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Monday, 15 January 2018 15:00

Episode 26 - Life Lessons from the Civil War (Part I-Ambrose Burnside)

Episode Description:

Have you ever been in a class where the teacher really does remind you of Charlie Brown’s teacher? Like this?


I have been a licensed history teacher since 1987, and I cannot remember how many times someone has told me, basically, “I used to hate history when I was in school, but now that I’m an adult, it fascinates me and I can’t get enough of it.” In my opinion, this may be because a lot of our history is taught badly, or we teachers just try to get our students to memorize dry facts and dates, but history has a STORY in it! The longer I live, the more I try to teach story and attach LIFE LESSONS to the examples, so our lives today can be richer and more successful.


So that leads us to this episode. At the 2017 Dreyer Academy LLC Christmas Party, our podcast producer Todd Holloway told me he remembered a project I assigned his honors US history class when he had been in 11th grade and said it had taught him valuable life lessons. I assigned the class certain US Civil War leaders, both from the North and South, and the students were to research them and identify if they are seen as successful or failed leaders, and what made them successful or not. I was grateful Todd recalled that project and found it helpful, and the fact that he had remembered it six or seven years later, I found remarkable. So, he and I decided we needed to revisit some of those “life lessons” in our podcasts, so here is the first one! In this episode, we look at the life of Union (Northern) General Ambrose Burnside. He was the classic “middle manager” who generally succeeded as a general under a higher command, but he failed utterly when Lincoln put him in charge of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside outnumbered Lee’s army by 120,000 to 80,000 men, but at the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, he lost an unbelievable 13,000 men in ONE DAY while the South lost less than 5,000. This episode will examine some of Burnside’s flaws and seek to help us avoid those errors today, in particular, “tunnel vision.”


Learn more about General Burnside and the Battle of Fredericksburg below:


Factoid: After the Civil War, Burnside became the first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA):


Word of the Day: sideburns (noun). Two strips of hair grown by men along the side of the face, in front of the ears


Key terms:

sharpshooter: a sniper; a soldier with excellent aim who hides and shoots the enemy one by one

pontoon: floating platforms you can link together to form a temporary bridge


Listen to Episode 26 below.  


Listen Here


Check your listening ability:

1. How does the speaker contrast the political and military leadership between the North and the South?


2. Where does the word "sideburns" come from?

A. the first person to grow his whiskers caught them on fire

B. you forget to roll over so you get sunburned on your side

C. Gen. Burnside was famous for his big whiskers, so someone flipped the word to make a new word

D. Don't cook a steak too long and burn its side


3. How did the North usually choose name their battles?

A. from the nearest town

B. from the nearest body of water


4. The US state of _______________ has the most Civil War battlefields.


5. Why did Lincoln insist Burnside attack the South during the winter of 1862?


6. What did Burnside do at the Battle of Antietam that showed he has flaws as a leader?


7. Why did Burnside lose the element of surprise at Fredericksburg?

A. the pontoon boats were late to arrive, so the Southern troops had time to dig in

B. the South discovered his secret battle plans

C. the Southern soldiers saw his army arrive at Fredericksburg

D. The Southern soldiers saw it on CNN.


8. What was the date of the Battle of Fredericksburg?


9. What two things did many Northern soldiers do the night before the battle?


10. A soldier got lost and wandered into General Burnside's tent by accident. What did he see?

A. he was playing cards

B. he was fast asleep

C. he was polishing his boots

D. he had his head in his hands, sobbing


Answer key:

 1. The North had good political leadership and bad military leadership. The South had bad political leadership and good military leadership.


2. C. Gen. Burnside was famous for his big whiskers, so someone flipped the word to make a new word


3. B. from the nearest body of water


4. Virginia


5. Lincoln intended that Burnside use the element of surprise as winter was a season in which it was more rare to initiate an attack.


6. Burnside was focused on a specific attack plan and lost his advantage because he was unwillilng to adapt to new circumstances.


7. A. the pontoon boats were late to arrive, so the Southern troops had time to dig in


8. December 13, 1862


9. Thinking they would certainly be killed, they wrote their names and addresses on paper and pinned them to their uniforms so they could be identified. 


10. D. he had his head in his hands, sobbing




Do you want to improve your listening ability? Contact Scott today to see what class you can take to improve that skill!

Have a question or feedback? Maybe a topic you’d like to hear in a future episode? Please email Scott at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We’d love to hear from you! If you enjoy our podcasts, please subscribe, write a review, and share them on social media and by word of mouth! Those are GREAT ways to help more people find our podcasts. Please also visit us at; check out the blog posts at the bottom of the page for more information about life in the USA and the crazy English language.


Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.