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Big Risk, Big Loss

In 1857 the next Secretary of War John G. Floyd was interested in purchasing carbines for the army. If they passed testing, then the government would buy $90,000 worth of Burnside carbines. The Burnside passed the first round of testing, so inventor Ambrose Burnside began creating the order.  With the economy taking a downturn and his already existing financial problems, his carbine manufacturing took him further and further into debt. Then the government pushed the order back to do a second round of testing, severely straining the already financially strapped company. Although the Burnside Carbine successfully completed the second test, Floyd refused the large contract with Burnside in early 1858. The government would buy only a small portion of the original order, and the large contract went to a political ally of Floyd’s.  That loss of contract marked the end of Burnside’s career as an industrialist.  He was so deeply in debt that he assigned everything to the company’s investors (rather than formally declaring bankruptcy), including his patent.1a

The Burnside Carbine

Later in 1858 the Bristol Rifle Works belatedly obtained over a $21,000 contract with the U.S. War Department, but Ambrose Burnside would not receive any of the profits.

a Burnside went out West to repay the company’s debts, leaving his wife with relatives during his journey.1 Ultimately he and his wife ended up in New York in 1860, where he was promoted to Treasurer of the Illinois Central Railroad there. Burnside had obtained a job working at the Illinois Central Railroad from his West Point friend, George B. McClellan.2 Later, during the Civil War, Burnside was a General of the Union's Volunteer troops, but arguably lacked good leadership skills.3​

1 William Marvell,  Burnside (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 12-13.

2 Marvell, Burnside, 13-14.

3 William B. Edwards, Civil War Guns: The complete story of Federal and Confederate small arms:  design, manufacture, identification, procurement, issue, employment, effectiveness, and postwar disposal (Secaucus, New Jersey: Castle, 1982), 115.


Secretary of War John B. Floyd c.  1855 - 1865

the piece of metal or wood that is molded into a machine part or carbine part


Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside c. 1860 - 1865

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