From Antietam to Chancellorsville: September 1862 to May 1863

Battles For the West

How did the “Mud March” conclude?

Burnside and his staff galloped to the river bank on January 22, finding the men they passed in sorry condition. On arrival, they found that the material for only one pontoon bridge—not five—was in place. A measure of whiskey had been given to each soldier that morning. The measure was given in the belief that the alcohol would raise the men’s spirits; instead it nearly created a set of mutinies. Surveying the situation, Burnside did the only thing he could: he ordered the army to return to its previous camp by the same mud-soaked roads by which it had come.

That evening, Burnside wrote out a set of orders. He cashiered General Joseph Hooker, who, he declared, had acted with conduct unbecoming of an officer. He marked five other generals out for dismissal and decided to bring all the papers to the White House. Everything went wrong on his trip, however. The ambulance in which he rode overturned, and the commanding general had to “hitch” rides throughout the night. When Burnside finally arrived at the White House, he was a sorry sight, and Lincoln—while sparing his feelings—made his decision. A few hours later, Burnside was relieved of command, and Joe Hooker—who had created such turmoil for his commanding officer—was made commander of the Army of the Potomac.


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