“The auspicious moment seems to have arrived to strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion, and to gain that decisive victory which is due to the country.” General Ambrose Burnside to his Union Army of the Potomac, just before getting stuck in the mud

January 20-22, 1863

I love finding ‘today in history’ blurbs, and since this story is somewhat comical, thought it would be worth the telling.

Just five weeks after getting battered at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Union General Ambrose Burnside started out on a drive to beat General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and capture Richmond, Va. His plan was to quickly cross the river above Lee’s left and assault the flank of the Confederate position. Union soldiers and their wagon trains of artillery and supplies made a good start before the sky started clouding. By mid-afternoon a slow drizzle had begun. By nightfall a steady, relentless rain fell – and did not stop for days.

The next morning, the great mule-drawn wagons churned the road into a quagmire. The wagons sank to their hubs, and the artillery sank until only the muzzles were out of the mud. The exhausted horses floundered, as did the men, as each slippery step through the ooze sucked off their shoes and weighed them down.

One soldier wrote, “The whole country was a river of mud. The roads were rivers of deep mire, and the heavy rain had made the ground a vast mortar bed.”

Even triple teams of mules hitched to the wagons and guns failed to move them. By noon the next day, Burnside’s plans to maneuver past Lee’s Rebel army were hopelessly stalled. He had nothing more to show for his efforts than an exhausted, wet, and cold army.

With rain still falling in torrents. Burnside had no choice but to abandon the movement and order his soldiers back to their camps across from Fredricksburg.

Across the river, the Confederate pickets watched the struggling Union army with amusement. Some put up a large sign on the riverbank that said “Burnside’s Army Stuck in the Mud” and another that said “This way to Richmond.”


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