Adelbert Ames, the Civil War, and the Creation of Modern America
The Kent State University Press
The remarkable life of a noteworthy—yet overlooked—Union general turned Reconstruction-era politician
A central figure in Reconstruction-era politics, Adelbert Ames and his contributions during a significant and uncertain time in American history are the focus of Michael J. Megelsh’s fascinating study. As Megelsh discusses, Ames’s life took many compelling turns. Born on Maine’s rocky shore in 1835, he served as a Union general during the American Civil War and was heralded as one of the young stars whose leadership was integral in helping the Union to victory. He briefly remained in the army after the conflict, stationed in Mississippi, where he entered the political arena.
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. This meant challenging the growing brutality and unruliness of the white populace and a burgeoning Democratic Party. For the first time, Ames’s confidence faded as his struggles intensified and political enemies sought to impeach him, culminating in a trial that captivated local and national media. This contentious battle led to Ames’s resignation from office and the end of Reconstruction in Mississippi. Ames’s once-promising political career, too, was over.
But Ames’s later years remained thrilling. He 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.
While Adelbert Ames has appeared in many texts as a secondary character, Megelsh’s work unearths Ames’s important and underappreciated contributions to a transitional time in American history and politics.
Michael J. Megelsh is assistant professor of history at Blue Mountain Christian University. The author of numerous scholarly articles, he has also taught courses at Georgia Southern University and Auburn University.