A Patriot of Two Wars
In the early morning of the last century many of the inhabitants of the Carolinas, dissatisfied with the unrestrained importation of the slaves, crossed the Appalachian Mountains and turning their steps northward emigrated to the then unsettled region north of the Ohio River.
Among these early settlers was a family of Scotch descent named Burnside. The father, Edghill Burnside, selected a section of public land near Liberty for his home and for years was a highly honored and respected citizen of this community.
While living here a short distance east of Liberty on the twenty third day May, 1824, the future governor and United States senator from Rhode Island, Ambrose E. Burnside was born.
He attended the old seminary which at that time was under the guidance of Doctor Houghton. When about seventeen years of age he went to Centerville to work in a tailor shop. He became a skilled merchant but his heart was not in his work and while he cut and basted and stitched and pressed he managed to read a great deal, and this early in life stored his mind with a vanity of useful knowledge. He afterwards came back to Liberty and went into partnership with John M. Myers in the merchant tailor business. The firm of Myers and Burnside occupied a small, one-story wooden building stand where B. G. Stevens now has his store.
The moral surroundings of Burnside gave strength to his judgment and freedom to his speech. His father, Judge Burnside, being a member of the State Senate obtained a recommendation that is son might receive an appointment as a cadet to West Point. He received the appointment and graduated from that great military school in 1847.
Burnside served in the Mexican War as a Lieutenant of artillery. In the Civil War he fought on the fields of South Mountain, Antietam, the Wilderness, Petersburg, Cold Harbor, Spottsylvania and Fredericksburg at that time being commanding general of the Army of the Potomac.
But his fame is not alone that of a soldier. He was three times elected governor of Rhode Island by his people and twice chosen by the almost unanimous voice of her general assembly to a seat in the Senate of the United States. Few men ever had such a hold on the affection of a people as he had on the people of his adopted State. They admired him as a soldier, they confided in his wisdom and integrity as a Statesman, and most of all they loved him as a man.
As executive and as Senator he maintained his political beliefs with the courage of conviction, and never faltered in the support of what he thought to be right. In an address delivered by Mr. Spooner of Rhode Island is the following tribute:...”Burnside was of the foremost of our prominent men and held the largest share in the affection of our people. His commanding form was the most familiar figure in our state, his presence in any public gathering always invoked the heartiest greeting, his name was a household word mentioned in every Rhode Island home.” “The war for the Union, involving as it did issues of greater magnitude and importance than had ever before been submitted to the abatement of arms...the supremacy of law, the honor of our flag, the very life of the Republic...aroused as no less cause could, all that earns patriotism, fidelity and devotion to County which were among the stronger traits of Burnsides character.
During the France-German war he was in Europe. At Versailles he made the acquaintance of the German Emperor, the Crown Prince and Bismarck. Mr. Russell wrote to the London “Times”....Bismarck likes him. Indeed, there are few persons of any nation who will not be touched by the cordial nature and uprightness of the man by his solid good sense and kindliness of nature, and by his idea of perception unmoved by selfishness or any affectation of statesmanship which is perhaps the highest diplomacy.”
Quick in conception, raped in his processes he was sometimes hasty in his judgments, but he always held them open to evidence and subject to argument and with a singular absence of the pride of opinion he changed them frankly on conviction. His name and fame will live while the recollection of the great historic events in which he was so prominent an actor remain. The country cannot forget him and the people whom he devotedly served will cherish the memory of his labors.
Mabel F. Clift
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