Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Booknotes: Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America

New Arrival:

Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America by Michael J. Megelsh (Kent St UP, 2024).

1861 West Point graduate and Bvt Major General Adelbert Ames fought extensively in the eastern theater with the Army of the Potomac over the first half of the Civil War, receiving a promotion to brigadier general in May 1863. After Gettysburg, Ames was transferred from Eleventh Corps to the Department of the South, where he saw action in South Carolina and Florida. He returned to the Virginia front in 1864 as a division commander in the Army of the James. During the ensuing winter, Ames was transferred yet again, this time to North Carolina. There, in January 1865, he led a division during the successful second attempt to carry Fort Fisher by direct assault. His leadership and valor during that battle led to his brevet promotion to major general.

Ames lived a very long life (he died in 1933 at the age of 97), so it's not surprising that Michael Megelsh's new biography Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America devotes roughly half of its narrative to its subject's post-Civil War life and political pursuits. Following a very brief summary of Ames's formative years and discussion of his West Point educational experience, the balance of the book's first half (around 40% of the text) addresses the general's Civil War career.

The second half of Megelsh's biography establishes Ames as a "central figure in Reconstruction-era politics." From the description: "During his four-year tenure as a Republican US senator representing Mississippi, Ames exhibited a growing commitment to civil rights and battled for the protection of freedmen in the halls of Congress, even when it drew ire and damnation from his colleagues. In 1874, Ames was elected governor of Mississippi and tried to create a free and prosperous state rooted in protecting civil rights and promoting economic liberty." Threatened with impeachment and removal by resurgent Democrat majorities in the state legislature, Ames ultimately resigned and relocated to Minnesota (a move that wasn't as peaceful as he might have anticipated!).

While his lofty political career may have been over, an eventful life still lay ahead of him. More from the description: Ames "helped the townspeople of Northfield, Minnesota, defeat Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang in a gunfight during an attempted bank robbery in 1876. When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Ames, though now in his sixties, volunteered to join the fight and served in Cuba." Seeking to elevate Ames's historical stature, Megelsh's biography highlights the Civil War general, US senator, and Reconstruction governor's "important and underappreciated contributions to a transitional time in American history and politics."

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