Adelbert Ames. Civil War hero. Spanish-American War hero. Almost robbed by Jesse James. Libeled by John F. Kennedy. On the day after the 180th anniversary of his birth in Rockland, Maine, let us take a look at this man who drew the misguided wrath of the 35th president of the United States, and the Pulitzer Prize committee in 1956.
Adelbert Ames was the son of a retired sea captain. Despite serving as a sailor on his father's merchant ship, Ames entered West Point on July 1, 1856. He was about to graduate when the Civil War began. He graduated fifth in a class of 45, and joined the artillery. Two months after graduation, Ames received a field promotion to major for his heroics in the First Battle of Bull Run, for which he later received the Medal of Honor.
Later, he switched from the artillery corps to the infantry corps, taking command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment on August 20, 1862, at age 26. Major General George G. Meade made Ames an aide-de-camp a year later, when Meade commanded V Corps. Lieutenant Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain took command of the 20th, leading that regiment to fame at Gettysburg a few weeks later. Ames led a brigade at Gettysburg as well. In 1864, he served under Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, who would later become his father-in-law and business partner.
During the war, Lincoln assigned Butler as military governor of New Orleans. He was tough and despised,so much so that tales of his stealing silverware and other petty thefts rose. He also shut down the cotton industry. Southerners seemed to want it both ways. On the one hand they renounced their citizenship, but on the other hand they demanded rights as American citizens. This attitude of victimhood would become core of the party's agenda in the 21st century. When he had to execute a man,he promised the man's wife to take care of her -- and did, paying off her mortgage and giving her a government job.
After the war, Butler returned to Massachusetts and won the first of six successive terms in 1866. Along with Senator Charles Sumner wrote and had enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was struck down by the Supreme Court on October 15, 1883. Had the court upheld the law, black equality would have arrived 80 years earlier as the Butler-Sumner bill was essentially the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Later as governor of Massachusetts in 1883 and 1884, Butler appointed the first Irish-American judge, as well as the first African-American judge in that state.
His son-in-law, Adelbert Ames, had already done that in Mississippi, where he served as military governor from June 15, 1868, to March 10, 1870, and as the last Republican elected governor until 1992, serving from January 4, 1874, until Democrats forced his resignation on March 29, 1876, after they impeached and removed from office his lieutenant governor, Alexander K. Davis, on trumped up charges.
The truth is that in 1876, Democrats used terrorism to drive black voters and other Republicans fro the polls, seizing overwhelming control of legislature and forcing Ames and Davis out of office, beginning a Reign of Terror that reduced black people to second-class citizenship.
As a military governor, Ames protected freed slaves. He served in the U.S. Senate when Mississippi regained statehood, and then returned as governor. Instead of hailing him as an example of courage, Jack Kennedy wrote that Ames was a crook who treated Mississippians cruelly.
But Kennedy also praised those who failed to impeach Andrew Johnson.
Despite all the revisionism and libel, nevertheless the Pulitzer committee gave the power senator and son of a politically connected millionaire a prize. So upset with the lie was his daughter, Blanche Ames Ames (her husband was an unrelated Ames) wrote at age 80 a 625-page biography of her father rebutting the Kennedy poisoned-pen profile.
(His daughter was a pistol, working as a suffragette, a proponent of birth control, and as an inventor. Her patents included a hexagonal lumber cutter and a method for entrapping enemy aircraft. As an artist, her etchings are displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and her oil paintings at Columbia, Dartmouth and Harvard.)
But after his forced resignation, Ames took his family north to Minnesota where he entered the flour business alongside Pillsbury and General Mills. The ex-Confederate Jesse James went all the way to Northfield, Minnesota, to rob a bank owned by Ames and his father-in-law in 1876, so deep was the southern hatred of civil rights leaders. Fortunately, Jesse James failed.
Eventually, Ames returned to New England. When the Spanish-American War broke out, he returned to action as a 62-year-old general, taking command of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division after its top three officers died in thee Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898, the 35th anniversary of the beginning of Gettysburg. He took command of the brigade in the middle of the Siege of Santiago, the last battle in the war in Cuba.
He retired shortly afterward and enjoyed a retirement that stretched over three decades. On April 13, 1933, he died in Ormond Beach, Florida. At age 97, he was the last full-rank general from the Civil War.
His Medal of Honor citation, issued in 1893, says, "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."
He was a profile in courage.
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