previous next

[169] leading in the same path with the feeling that stirred the nation's pulse when its flag was torn down by parricidal hands, I dedicated my life, and whatever was inwrapt within my life, to the defence of my country. I did not under-rate the proportions of the rebellion, and I accepted my line of duty with the conviction that the nation would require of its loyal children determined purpose, and, perhaps, great sacrifices, before its unity would be restored. With these convictions I took command of a brigade in the Army of the Potomac in June, 1861. From that time until I was relieved from duty with the Army of the Potomac, on the twenty-fifth day of January, 1863, I have been trying to do my duty in camp and upon the field. That I have not altogether failed, the brave men who have grown up with me have proved on the battle-fields of Virginia and Maryland; and it is but common justice to those of them who yet live, and to the memory of those who are dead, to say that they never failed me in the time of trial. My time has been passed with my command. Including a period of illness, I have been absent from it but twenty-one days. This has left me but little time to look after matters personal to myself. Having no political associations of influence, I must content myself, as best I can, with the reflection that the committee believed that the failure at Fredericks-burg demanded a victim, and that, being of no consequence except as a soldier, it was most available to order me to that duty.

I have had no friendships which have stood in the way of the performance of my duty.

When General Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac, and up to the time he left it, I gave a hearty obedience to every order he gave me, as well as a full and frank expression of my opinion when he invited me to his councils. I supposed that we were attached friends, and that we were both looking only to those means which would achieve success. I agreed with him fully in the propriety of crossing the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg at the time proposed by his original plan. After that failed, whatever advice I gave to him in council sprang from the honest convictions of my judgment, and I should have been recreant to my duty to my country and my own conscience had I given him any other. When the crossing was determined upon, with what alacrity I obeyed the order, the time within which my troops were crossed and placed in line of battle is the best evidence. This done, and our troops posted on the enemy's side of the river, with nothing but frail pontoon bridges between them and their destruction as an army, I proposed that an assault should be made upon the enemy's position with a column strong enough to command success, (naming the number of at least six divisions,) with the request that I might be allowed to make immediate dispositions to carry it out. After waiting through the night, I was ordered to take a particular height with one division, and to keep my whole command in readiness for some contemplated movement. In obeying this order according to its letter and spirit, a force of the enemy upon my left, my right, and my centre discovered itself, sufficient to engage during the day every division in my command. Our failure was the natural consequence of the insufficient preparation and inadequate provision for an attack upon an army like that in front of us. This being the state of the facts, so far as I am concerned, without a hearing or the opportunity of defence, a report from the legislative branch of the government has been spread through the newspapers and in pamphlets before my countrymen, stating that had I obeyed the orders given me by General Burnside on that day, our army would have achieved a most brilliant victory. Instead of a brilliant victory, it was a sad and fearful disaster, in which many brave men fell — men to whom I was attached by two years association; and for this disaster, and for the blood of these comrades, this committee say I am responsible.

I place these facts by the side of their report, perfectly willing to abide by the verdict which the public will pass upon me.


The correspondence which follows shows the grounds upon which I based my assertion that General Burnside formally and earnestly requested the President to remove Mr. Stanton and General Halleck from the positions which they held in 1862-63.

Now, there is no excuse which can justify a statement of the kind made by General Burnside to his Generals on this subject, and the effect upon some of them was more damaging than would at first sight appear.

Having entire confidence in the truth of his statement, they looked upon him as a man whose boldness in bearding the lions in their den, entitled him to a certain admiration, but who had been destroyed by this very boldness. They considered him a doomed man, and that the end of his career as the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, was only a question of a few days.

It is, therefore, not to be wondered at, that certain Generals finding that he was still acting as if he felt firm in his seat, and as though his open condemnation of the Secretary of War and General-in-Chief had done him no harm, and knowing the extreme want of confidence of the troops in his capacity, should begin to feel nervous and anxious about the destiny of the Army of the Potomac under such a commander, and should believe that a representation of the feeling of the army toward him, made to influential persons in Washington, taken in connection with the fact (as they supposed it) that he had asked for the removal of the President's two chief military subordinates, might have weight in having some important change effected, without subjecting them to any very grave charges.

Nor is it to be wondered at that Generals who heard him make this statement, should afterwards have less confidence in his judgment; and should consider that no important operations would thereafter be carried on under his command.

In other words, it is quite likely that the misunderstandings caused by this “statement,” might account in a great degree for the conduct of certain officers affected by the notorious Order No. 8.

When 1 gave my evidence before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War in December 1862, I did not quote the order which I received from General Burnside under which I made the attack at the battle of Fredericksburg. This is the reason for the omission.

I thought that General Burnside was the proper person to present this order in evidence. I asked him, after he had given his evidence, if he had delivered a copy of the order to the committee, or if he intended to deliver one, and he informed me that he had given it, or intended to give it.

Yet upon examination of the published evidence, upon which the committee based its report, I cannot find that this order was brought to its attention until General J. F. Reynolds gave his evidence in March, 1863, and I gave mine about April first, 1863.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Washington (United States) (1)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (1)
Fredericksburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
A. E. Burnside (6)
S. S. Stanton (1)
John F. Reynolds (1)
H. W. Halleck (1)
William B. Franklin (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
April 1st, 1863 AD (1)
March, 1863 AD (1)
January 25th, 1863 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
December, 1862 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
June, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: