William Wallace Burns Papers

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Reference code

US TxAM-C C000023

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William Wallace Burns Papers


  • 1848-1910 (Creation)


2 Boxes

Name of creator


Biographical history

William Wallace Burns (1825-1892) was born at Coshocton, Ohio September 3, 1825. At age 17 he was appointed to the United States Military Academy from which he graduated in 1847. He was posted to the United States Army Infantry and served during the Mexican American War (1846-1848) on recruiting duty, then spent several years at various Indian posts in the West and Southwest. In 1858, he accepted a staff commission as Commissary of Subsistence with the rank of Captain.

Remaining with the U. S. Army, Burns served with the Army of the Potomac in the first months of the Civil War as General George B. McClellan's Chief Commissary in the West Virginia Campaign. Burns was appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers September 28, 1861, and beginning the following Spring in the Peninsular Campaign (March-August 1862), commanded a Brigade of General John Sedwick's 2nd Division 2nd Corps, during which Burns was wounded and favorably mentioned by McClellan. On sick leave for some months, Burns subsequently commanded the 1st Division, 9th Corps at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-13, 1862).

On March 20, 1863, Burns resigned his Volunteer commission and reverted to his staff rank of Major and Commissary. He served as Chief Commissary in the Department of the Northwest until the close of the Civil War and later discharged with distinction the same duties in various Southern departments.

Following the Civil War, Burns was promoted in the Commissary service, first to Lieutenant Colonel (1874), then to Colonel (1884). In the meantime, he had been breveted Brigadier General March 13, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services in the Civil War. William Wallace Burns retired on September 3, 1889, and died April 19, 1892, at Beaufort, South Carolina. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

"William Wallace Burns, Brigadier General, United States Army." Arlington National Cemetery Website. [Viewed 10/15/02:12: 22 PM at: ]

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Scope and content

This collection consists mainly of correspondence (1858-1888) in which Brigadier General William Wallace Burns, of the United States Army, gives detailed accounts of Civil War battles fought during the Peninsular Campaign (March-August 1862), particularly the Seven Days Battles (June 25 - July 1, 1862 ), including Peach Orchard, Allen's Farm, Savage Station, Glendale, Nelson's Farm, and Malvern Hill. Burns discusses topics such as military strategy, troop movements, military surgeons, weather conditions during battles, building pontoon bridges, building defense works and, and capturing Confederate works. One letter is present from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

Also included is personal correspondence with high-ranking officials such as President Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Secretary of War Charles Stanton, General Henry W. Halleck, General Winfield Scott Hancock, General George McClellan, General William Starke Rosecrans, and Major General Edwin Vose Sumner, as well as Emil Schalk who was a war journalist. The latter correspondence concerns political viewpoints on the causes of the war, primarily slavery, as well as the conduct and outcome of the war.

Some correspondence (1888-1904) was written just before and after Burns' death among family members, notably his grandchildren Lloyd Burns Magruder, who was a cadet at the United States Military Academy, and Pauline Magruder, as well as William Wallace Burns' sister Mabelle Burns, usually called "Mab." A substantial group of letters to Mabelle Burns is from her suitor for marriage, B. L. Prince. A few of the family letters from Pauline Magruder to her Aunt Mabelle Burns are written in French from Paris, France.

Also present is a substantial group of copies of military orders and official reports focused on Burns' thwarted ambitions to become Major General, and lead a Division in the Army of the Cumberland under the command of General Rosecrans. Apparently Burns believed political maneuverings of high governmental officials obstructed his promotion to Major General and precipitated his resignation as Brigadier General in 1863.

A few financial records and documents from legal proceedings are included concerning disputed rights to the "Sibley Tent," an invention whose patent royalties were eventually shared by Burns with Henry Hastings Sibley. Also present are a few documents concerning Texas real estate transactions.

System of arrangement

This collection is arranged chronologically and organized into 6 series:

  • Series 1, Military Correspondence, circa 1848-1889
  • Series 2, Personal Correspondence with Professional Colleagues, 1858-1893
  • Series 3, Personal Correspondence with Family and Friends, 1880-1905
  • Series 4, Financial and Legal documents, 1854-1902
  • Series 5, Miscellaneous Documents, 1880-1903
  • Series 6, Transcriptions of Correspondence, 1848-1889
  • Transcripts of correspondence (1848-1889) cover all of Series 1, Military Correspondence. Also included are Documents a-c from S2-1/6, and Documents a-h and k from S3-1/7.

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Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Languages of the material

  • English

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© Copyright 2019 Cushing Library. All rights reserved.

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