for his generalship.”

In fact, Burnside achieved some successes but they were overshadowed by some egregious failures. At the outbreak of the war, he mustered a 90-day regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, which comprised part of the brigade he commanded without distinction during the battle of First Manassas.

After the 1st Rhode Island was mustered out, Burnside was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, carrying out successful amphibious operations along the North Carolina coast. Eventually, the force he led became IX Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac, serving in the Peninsula campaign, at Second Manassas and at Antietam.

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