Jul 12, 2010

How Ambrose Burnside Entered My Life

Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose Burnside. The man--nay, legend--who bestowed the word 'sideburns' upon the English language. Described by Bruce Catton thusly:

[H]e was modest; in an army many of whose generals were insufferable prima donnas, Burnside never mistook himself for Napoleon. Physically he was impressive: tall, just a little stout, wearing what was probably the most artistic and awe-inspiring set of whiskers in all that bewhiskered Army. He customarily wore a high, bell-crowned felt hat with the brim turned down and a double-breasted, knee-length frock coat, belted at the waist—a costume which, unfortunately, is apt to strike the modern eye as being very much like that of a beefy city cop of the 1880s.

He epically lost the Battle of Fredericksburg. He epically lost the Battle of the Crater. In fact, he just wasn't a very good general.

However, for whatever leadership skills he lacked, Ambrose Burnside made up for them by being a master gunsmith.

OK--maybe 'master gunsmith' is too much. But we was a gunsmith, and he created, in 1857, one of the finest Union carbines of the war. In fact, he left the Army in order to perfect the gun (and became a general--and the head of the Army of the Potomac--due to the gun's, and thereby his own, name recognition).

So where do I come in?

Well, this past weekend was the annual Sauerman Family Reunion, held at the old family farm. My Great Great Uncle George (my great-granfather's brother) was the proprietor of the Sauerman Curiosity Shop, in addition to being the seven-time international hay champion. He collected random items from far and wide, including an old pony express saddle, an alligator skin, a collection of bird eggs (including a giant ostrich one that we still have today), and a pair of klogs. Additionally, he must've acquired a gun.

Yes, that's right. Cousin Jack--feeling the need to return to the farm what had once been a part of it (he took it when the family was dividing up George's belongings after he died in 1954--he had never had children)--brought us a fifth model, 1863, working-condition Burnside carbine.

Now, I can put it alongside my (inauthentic) Civil War muskets. All I wonder, though, is what the gun's story is. The Sauermans came to the States in 1854, and some of them may have joined up in the Civil War. The gun might've seen real action. It might've been held by a relative so long ago.

Unfortunately, Uncle George is long gone, and Jack never learned the story. My grandpa didn't recognize the gun at all. So, it looks like the mystery may be lost to time. In the meanwhile, however, I now have a really, really cool toy.


Amy said...

Oh my goodness, I would kill to poke around the Sauerman Curiosity Shop. Well, maybe not kill.

Lauren said...

I'm with Amy. I want to see the "freaks" in particular.