Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The gallant charge of Brigadier General John Adams

Confederate Brigadier General John Adams

       John Adams was born in Nashville, Tennessee on July 1, 1825. Adams entered West Point and graduated in 25th in the class of 1846. He fought in the Mexican War and was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosalea. He would spend the remainder of his career in the United States army fighting Indians out west. 
       When the Civil War began, Adams would receive a commission of colonel in the cavalry and remain at that rank for the first two years of the war. One embarrassing incident occurred at Sweeden's Cove, Tennessee, where his command was surprised by Federal forces and he would lose over a hundred men. Despite the mishap, General Joseph E. Johnston would recommend Adams for promotion to brigadier general. He would receive that promotion by May, 1863 and took command of Lloyd Tilghman's Mississippi brigade after that officer's death at the Battle of Champions Hill. 
       He would spend the remainder of his life in command of this brigade. He saw action at Jackson, Mississippi during the Vicksburg Campaign. After the surrender of Vicksburg, his brigade would be transferred to Georgia, where they fought throughout the Atlanta Campaign. 

John Adams early in the war

        Adams would be in lead the brigade when Hood's army invaded Tennessee in the fall of 1864. At the Battle of Franklin, Adams was wounded in the arm early in the fight. His staff insisted he leave the field for medical attention. Adams refused, saying, "I am going to see my men through."
       Once his brigade neared the breastworks, they came upon and impenetrable abatis of Osage Orange trees the Federal soldiers had chopped down in front of their works. Adams brigade came to a sudden halt and he understood for them to stay in this position meant certain death. He rode his horse west until he came to a gap in the abatis and directed his men to charge through. Leading by example, he turned his horse through the gap and charged the Federal breastworks alone. The Federal troops could hardly believe their eyes. 

John Adams gallant charge at Franklin

       Colonel Scott Stewart of the 65th Illinois Infantry yelled for his men to hold their fire because he thought John Adams was too brave an officer to die this way. At that moment, Adams rode his horse upon the breastworks and attempted to snatch the regimental battle flag from the flag bearers hands. The color guard opened fire at once. Adams and his horse both collapsed in a heap, the horse landing on the leg of the general. 
       When the firing had died down, the Federal soldiers climbed onto the works and pulled the general from beneath the horse. He had been hit by nine bullets, but was still alive. They made him a pillow of the cotton from the old gin house and gave him water. At this point, the Federal soldiers apologized for shooting such a brave man. Adams replied, "It is the fate of a soldier to die for his country." He died a few minutes later and after dark, the Federal soldiers placed his body back among his men on the other side of the works. 
       The next morning, his body was placed in a wagon beside the body of Major General Patrick Cleburne and carried back to the rear porch of the Carnton Plantation. His body was then carried to Pulaski, Tennessee where it rests today beside his wife in Maplewood Cemetery.

The grave of John Adams in Pulaski, Tennessee

       Like a lot of incidents that occur during the fog of war, Adams death would become controversial after the war. One soldier in the 65th Illinois reported that Federal troops found Adams in front of the earthworks, but the man was already dead. He stated the body was brought inside the Federal lines and placed near the cotton gin which caused many to believe the general had actually penetrated the Union lines. 
       Federal General Jacob Cox stated that Adams and his horse were shot outside the breastworks. He claimed Adams horse charged ahead after being hit and died on top of the works. Adams, he reported, was shot through the legs and attempted to crawl away when he was shot to pieces. He originally stated that Adams was never brought inside the works, but later changed his story. Cox was in the vicinity, but in all likelihood he never witnessed the death of Adams personally and was only repeating a story he had heard.
       Colonel Casement, commander of the brigade that Adams charged, claimed in 1891 that he was the man who spoke with Adams. He said that Adams was conscious and uncomplaining and only desired to be placed back among friends. 
       Tom Gore, a soldier in the 15th Mississippi Infantry said he saw Adams horse staggering after being hit by nine bullets. This account was soon accepted as false due to the fact that Adams cousin and adjutant, Captain Thomas Gibson stated that Adams horse named "Old Charlie" tended to squat close to the ground when under fire. With all the heavy firing at Franklin, it is almost certain that Adams horse did the same here, causing Gore and others to think the animal had been hit.
       Most historians today believe that Adams was hit on the enemy parapet and taken prisoner only to die within Federal lines. Most believe he was then returned to the Confederate side of the works after dark before the Federals retreated to Nashville. Whichever story is true, one thing is certain, Adams was one of the bravest officers in the Confederate army and few have led such a gallant charge in any war.


  1. So far this is my favorite battle. You don't find many men this brave today. I love his dying words.

  2. Yes a truly brave soldier and I'm especially interested as I may have some family connections.