Born in 1824 in Indiana, Burnside worked as a tailor's apprentice until securing an appointment to West Point. Graduating from the academy in 1847 he resigned five years later and was a gun manufacturer, a treasurer of a railroad company, and was involved with the Rhode Island state militia before the Civil War started.
With the outbreak of war Burnside was among the earliest troops to arrive in Washington, D.C. and became a friend of President Lincoln. After a promising start as an officer his actions at Antietam and Fredericksburg brought his ability to lead under question.
Serving as commander of the IX Corps under Gen. Grant in the last year of the war, Burnside's active military career came to an end at Petersburg. In the inquiry conducted by Gen. Meade after the Battle of the Crater most of the blame for the Union disaster was placed upon him. He took leave and never returned, resigning in 1865. A subsequent congessional investigation of the battle exonerated Burnside to a degree.
Burnside served as president of various corporations, and as governor and senator of Rhode Island until his death in 1881.
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