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possessed, including his patent, to his creditors ; and, selling even his uniform and sword, sought to retrieve his fortunes at the West.
The city of Chicago invited the efforts of the embarassed but still hopeful young man.
His old friend and schoolmate, Captain George B. McClellan, had resigned his commission, and now occupied an honorable position in that place as Vice President of the Illinois Central Railroad. Mr. Burnside went to Chicago in the latter part of April, 1858, and there met Mr. William H. Osborn, the President of the road, who proved himself a fast and valued friend. Upon Mr. Osborn's recommendation, Mr. Burnside obtained the situation of cashier in the Land Department of the road. He made his quarters with Captain McClellan, and around a common fireside the two friends renewed the intimacy of former days. Mr. Burnside, limiting his expenses to a certain amount, devoted the remainder of his salary to the payment of his debts; and, when afterwards he was enabled to free himself entirely from the claims of his creditors, his unblemished integrity in business was as conspicuous as his fidelity in the field. In June, 1860, he had won the confidence of the Directors of the Railroad Company to such an extent as to receive the appointment of Treasurer of the Corporation.
By these vicissitudes of fortune, thus hastily sketched, was the early character of General Burnside trained. He had known what it was to struggle against poverty, disappointment, and failure. He had so conducted himself-he had manifested such courage and persistence through all the contest as to attract attention to his true and manly qualities. The people of Rhode Island had made him the Major General of their State Militia. He had also stood through one political canvass as a candidate for a seat in Congress, and was defeated only by his connection with an unpopular party. In Chicago, he had been widely and favorably known for his energy and his skill in affairs, his geniality in social intercourse, his high sense of honor, and his honest simplicity. By the proper ex
ercise of such qualities he had won his way through all difficulties, till at last he had secured an honorable and lucrative position. Always patriotic, he could not endure the idea of the secession of the Southern States, which had begun to be seriously discussed in the latter part of President Buchanan's administration.
A few months before the war broke out, Mr. Burnside happened to be in New Orleans, and of course the conversation among those he met turned upon the all-absorbing question. “ There will be no war,” said his friends.
“ Northern men will not fight. The South will separate herself from the Union, will set up an independent government, and will draw to her the Middle and Western States. We shall do whatever we please, and give laws and government to the continent. The North will not fight, and the South will have an easy triumph.”
“ You entirely mistake the character of the Northern people," said Burnside. “ They will fight. They never will allow the Union to be broken, and a free government to be thus destroyed without a contest. If you persist in your purpose of secession, there will be war, a bloody and cruel war. Not only will the North fight, but she will also triumph. The experiment of secession will fail, and the South, in ruin and desolation, will bitterly repent the day when she attempted to overthrow a wise and beneficent government. Why do you seek redress for what you call your wrongs, in civil war? The first gun that you fire will unite us all-whatever our political opinions may be—in opposition to your attempt. The government will be sustained, and you will suffer a disastrous defeat." He spoke in sadness, for he deplored war.
But he spoke earnestly, for he was thoroughly loyal, and he knew, better than his Southern friends, the spirit of the North. He little thought, at that time, of the extent and severity of the struggle, nor did he expect to become one of the most conspicuous actors in its scenes.
THE FIRST RHODE ISLAND REGIMENT.
HE memorable 13th of April came upon the country not
unawares. Fort. Sumter was bombarded by South Carolina troops, and the whole North—as Mr. Burnside had predicted-was aroused to arms. Preceding events had prepared the country, in some degree, for the struggle. But it was hardly supposed that the challenge which the South had offered would be so promptly accepted, or that the gage
of battle which it had thrown down would be so readily taken up. The North was peaceful. Northern men were engaged in industrial pursuits, and did not seek the excitement, the danger, or the glory of war. But throughout the North there was a deep-seated sentiment of loyalty to free institutions, and a determination that such institutions should not be rudely and needlessly overthrown. Northern men were not pusillavimous, as the South had supposed. They were not, and never have been, quarrelsome. But they had a reverence for order and law, and though they might not at tiines be willing to resent a personal injury, they would not permit the national integrity to be assailed with impunity. A personal enemy they might not punish. But a public enemy would meet with no favor at their hands.
Mr. Burnside shared in the general feeling. His ardent temperament and his devotion to a principle of duty led him to adopt, with the whole force of his nature, the cause of the government as his own. He was not, politically, a friend of the administration of Mr. Lincoln. But he was a lover of his country. Mr. Lincoln was the constitutionally elected Presi
dent of the United States. The secessionists of the South became, by the act of war, rebels and traitors against a free government. As such, they must be opposed to the death. It was ng question of parties. It was a question of patriotism, and no one, who knew Mr. Burnside, could mistake as to the course which he would pursue. His country had given him an education, and he must now make return for her generosity by devoting himself to her service. Inclination agreed with duty, for, though averse to arms, he loved an active and laborious life. There was, indeed, great danger, but the sentiment of patriotism was stronger than the regard for bodily safety. He loved his home. But the obligation to his country was more imperative than his affection for family and friends. He was not a rich man. He had but little income beyond the salary of his office. But the claims of the nation, in her hour of peril, surpassed all others, and he was ready to sacrifice fortune, happiness, and life in her behalf.
On Monday, the 15th of April, 1861, Mr. Burnside was sitting in his office in the city of New York, when a telegraphic despatch was handed to him. It was dated at Providence, was from William Sprague, then Governor of Rhode Island, and was to the following purport: “A regiment of Rhode Island troops will go to Washington this week. How soon can you come on and take command ?” The reply was very brief and to the point. Two words expressed it: 66 At once.” The next morning he was in Providence, received his commission as Colonel of the First Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, immediately appointed his staff, and commenced the work of organization and equipment. The Governor and the other State authorities co-operated with him in a very efficient and creditable manner. The people of the State forgot their political differences, and were filled with enthusiasm for the impending enterprise. More men offered their services for the campaign than could be accepted. So promptly and effectively did the work proceed, that, on Thursday, April 18th, a light battery of six rifled pieces, fully furnished with horses,
equipage, and men, left Providence, and on Saturday, the 20th, the first detachment of five hundred men and forty-four officers, completely armed, uniformed, equipped, and provisioned for a three weeks' campaign, and accompanied by the Governor of the State with members of his staff, embarked for the seat of war. The second detachment, of equal force, followed in the course of the next few days. The first detachment landed at Annapolis, Md., on the afternoon of the 24th, and marched the next morning for Annapolis Junction. The troops reached that place on the morning of the 26th, and took cars for Washington, arriving about noon. The 6th Massachusetts had reached there on the 19th, the 7th New York and the 8th Massachusetts on the 25th. But it is due to the First Rhode Island to say, that it was the first regiment that had arrived fully prepared, independently of the aid of the General Government, to take the field immediately. It could have started, for a week or fortnight's march into hostile territory, on the very evening of its arrival in Washington.
Colonel Burnside at once put his regiment under drill. A site for an encampment was found about two miles out from the heart of the city, near the Bladensburg turnpike. The camp soon became a favorite place of resort. The comfort, the cleanliness, the fine bearing, the excellent discipline of the Rhode Island troops were themes for commendation upon every tongue. Their dress parade at sunset was one of the acknowledged “sights” of Washington. Hundreds of spectators, among whom were not infrequently President Lincoln, the members of the Cabinet, and the most distinguished men of the country, daily assembled to witness the parade and to participate in the religious services that usually concluded it. The scene was of great impressiveness and beauty. Colonel Burnside was everywhere recognized as a skillful and admirable soldier. The regiment joined General Patterson's column, for a week or two in June, in a demonstration against IIarper's Ferry, then held by the rebel troops under General J. E.