Burnsides Mud March

In January 1863, the Union's Army of the Potomac launched another campaign against General Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Still stung by his disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, a month earlier, General Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881) planned to approach Lee's army from another direction. Burnside hoped to pry Lee out of the hills surrounding Fredericksburg, where he remained. But within hours of setting out, Burnside's advance was slowed by a heavy rainstorm. The storm lingered for days, transforming the surface of the roadways into nearly impassable mud pits. At first, Burnside ordered his troops on. But as soldiers sank into the mud up to their knees and supply wagons became hopelessly stuck in the quagmire, it became clear that the offensive was doomed. At one point, the army's helplessness became so great that Confederate soldiers on the other side of a river launched a volley of teasing laughter and jokes that further humiliated the hungry and tired Union troops.

Burnside finally called off the march. As the troops of the Army of the Potomac trudged back to camp, Lincoln decided that he needed to change generals once again. On January 25, 1863, Major General Joseph Hooker (1814-1879) replaced Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Excerpt from a Union Soldier's Diary

Many Civil War soldiers left behind letters and diaries describing their experiences. One of these soldiers was Rice C. Bull, a private with the 12th Corps of the 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Union Army. Bull joined the army in the fall of 1862. In the winter of 1863, his regiment marched southward into Virginia during a blizzard and set up camp in the small town of Stafford. In the following passage from his book Soldiering: The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull, Bull describes conditions at the camp and his experience with the disease typhoid:

The intention had been to march the 12th Corps to Fredericksburg [Virginia], but as the movement against the enemy had to be abandoned because of the storm, we were ordered to camp at Stafford. As the 11th Corps, formerly stationed here, was now at the front and would not return we were directed to move into their camp. Their cabins were well built and all we had to do was place our tent cloths over the rafters. Then we made great fires, dried out our blankets, and stood before the fire until the mud had hardened on our clothes. It looked like yellow plaster and when dry would peel off in flakes, and you could see the "army blue" underneath. The march had been trying to us new soldiers, unused as we still were to such hardship.

It was unfortunate that we moved into this old camp, it proved to be a most unhealthy place. The 11th Corps had been there for some time and the stream from which they got their drinking water had been contaminated by their closets [latrines]. Typhoid fever soon developed in our Regiment and many men were ill. There were some who died, three were from our Company. We remained in this camp until March 1st; while there I had my only sickness while in the service. I remember how miserable I felt, feverish, faint, weak and with no desire for food. . . .

Conditions had become so bad by this time that we moved our camp a mile north on a hill which had not been occupied by troops. The ground was high and dry and there was water from a stream that had not been contaminated. All went to work with a will and we built new quarters. While they were not as fine as the ones we left they were comfortable and they were healthy. That winter we had already constructed winter camps at Harpers Ferry, Fairfax Station, and Stafford so we felt we were getting expert in that business. In this new camp the health of all improved at once and the depression that had settled on the Regiment passed away.

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