Major General Adelbert Ames: Forgotten Man of the 20th Maine

Maj. Gen. Adelbert Ames. (Library of Congress)
Maj. Gen. Adelbert Ames. (Library of Congress)

Adelbert Ames preceded Joshua Chamberlain as colonel of the 20th Maine, and had a stellar military career in his own right. Ames was born in Rockland and spent his early years on Atlantic sailing vessels before entering West Point.

He graduated just after the war began in May 1861 and was badly wounded at First Bull Run, fighting as a lieutenant with the 5th U.S. Artillery. Praised for his bravery, Ames became a major and fought with his guns through the Peninsula and Seven Days’ campaigns, earning another promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Ames wanted even higher rank, however, and realized he would have to switch to the infantry branch to get it. On August 20, 1862, he was given command of the 20th Maine and the rank of colonel. Colonel Ames commanded that unit until May 1863, when he became a member of Maj. Gen. George Meade’s staff. He soon became a brigadier general, commanding a brigade in the XI Corps, leaving Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain to gain glory as the 20th’s commander at Gettysburg. Ames and his brigade, meanwhile, fought on Barlow’s Knoll and Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg.

Following Gettysburg, Ames led commands in South Carolina and Florida and then took part in the siege of Petersburg. In 1865 the peripatetic Ames oversaw the capture of Fort Fisher in North Carolina. He ended the war as a major general.

His postwar career was also successful. He served as the Republican Reconstruction governor of Mississippi and then as a senator from that state. But he was not yet done with the garb of a soldier, fighting as a U.S. brigadier general in the Spanish-American War. An accomplished soldier and politician, Ames died in 1933 at the age of 97, the last surviving general of the Civil War.

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