Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-1881), American soldier, was born at Liberty, Indiana, on the 23rd of May 1824, of Scottish pedigree, his American ancestors settling first in South Carolina, and next in the north-west wilderness, where his parents lived in a rude log cabin. He was appointed to the United States military academy through casual favour, and graduated in 1847, when war with Mexico was nearly over. In 1853 he resigned his commission, and from 1853 to 1858 was engaged in the manufacture of firearms at Bristol, R.I. In 1856 he invented a breech-loading rifle. He was employed by the Illinois Central railroad until the Civil War broke out. Then he took command of a Rhode Island regiment of three months militia, on the summons of Governor Sprague, took part in the relief of the national capital, and commanded a brigade in the first battle of Bull Run. On the 6th of August 1861 he was commissioned brigadier-general of volunteers, and placed in charge of the expeditionary force which sailed in January 1862 under sealed orders for the North Carolina coast. The victories of Roanoke Island, Newbern and Fort Macon (February - April) were the chief incidents of a campaign which was favourably contrasted by the people with the work of the main army on the Atlantic coast.
He was promoted major-general U.S.V. soon afterwards, and early in July, with his North Carolina troops (IX. army corps), he was transferred to the Virginian theatre of war. Part of his forces fought in the last battles of Pope's campaign in Virginia, and Burnside himself was engaged in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. At the latter he was in command of McClellan's left wing, but the want of vigour in his attack was unfavourably criticized. His patriotic spirit, modesty and amiable manners, made him highly popular, and upon McClellan's final removal (Nov. 7) from the Army of the Potomac, President Lincoln chose him as successor. The choice was unfortunate. Much as he was liked, no one had ever looked upon him as the equal of McClellan, and it was only with the greatest reluctance that he himself accepted the responsibility, which he had on two previous occasions declined. He sustained a crushing defeat at the battle of Fredericksburg (13 Dec. 1862), and (Jan. 27) gave way to Gen. Hooker, after a tenure of less than three months.
Transferred to Cincinnati in March 1863, he caused the arrest and court-martial of Clement L. Vallandigham, lately an opposition member of Congress, for an alleged disloyal speech, and later in the year his measures for the suppression of press criticism aroused much opposition; he helped to crush Morgan's Ohio raid in July; then, moving to relieve the loyalists in East Tennessee, in September entered Knoxville, to which the Confederate general James Longstreet unsuccessfully laid siege. In 1864 Burnside led his old IX. corps under Grant in the Wilderness and Petersburg campaigns. After bearing his part well in the many bloody battles of that time, he was overtaken once more by disaster. The failure of the "Burnside mine" at Petersburg brought about his resignation. A year later he left the service, and in 1866 he became governor of Rhode Island, serving for three terms (1866-1869). From 1875 till his death he was a Republican member of the United States Congress. He was present with the German headquarters at the siege of Paris in 1870-71. He died at Bristol, Rhode Island, on the 13th of September 1881.
See B.P. Poore, Life and Public Services of Ambrose E. Burnside (Providence, 1882); A. Woodbury, Major-General Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps (Providence, 1867).