January 20, 1863: Mud March

Mud March Painting


Probably the nadir of the Union war effort was reached by the Mud March of the Army of the Potomac which began 160 years ago on January 20, 1863.  Desperate to redeem himself after the bloody fiasco at Fredericksburg the commander of the Potomac, General Ambrose Burnside, ordered an unusal winter offensive, planning to cross over the Rappahannock at Banks ford, .

The weather was unseasonably mild on the 20th.  On the evening of the 20th-21st the rains began and did not stop.  Burnside quick began throwing pontoons over the river, but as the landscape dissolved into a sea of mud, the progress of the Army slowed.  Lee had ample time as a result to station the Army of Northern Virginia across from Burnside on the southern banks of the  Rappahannock.  Other than sharpshooter fire, Lee made no effort to stop Burnside from crossing, perhaps thinking that fighting Burnside with a swollen Rappahannock in the rear of the Army of the Potomac gave an excellent prospect of destroying the Union force.

However, Burnside did not cross.  His army was effectively stuck in the mud, as noted by amused Confederates who posted a large sign reading “Burnside’s Army Stuck in the Mud”.  Burnside gave up on the 23rd and began his retreat.  In after years many Union veterans would recall the wearying mud march back to their encampments around Washington as their worst experience during the War.  Burnside was finally sacked by Lincoln on January 26th.  It was a great pity that the militarily talentless Burnside was not summarily dismissed from the Union Army, a fact would bedevil Grant during his Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg, where Burnside would give fresh examples of the art of military incompetence.



  1. Off subject but you might find this link interesting…http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/3-d-sonar-provides-new-view-of-civil-war-shipwreck/?cat_orig=diversions It is about the only USN ship sunk during the Civil War.

    • Fascinating Dennis. I will probably make this the subject of a future post.

  2. another off subject comment. I think I found the source for the title of your blog. Fascinating. But this post is from history professor at King’s College picked up by CNN of all things?! My wife read it to me this morning as I do not haunt CNN and all I could say is WOW. The only thing he could have added is that bothe Lincoln and Martin Luther King were REPUBLICANS.
    Thanks for your good work.

    • Yep, that is where we got the title Dennis. I have always been struck by the phrase and what Lincoln may have meant by it:


      • Read your link. I have Presbyterian friends buying into “replacement theology”, a heresy in my book. They are teaching that the church has replaced Israel in regard to the promises of God. Our unchanging God made a promise to Abram which is only partially fulfilled. Our Abraham (Lincoln) understood that Israel could never be replaced by the church, rather the church is grafted onto the stump of Jacob/Jesse. Abe Lincoln and others believed that God had His hand in the founding and guiding the country even up to his day. And I believe that God has as long as we have recognized and obeyed Him blessed the USA in amazing ways throughout our history… ALMOST as much as He has blessed Israel. As we turn our backs on the LORD, we will see what it means to be the benefactors of the ALMOST, unfortunately. I think President Lincoln recognized that while Israel has the position of the apple of God’s eye, and the USA will never REPLACE the Chosen People. For a season we are blessed and with that blessing came an awesome responsibility.
        It would have been a great conversation to hear the President expound on this thought. It makes a real good title for a blog. You should offer occasionally for new readers the reasoning behind the name.
        I continue to enjoy haunting your blog. No need to reply.
        In Christ, Dennis

  3. If Dennis’ reading is correct, that adds something quite extraordinary to the already astonishing record of Lincoln’s brilliance. Replacement Theology was hardly an issue in his time, and the temptation to cast one’s own community or church as the true Israel must have been as strong as it ever was before or since. That Lincoln should have kept his feet on the ground and consciosly rejected this heresy would be amazing. However, I think it is more likely to represent a general cautiousness and unwillingness to cast themselves as a perfect community.

    • Lincoln was always reluctant to say that his side was angelic and the other side demonic. From his October 16, 1854 speech:

      “Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses north and south. Doubtless there are individuals, on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters.

      When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded. We can not, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the south.

      When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them, not grudgingly, but fully, and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives, which should not, in its stringency, be more likely to carry a free man into slavery, than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one.

      But all this; to my judgment, furnishes no more excuse for permitting slavery to go into our own free territory, than it would for reviving the African slave trade by law. The law which forbids the bringing of slaves from Africa; and that which has so long forbid the taking them to Nebraska, can hardly be distinguished on any moral principle; and the repeal of the former could find quite as plausible excuses as that of the latter.”

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