1863: Burnsides Mud March

Headquarters, 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps
Camp near Falmouth, Virginia
January 21st 1862 [should be 1863]

Dear Friend,

Burnside’s Mud March, January 1863

Your favor reached me yesterday and although I wrote you a few days previous, yet I take the liberty to trespass again on your patience, trusting that you will inform me if I write too often. The army are again on the move, or rather on the attempt to move but the mud—Oh! Mud is beyond description. It commenced raining again yesterday morning and at the same time the left Grand Division moved up toward the right, to a position about 5 miles above Falmouth where I expect a crossing will be attempted. Last night and today the Center Grand Division followed making a complete change of front. Sumner’s Grand Division (the Right) remains as yet in its old position but are under marching orders and probably will go tonight on in the morning if the men can possibly wallow through the mud. The roads present a woeful specticle. Wagons sunk half out of sight, mules tangled and floundering in every shape. Drivers look as though they had been hod carriers for years without a changing their suit. Artillery making desparate efforts to get forward but all to no use. Mud is commander-in- chief and has ordered the army to halt. How long such a state of affairs is to exist I can not tell but I look for no change in 3 or 4 weeks. It will be impossible for the army to acomplish much until there is some bottom to the roads.

I was very much pleased with the “paper” you sent me and I  shall strive some way so as to get regular ones. I feel very anxious to hear from John. It was wrong in us to be separated, but I find that military is far different from civil life and ones will is very easily checked. I trust that the time will come when we shall all meet together where free speech will be tolerated and all will be “merry as a marriage Belle.”

Capt. Richard N. Batchelder

I am now a Wagon Master of the 1st Div. 2nd Army Corps with Capt. [Charles Henry] Hoyt, Chief Quarter Master, in whose care you will please direct letters to me. Capt. [Richard N.] Batchelder left the 2nd Division and I found I could better my pay by changing places and so far I am well satisfied with the change.

January 28th. Circumstances prevented me from finishing my letter the other day [and I hope you] will excuse all matter that is too old. You have doubtless seen the particulars of the fruitless attempt of the army to cross the Potomac and that they have again returned to their old quarters in somewhat disheartened state. Never before has the Army of the Potomac been so completely discouraged and it will require the energy and zeal of a McClellan to restore again that old cheerfulness and confidence which once made it the pride of the world.

It seems that we are no nearer peace today than we were 18 months ago yet I still have confidence that our countries bleeding wounds will be healed and we will see the old Banner triumphantly waving but not until the War Department undergoes a great change and the Administration looks at the Constitution of our Fathers as a thing that is—not a thing that has past.

It has been snowing here today for the first time this winter. A snowstorm as a general is not pleasantly received but I see so much in the bright flowery flakes to remind me of home and its surroundings that I greet the storm with a smile. Please give me your sister’s full name and, as much above it as paper and a desire to please her sister’s friend will admit of. Write soon. — Charley


General Ambrose E. Burnside

The Mud March was an abortive attempt at a winter offensive in January 1863 by Union Army Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside in the American Civil War. Following his defeat in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, Burnside was desperate to restore his reputation and the morale of his Army of the Potomac. He planned a surprise crossing of the Rappahannock River south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on January 1, 1863, to flank Robert E. Lee. At the same time, Union cavalry would cross the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford, 20 miles north, and strike south into Lee’s rear, destroying his supply lines. President Abraham Lincoln learned of this plan from some disaffected officers on Burnside’s staff and put a stop to it, assessing it as too risky. So Burnside revived his plan but reversed the original sequence. Instead of crossing the Rappahannock south of Fredericksburg, he planned to move upstream and cross at Banks’ Ford.  The offensive movement began on January 20, 1863, in unseasonably mild weather. That evening a steady rain began, and it persisted for two days, saturating the unpaved roads, leaving them knee-deep in mud. After struggling for two days to move troops, wagons, and artillery pieces, Burnside yielded to complaints from his subordinates and reluctantly ordered his army back to camp near Fredericksburg. The Mud March was Burnside’s final attempt to command the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln replaced him with Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker on January 26, 1863.

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