Submitted by C.J. Johnson
At the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia in December 1862, Confederate forces commanded by General Robert E. Lee overwhelmed Union forces. Union General Burnside’s army counted about 13,000 casualties in what has been called one of the most one-sided battles in the Eastern Theater. It was a terrible defeat for the Federal forces.
Days after the battle, morale among the Northern troops was quite low, and the weather would only make things worse. Burnside decided to pursue Lee and attempt to take the momentum back from the Confederates. It had been a dry January, but that was about to change.
On January 20th, as the Federal force began what was supposed to be a swift march, “a drizzle turned into a downpour that lasted for four days…roads became unnavigable and conflicting orders caused two corps to march across each other’s paths. Horses, wagons, and cannons were stuck in mud, and the element of surprise was lost.
Jeering Confederates taunted the Yankees with shouts and signs that read Burnside’s Army Stuck in the Mud,” according to history.com. Southern newspapers picked up the story as well, with headlines like “Yankee Army Stuck in the Mud,” which ran in the Daily Constitutionalist paper in Augusta, Georgia.
On January 22nd, Burnside hoped to improve the soldiers’ attitudes by issuing liquor to the troops. Things got worse, instead, as large numbers of drunken soldiers began fighting in huge brawls. The next day, Burnside called off the operation altogether.
The “Mud March,” as it was called, seemed to be the last straw as far as Lincoln was concerned. On January 25, 1863, Burnside was removed from his command of the Army of the Potomac, after only a couple of months.
The Associated Press filed the following report when Burnside departed on the 26th. “…he saluted his officers and troops a last time at his headquarters. Burnside acknowledged that while victory had not been gained on his watch, his forces had shown ‘courage, patience and endurance.’ He added to the troops: ‘Continue to exercise these virtues, be true in your devotion to your country, and the principles you have sworn to maintain.’”
Lincoln replaced Burnside with General Joseph Hooker, who had proven himself in the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia the previous year.