Master of Arts (MA)


Brian Melton


20th Maine Volunteers, Adelbert Ames, American Civil War, Boy General, Civil War General, West Point


History | Military History | United States History


Adelbert Ames, a Civil War general before he was thirty years old, exemplified the characteristics and embodied the elements of the essential solider. He, and other mid-level commanders like him, provided pivotal and instrumental leadership that helped the Union win the war. In short, Ames was one of the most talented and highly regarded young officers in the Union Army, and boasts perhaps the finest record of any "boy general" who fought for the North during the American Civil War. Ames was not just an average soldier or a mere participant in a large volunteer army. He was not a military figure who found himself in situations with which he was unable to cope. He was not a political character who achieved a generalship that lacked tactical shrewdness, nor was he a volunteer who rose through the ranks by means of favors or fortunate chances of fate. In contrast, Ames received field promotions, accolades, and praiseful prose from his commanders and lieutenants because of his actions. The young officer epitomized the characteristics exhibited by the mid-level generals who were instrumental in the Union victory while also shining as arguably the finest boy general the Union Army produced during the struggle. Scholars have gravitated towards other young generals during the war while focusing on the postwar life of Ames rather than his military service. While reasons for Ames being overlooked might be attributed to his post-war political controversy and periods of dormancy during portions of the war, the ample time he spent in battle and in significant campaigns provides evidence of his worthiness and valor. Considering his abilities, responsibilities, discipline, and superb talents as an officer, Ames deserves to be considered one of the finest young generals to help the Union achieve success during the war. His actions are noteworthy, but the class of soldier he represented is what makes his career worth considering. When analyzing and describing the Civil War service of Ames, it becomes apparent that he epitomized the ideal of an officer while serving admirably in a vast array of capacities.