Charles W. Adams

Charles W. Adams was born on August 16, 1817, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin and Susannah (Goodhue) Adams. In 1819 his parents moved to New Albany, Indiana. Young Adams clerked in a mercantile house in New Albany from 1830 to 1835. Moving to Helena, Arkansas, in 1835, he became a lawyer and was a law partner to U.S. Senator William Sebastian. A Whig, Adams served as judge from 1852 to 1854 and in 1860 was a presidential elector on the Bell ticket. When the secession crises came, Adams, a large slaveholder and cotton grower, was elected to the secession convention, where he took a leading role in the movement to take Arkansas out of the Union.

Adams' first war service was as major and quartermaster of Arkansas state troops, on the staff of Brigadier General Thomas Bradley. Upon the dissolution of the Army of Arkansas in late 1861, Adams left the staff for field duty. He recruited an infantry regiment from the Helena area, the 23rd Arkansas, and on April 25, was elected its colonel. The 23rd joined the Army of Tennessee in northern Mississippi after the Battle of Shiloh. That summer Adams was transferred back to Arkansas and put in command of a newly raised infantry regiment. The raw regiment bolted in its first battle at Prairie Grove, Arkansas, on December 7, 1862, though Adams' own performance and leadership in the battle were praised. In July, the regiment was broken up; Adams, an officer without a command, joined the staff of Major General Thomas Hindman, an old acquaintance from Helena days. Hindman led a division in the Army of Tennessee that fall, and Adams was appointed acting assistant inspector general and later chief of staff of the division. In December, 1863, Adams returned to Arkansas. In 1864 he served as commander of the Northern Sub-District of Arkansas (behind the Union army's lines) with the rank of "acting brigadier general." His service there was subject to criticism. Brigadier General Joseph Shelby, the brilliant cavalry leader, had a low opinion of Adams' military abilities. When Shelby operated in Adams' district, he took over all the military duties and relegated Adams to strictly civil matters. Shelby's chief of staff and amanuensis, John Newman Edwards, wrote of an abandoned siege that Adams had "no faith in investments, except cotton investments, perhaps." An old friend, however, remembers Adams as "a brave soldier." Adams had at least titular command in the Northern Sub-District through at least December 27,1864, though by early 1865 other officers were in command of it.

After the war Adams returned to Helena. In 1865 he settled in Memphis and formed a law partnership with his close friend General Albert Pike. General Adams died in Memphis of yellow fever on September 9, 1878. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Helen Keller, the blind deaf-mute who overcame her handicaps to become a celebrated author, was General Adams' granddaughter.

Adams is listed as a Confederate general in CV, Heitman, and SHSP, on the basis of his "acting" generalship rank. The presumption is that Adams was assigned to duty as brigadier general by General E. Kirby Smith, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department. However, unlike other Kirby Smith assignments to duty, no record of Adams' promotion exists.

At least two sources state that Adams was made brigadier general for "conspicuous courage" at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Tennessee, in November, 1863. In fact, on February 6, 1864, Colonel Adams wrote the secretary of war asking to be promoted to brigadier general, giving as reason that, with his property in Union hands, he needed the extra pay.

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Reference:  More Generals in Gray.  Bruce S. Allardice.  A companion volume to Generals in Gray.  Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.