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Civil War Notes: The Mud March

Mud MarchAt right: Alfred Waud’s sketch of the Mud March.

On 20 January 1863, Union General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac began an offensive against General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that quickly bogged down as several days of heavy rain turned Virginia’s roads into a muddy quagmire. The campaign was abandoned three days later. In one day, the 5th New York moved only a mile and a half. The roads became unnavigable, and conflicting orders caused two corps to march across each others’ paths. Horses, wagons, and cannon 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.”

Burnside tried to lift spirits by issuing liquor to the soldiers on January 22, but this only compounded the problems. Drunken troops began brawling, and entire regiments fought one another. The operation was a complete fiasco, and on January 23 Burnside gave up his attempt to, in his words, “strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion.” The campaign was considered so disastrous that Burnside was removed as commander of the army on January 25.

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