« PrejšnjaNaprej »
filling the offices of clerk and judge of the county Probate Court.
Into this family, Ambrose-the fifth child-was born on the 23d day of May, 1824. He was carefully nurtured, and received his elementary education in the best schools of the neighborhood. There are glimpses of a boyhood ardent, affectionate and adventurous-of high hopes, of generous ambition, of honorable spirit-early evincing a love for military sports and studies, and for any enterprise that had the spice of romance or danger. As he grew up, other children were added to the family-a son and daughter. The farm had become cultivated and comfortable. The family had grown to be one of the most prominent and respected in Eastern Indiana. Mr. Burnside had received abundant testimonials from his neighbors and friends of their confidence and regard. The children were enjoying that training which would fit them for future usefulness and honor.
But as the older sons and daughters were entering upon an active course of life, misfortunes came. Mr. Burnside lost his property in some unprofitable business transaction, and it almost seemed as though the days which had been so bright and prosperous were to end in poverty. But if material possessions were lost, there were resources of character which could not fail. The children-both girls and boys-at once set themselves to work to help their father out of his pecuniary troubles. Ambrose engaged himself to a trader in the town, who carried on a country store, held the office of postmaster, and also followed the business of a tailor. But young Burnside was not destined for a long continuance in this situation. His father had already desired that one of his sons should be educated at West Point, and Ambrose was selected for the position. It is a pleasing evidence of the esteem in which Mr. Burnside was held, that all the members of the Legislature of Indiana united in a recommendation to Hon. Caleb B. Smith, the member of Congress having the appointment, to give young Burnside the coveted privilege. Mr. Smith accordingly
acceded to the request, and at the commencement of the academical year 1842, Ambrose Everett Burnside was enrolled among the cadets in the military service of the United States.
His life at West Point was similar to that of his fellow students. He numbered among his classmates Orlando B. Willcox, Ambrose P. Hill, Romeyn B. Ayres, Otis H. Tillinghast, Charles Griffin, and Henry Heth, all of whom have won distinction upon one side or the other in the course of the war. Among the other classes are found the names of Ulysses S. Grant, Fitz John Porter, Charles P. Stone, Barnard E. Bee, Wm. L. Crittenden, Geo. B. McClellan, Thomas J. Jackson, Geo. F. Evans, John G. Foster, Darius N. Couch, John G. Parke, and Jesse L. Reno. Upon the academic staff were Professor Mahan, Wm. S. Rosecrans, Israel Vogdes, Joseph G. Totten, and E. D. Keyes. The friendships then formed continued until later life, and helped to enhance the enjoyment of a soldier's life in the camps of the Union army, and to mitigate the pains of hostile encounter with those whom the civil war made temporary enemies. During the term of study, the war with Mexico broke out, and the young men partook of the general excitement of the nation. In 1847, young Burnside graduated in the artillery-the eighteenth in rank in a class of thirty-eight members. His commission, as brevet Second Lieutenant in the 2d Artillery, was dated July 1, 1847, and on the 8th of September, 1847, he was promoted to a full second lieutenancy, and assigned to the 3d Artillery.
Immediately upon his graduation, Lieutenant Burnside proceeded to the seat of war. On his arrival at Vera Cruz, he was put in command of an escort to a baggage train, and sent into the interior. Although the route was in the nominal possession of the United States Army, the Mexicans, by a species of guerilla warfare for which they are famous, had succeeded in disabling and cutting off several trains that had previously been sent out. The duty was hazardous, and the post responsible. But the young officer handled his command with great address and skill, carried it safely through, and
won the hearty commendation of his superiors. Before he reached the Capital, however, the battles in front of the city of Mexico had been fought, and the war was virtually at an end. He was thus deprived of the opportunity which he wished of engaging, to any great extent, in the active operations of the armies in the field. When peace was proclaimed, and the army had returned home, Lieutenant Burnside was ordered to Fort Adams, Newport, R. I., where, by his eminently social qualities, and his frank, urbane, and honorable bearing, he gained many friends, and laid the foundation of that remarkable esteem with which he has long been regarded in the State of Rhode Island.
In the year 1849, Lieutenant Burnside was transferred from the agreeable duty of the post at Fort Adams and ordered to New Mexico, to join Bragg's famous battery, of which he was now appointed First Lieutenant. It was found that the country was not favorable for the operations of light artillery. Bragg's command was reorganized as cavalry, and Lieutenant Burnside, as second in command to Capt. H. B. Judd, was assigned to the duty of mail escort upon the Plains. The service was very perilous and exciting, but the young officer bore himself with so much coolness and bravery as to elicit warm encomiums for his conduct. He reached New Mexico on the 1st of August, and immediately entered into active service. On the 21st of that month, while stationed near Los Vegas with a force of twenty-nine men, he came in contact with a company of Indian warriors more than double his own command in number, drawn up at the head of a ravine to dispute his progress. He immediately determined to attack them; and, after a single discharge of their rifles, his men, led by their gallant commander, charged with sabres, and swept the Apaches like chaff before them. In this brief and brilliant engagement, eighteen Indians were killed, nine were taken prisoners, forty horses and all the supplies of the band were captured, and the whole party was completely dispersed. The
commander of the post, Capt. Judd, warmly complimented Burnside in despatches, and recommended him for promotion.
In the winter of 1850-51, Lieutenant Burnside acceptably filled the office of Quartermaster of the Boundary Commission, then engaged in running the line between the United States and Mexico, as established by the treaty of peace negotiated by the two nations. In September, 1851, he was ordered from the Gila River, where the Commission was then encamped, to proceed across the vast plains of the West to Washington, as bearer of despatches to the government of the United States. It was a duty which required the utmost vigilance, prudence, and persistence. It was necessary that the despatches should reach Washington at the earliest possible moment. With an escort of three men-one of whom was his faithful negro servant, whom he had found in New Mexico, and who has since followed his fortunes with a singular devotion-he started on his difficult enterprise. Twelve hundred miles of wilderness, occupied by wild beasts and Indians, many of whom were hostile, lay between him and civilization. He accomplished the distance in seventeen days, meeting with many adventures and hair-breadth escapes upon the way. At one time, a party of Indians was upon his trail for more than twenty-four hours, and he only escaped by taking advantage of the darkness of the night to double upon his pursuers. He fully attained the object of his mission, and was commended by the authorities for his fidelity and success.
During his time of service in New Mexico, Lieutenant Burnside had ascertained that the carbine then generally in use among our mounted soldiers, was wholly unsuitable and inadequate for the peculiar warfare of that region. While upon his journey to Washington, he occupied his mind with an attempt to supply the deficiency. He revolved the subject in his thoughts, and when further opportunities were given him, elaborated his plans, until, as the result of his reflection and study, he was enabled to produce a new arm. He invented a breech-loading rifle, which was vastly superior to any arm of
the kind then in the service. It was distinguished for the facility with which it could be loaded, discharged, and cleansed, for its endurance as a serviceable weapon, its accuracy of aim, and its length of range. Other breech-loading rifles have been invented since that time, the excellences of which have somewhat obscured the merit of this arm. But at the time of its invention, it was beyond question the best of its kind. The inventor was especially desirous that his own country should receive the benefit of his labors, and that our soldiers upon the frontiers should enjoy the protection which a really superior weapon would afford. He offered to contract with the Government for the manufacture of the rifle, and was encouraged by the War Department to feel that his offers would be accepted. Meanwhile, he returned to his former post at Newport. While here, on the 27th of April, 1852, he was married to Miss Mary Richmond Bishop, of Providence.
The expectation of a contract for the manufacture of the newly invented weapon, and the flattering encouragement which he received from the War Department and the authorities at Washington, his marriage, and the peaceful state of the country induced Lieutenant Burnside to leave the service, and accordingly, on the 1st of November, 1853, he resigned his commission. Removing to Bristol, Rhode Island, he built a large manufactory, entered into business arrangements with some of the leading capitalists of the State, and prepared to complete his negotiations with the National Government. Unfortunately for him, the contract was not consummated, and after a few years of struggle and loss, Mr. Burnside became so deeply involved as to prevent any further progress in his adopted occupation. He was still more embarrassed by the action of John B. Floyd, who became Secretary of War in 1857, and who held out promises, encouragements, and inducements, only to disappoint their object. Mr. Burnside therefore soon found himself compelled to withdraw entirely from the manufacture of arms. With characteristic high mindedness and honorable feeling, he gave up everything which he