Adelbert Ames

Adelbert Ames (October 31, 1835 April 12, 1933) was a Union general in the American Civil War, a Mississippi politician, and a general in the Spanish-American War. He was the last general officer of the American Civil War to die, passing away at age 97 in 1933.

Early life and Civil War

Ames was born in Rockland, Maine, son of a sea captain named Jesse Ames. He worked briefly as a merchant seaman on his father's ship and then graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1861, just days after Fort Sumter fell to the rebels. He ranked fifth in his class of 45 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery. His promotion to first lieutenant came just six days later. In July 1861, during the First Battle of Bull Run, Ames was badly wounded in the right thigh but refused to leave his guns. At the time, he was given a brevet promotion to major and in 1893 belatedly received the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Bull Run.

Returning to duty the following spring, Ames fought in the Peninsula Campaign and saw action at Yorktown, Gaines' Mill, and Malvern Hill. He was commended for his conduct at Malvern Hill by Col. Henry J. Hunt, chief of the artillery of the Army of the Potomac, and he received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Although Ames was becoming an excellent artillery officer, he realized that significant promotions would be available only in the infantry. He returned to Maine and politicked to receive a commission as a regimental commander of infantry and was assigned to command the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment on August 20, 1862. The 20th Maine fought in the Maryland Campaign, but saw little action at the Battle of Antietam while in a reserve capacity. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Ames led his regiment in one of the last charges of the day against Marye's Heights. During the Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863, Ames volunteered as an aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the V Corps. Probably as a result of this staff duty and his proximity to the influential Meade, Ames was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on May 20, 1863, two weeks after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Ames assumed brigade command in the XI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, relinquishing his command of the 20th Maine to Joshua L. Chamberlain, who would soon lead the regiment to fame in the Battle of Gettysburg.

While his own experience at Gettysburg did not achieve the renown of Chamberlain's, Ames performed well under difficult circumstances. During the massive assault by Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell on July 1, 1863, Ames's division commander, Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, moved his division well in front of other elements of the XI Corps to a slight rise that is now known as Barlow's Knoll. This salient position was quickly overrun, and Barlow was wounded and captured. Ames took command of the division and led it in retreat through the streets of Gettysburg to a position on Cemetery Hill. On July 2, the second day of battle, Ames's battered division bore the brunt of the assault on East Cemetery Hill by Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, but was able to hold the critical position with help from other units. At one point Ames himself took part in the hand-to-hand fighting. After the battle, the men of the 20th Maine presented Ames with their battle flag as a token of their esteem.

After the battle, Ames reverted to brigade command with a brevet promotion to colonel in the regular army. His division, under the command of Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon, was transferred to the Department of the South, where it served in actions in South Carolina and Florida. In 1864, his division, now part of the X Corps of the Army of the James, served under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. In the future, he would become Butler's son-in-law. That winter, the division was reassigned to the XXIV Corps and sent to North Carolina. During the two years following his service in the Army of the Potomac, Ames shifted between brigade and division command (and even led his corps on two occasions), though he generally can be identified as a division commander. He led the successful assault in the Battle of Fort Fisher (commanding the 2nd Division, XXIV Corps), accompanying his men into the formidable coastal fortress as most of his staff were shot down by Confederate snipers. He received a brevet promotion to major general of volunteers (and brigadier general in the regular army) for his role in the battle.

Mississippi politics, U.S. Senate

In 1868, Ames was appointed by Congress to be provisional Governor of Mississippi. His command soon extended to the Fourth Military District, which consisted of Mississippi and Arkansas. During his administration, he took several steps to advance the rights of freed slaves, appointing the first black office-holders in state history. White supremacist violence was prevalent in the state, one of the last to comply with Reconstruction, but a general election was held during his tenure in 1869 and the legislature convened at the beginning of the following year.

The Mississippi Legislature elected Ames to the U.S. Senate after the readmission of Mississippi to the Union; he served from February 24, 1870 to January 10, 1874, as a Republican. In Washington, Ames met and married Blanche Butler, daughter of his former commander, and now U.S. Representative, Benjamin Butler, on July 20, 1870. They had six children including Adelbert Ames Jr. and Butler Ames. As a Senator, Ames became a talented public speaker to the point where even some of his Democratic opponents acknowledged his ability.

In the Senate, Ames was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Enrolled Bills. Upon being elected governor of Mississippi, he resigned his seat to assume his duties. He experienced a great deal of resentment from Democratic Party supporters even before taking office in 1874; a riot broke out in Vicksburg in December of 1873 that started a series of reprisals against many Republican supporters, the vast majority of them black. As the state election of 1875 approached, the Democrats organized an armed insurrection to unseat the black-supported Republican government. Armed attacks on Republican activists proliferated, and Governor Ames appealed to the federal government for assistance, which was refused. That November, Democrats gained firm control of both houses of the legislature. Ames requested the intervention of the U.S. Congress since he believed that the election was full of voter intimidation and fraud. The state legislature, convening in 1876, drew up articles of impeachment against him and all statewide officials. He resigned a few months after the legislature agreed to drop the articles against him.

Later life

After leaving office, Ames settled briefly in Northfield, Minnesota, where he joined his father and brother in their flour-milling business. During his residence there, in September 1876, Jesse James and his gang of former Confederate guerrillas staged an unsuccessful robbery of the town's bank, largely because of Ames's investment in it. He next headed to New York City, then later settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, as an executive in a flour mill, along with other business interests.

In 1898, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers in the Spanish-American War and fought in Cuba. Several years afterward, he retired from business pursuits in Lowell. His widow compiled a collection of their correspondence, Chronicles from the Nineteenth Century, published posthumously in 1957, and his daughter Blanche Ames Ames (she married into another Ames family) published a biography, Adelbert Ames, in 1964.

Ames died in 1933 at the age of 97 in his winter home, located in Ormond Beach, Florida, next to the estate of his friend John D. Rockefeller. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving general who had served in the Civil War. He was the father of the noted scientist Adelbert Ames, Jr. and Blanche Ames Ames, noted suffragist, inventor, artist, and writer. Blanche was her father's biographer; the mansion she designed and had built is now part of Borderland State Park in Massachusetts. Adelbert Ames was also the great-grandfather of George Plimpton. He is buried in Hildreth Cemetery, Lowell, the family cemetery of his mother-in-law. The world's largest cargo vessel of the 19th century, the schooner Governor Ames, was named after him.

John F. Kennedy, through George Plimpton, is indirectly responsible for a full-length biography of General Ames. In Profiles in Courage, Kennedy relied on Jim Crow-era historical texts to produce a brief but devastating portrait of Ames's administration of Mississippi. Ames's daughter Blanche, a formidable figure in Massachusetts, bombarded the then-senator with letters complaining about the depiction, and continued her barrage after Kennedy entered the White House. President Kennedy then turned to his friend Plimpton to tell Blanche, Plimpton's grandmother, that she was "interfering with state business." Her response was to write her own book about her father. In the years since Profiles in Courage was published, historical opinion has shifted, and Ames's role as a politician in Mississippi is viewed far more favorably.

In popular media

Ames was portrayed by Matt Letscher in the movie adaptation of Jeffrey Shaara's Gods and Generals.

Ames is a character in the alternate history novel Gettysburg, written by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen.

Ames is the main focus of the historical work Redemption by Nicholas Lehmann.

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and Organization: First Lieutenant, 5th U.S. Artillery. Place and Date: At Bull Run, Va., July 21, 1861. Entered Service At: Rockland, Maine. Birth: East Thomaston, Maine. Date of Issue: June 22, 1894.


Remained upon the field in command of a section of Griffin's Battery, directing its fire after being severely wounded and refusing to leave the field until too weak to sit upon the caisson where he had been placed by men of his command.

See also



  • Ames, Blanche, Adelbert Ames, 1835-1933; General, Senator, Governor, the story of his life and times and his integrity as a soldier and statesman in the service of the United States of America throughout the Civil War and in Mississippi in the years of Reconstruction, Argosy-Antiquarian, 1964.
  • Budiansky, Stephen, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, Viking Adult, 2008, ISBN 978-0670018406.
  • Current, Richard Nelson, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation, Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Nevins, Allan, ed., A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, Da Capo, 1998.
  • Stiles, T.J., Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
  • Tagg, Larry, The Generals of Gettysburg, Savas Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-882810-30-9.

External links


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