Daughter of General Butler and Wife of General Ames
Blanche Butler Ames (1847–1939) was the wife of Union general Adelbert Ames, who later became Senator and Governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction. Her mother Sarah Hildreth was a Shakespearean actress before marrying Blanche’s father, Benjamin F. Butler, a Massachussetts politician and a controversial Union general during the Civil War.
Image: Portrait of Blanche from
Butler’s Book by her father,
General Benjamin F. Butler
Blanche Butler was born on March 2, 1847, in Lowell, Massachusetts. She attended local public schools until age thirteen, when she was sent to be educated at the Academy of the Visitation in Washington, DC, where she described the sectional tension affecting northern and southern students on the eve of the Civil War.
Adelbert Ames was born on October 31, 1835, in the town of Rockland, Maine, to Martha Tolman Ames and Jesse Ames, who were descended from both the Pilgrims and the Puritans. His father was a sea captain, and Adelbert also grew up to become a mate on a clipper ship, and also served briefly as a merchant seaman on his father’s ship. On July 1, 1856, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point.
General Ames in the Civil War
Adelbert Ames graduated from West Point on May 6, 1861, fifth in a class of 45. On that same day, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery in the Army of the Potomac. Eight days later, he was promoted to first lieutenant and was assigned to the 5th U.S. Artillery.
During the First Battle of Bull Run in July, Ames was badly wounded in the right thigh, but refused to leave his guns. He was promoted to the rank of major on July 21. In 1894, Ames received the Medal of Honor for his actions during that battle..
Returning to duty the following spring, Ames fought in the Peninsula Campaign, and saw action at Yorktown from April 5 to May 4, Gaines’ Mill on June 27, and Malvern Hill in July. Ames was commended for his conduct at Malvern Hill by Colonel Henry Hunt, chief of the artillery of the Army of the Potomac, and he received a promotion to Lieutenant colonel.
Although Ames was becoming an excellent artillery officer, he realized that significant promotions would be available only in the infantry. He returned to Maine and received a commission as a regimental commander of infantry and was assigned to command the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment on August 20, 1862.
The 20th Maine fought in the Maryland Campaign, but saw little action at the Battle of Antietam on September 17. During the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862, Ames led his regiment in one of the last charges on December 13 against Marye’s Heights. During the Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863, Ames volunteered as an aide-de-camo to General George G. Meade, commander of the V Corps.
Ames was promoted to Brigadier General on May 20, 1863, relinquishing his command of the 20th Maine to Lt. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain in order to become the commander of the Second Brigade, First Division, XI Corps, on the march north, and led it in the first day’s fight at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1, 1863.
At Gettysburg, Ames performed well under difficult circumstances. During the massive assault by CSA General Richard Ewell on July 1, 1863, Ames’ division commander, General Francis Barlow, moved his division well in front of other elements of the XI Corps to a slight rise that is now known as Barlow’s Knoll. This salient position was quickly overrun, and Barlow was wounded and captured. Ames took command of the division as they retreated through the streets of Gettysburg to a position on Cemetery Hill, and led them through the rest of the battle.
On July 2, the second day of battle, Ames’ battered division bore the brunt of the assault on East Cemetery Hill by CSA General Jubal Early, but was able to hold the critical position with help from surrounding units. At one point, Ames himself took part in the hand-to-hand fighting. After the battle, the men of the 20th Maine presented Ames with their battle flag as a token of their esteem.
General Ames’ Gettysburg Report:
U.S. Army, commanding Second Brigade and First Division
Col. T. A. MEYSENBURG,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Eleventh Corps
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the action of the troops under my command at the battle of Gettysburg.
Early in the morning of July 1, my brigade left Emmitsburg, Md., and immediately upon its arrival at Gettysburg, Pa., it was pushed through the town and took a position near the pike leading toward Harrisburg. My brigade was ordered to a number of different positions, and finally it formed in rear of some woods, near a small stream some half a mile from town. From this position we were driven, the men of the First Brigade of this division running through lines of the regiments of my brigade (the Second), and thereby creating considerable confusion.
At this time General Barlow was wounded, and the command of the division devolved upon me. The whole division was falling back with little or no regularity, regimental organizations having become destroyed. An order was received from General Schurz, or one of his staff, to occupy the outskirts of the town, but soon after the order came to fall back through it. In this movement many of our men were taken prisoners. The hill in rear of the town was occupied after passing through the town, and in this position the division remained during the two following days, the 2d and 3d.
On the evening of the 2d, an attempt was made to carry the position we held, but the enemy was repulsed with loss. Colonel Carroll, with a brigade from the Second Corps, rendered timely assistance. The batteries behaved admirably.
I discharge a duty in calling attention to officers whose conduct is deserving the highest praise. Capt. J. M. Brown, my assistant adjutant-general, rendered most valuable services during the three days’ fighting. With great coolness and energy he ably seconded my efforts in repelling the assault made by the enemy on the evening of the 2d.
Colonel Harris, of the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers, took command of the Second Brigade soon after I assumed command of the division. With courage, he displayed ability in the discharge of his duties. The adjutant of the One hundred and seventh Ohio Volunteers, Lieutenant Young, attracted my attention by his coolness and bravery.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Second Brigade
After the battle, General Ames reverted to brigade command and his division, under the command of General George Gordon, was transferred to the Department of the South, where it served in actions in South Carolina and Florida.
In August 1863, Ames was sent with his command to join forces besieging Charleston, SC. He remained there and in Florida until April 1864, when his unit became part of the X Corps in the Army of the James under General Benjamin F. Butler at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. With that army, Ames took part in the operations before Petersburg and Richmond, VA, being engaged in the action at Port Walthall Junction in May, Cold Harbor in June, and Darbytown Road in October 1864.
In December, 1864, Ames was selected to command the Second Division in the XXIV Corps in an expedition against Fort Fisher, North Carolina. The following month, during a second assault, Ames accompanied his men into that formidable coastal fortress. Most of his staff were shot down by Confederate snipers, but that attack resulted in the capture of Fort Fisher.
He was promoted to major general in the Union Army (and brigadier general in the regular army) on March 13, 1865, for his role in that battle, and was then assigned to the command of territorial districts in North and South Carolina until April 30, 1866, when he was mustered out of the volunteer service.
Image: General Adelbert Ames
Ames in Mississippi
On July 15, 1868, General Adelbert Ames was appointed provisional Governor of Mississippi, under acts of Congress providing for such temporary government; on March 17, 1869, his command extended to include the 4th Military District, which consisted of Mississippi and Arkansas. The former Confederate states had been divided into five such districts, each with a general officer in command, and a military force at his disposal.
Mississippi was among the last of the states to comply with the conditions of Reconstruction, and in the interval the area drifted into a state bordering upon anarchy. Under Ames’ direction, an election was held November 30, 1869, and on January 11, 1870, the new legislature was convened. After Mississippi was re-admitted to the Union in 1870, the legislature appointed Ames to the U. S. Senate.
In 1873, he was elected Governor by a popular vote, and was sworn into office on January 4, 1874. Ames was known as a carpetbagger, a term that referred to northerners who held office in the South after the Civil War. Because Ames was a highly vocal advocate of black suffrage, he became enormously popular among Mississippi’s former slaves and emerged quickly as the leader of the Radical wing of the state’s newly established Republican Party. During his administration, he appointed the first black office-holders in state history.
Ames’ administration was so repugnant to the Democrats, the white population, that between them and the Republicans, mostly blacks, a feeling of hostility arose so bitter that it culminated in a serious riot in Vicksburg, December 7, 1873, and this was followed by atrocities all over the state, consisting for the most part in the punishment, often in the murder, of obnoxious Republicans, white and black.
During their time in Mississippi, Blanche’s letters to her family detail the first-hand experiences of life as a Northern woman living in the South during Reconstruction.
In the fall elections of 1875, more violent disturbances occurred and Governor Ames called out the state militia to maintain order. His use of the militia incited more unrest and there was widespread violence, fraud, and voter intimidation during the election. The Democratic Party secured a large majority in the state legislature and regained control of most county governments.
Governor Ames said that this election was largely carried by intimidation and fraud, and vainly sought to secure Congressional interference. Soon after the Democratic legislature convened in January 1876, impeachment charges were brought against him and several other Republican officials. The machinery of state government was nearly at a standstill. In most cases, the charges were politically motivated and were used to drive the Republicans from office.
When it became apparent that Ames would be convicted and removed from office, his lawyers arranged a compromise with the state legislature. Governor Ames resigned from office, and the impeachment charges were dropped. After his resignation on March 29, 1876, he and Blanche moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, where Ames lived the remainder of his life.
Marriage and Family
After the war, in Washington, DC, General Ames became acquainted with Blanche Butler, daughter of his former Civil War commander, now US Representative, Benjamin Butler. Blanche married Ames on July 21, 1870, and they had six children: Butler, Edith, Sarah, Blanche, Adelbert, Jr. and Jessie.
In 1898, when the Spanish-American War began, Ames was appointed brigadier general of volunteers again, and took part in the siege of Santiago, Cuba. Several years later, Ames retired from businesspursuits in Lowell, but remained alert and active for the remainder of his life. He spent his summers in Massachusetts and his winters in Florida, where he lived next door to the estate of his friend, John D. Rockefeller.
Adelbert Ames died in his winter home at Ormond Beach, Florida, on April 12, 1933, at the age of 97. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving general of the Civil War. Ames was buried in the Hildreth Family Cemetery – the family of his mother-in-law, Sarah Hildreth Butler – behind the main cemetery in Lowell. A Medal of Honor plaque for Ames’ gravesite was dedicated at a ceremony honoring Benjamin Butler’s 191st birthday.
General Ames was portrayed by Matt Letscher in the movie adaptation of Jeffrey Shaara’s Gods and Generals.
Among the Ames children were the noted scientist Adelbert Ames, Jr. and suffragist Blanche Ames Ames (she married Oakes Ames, no relation), who was also an inventor, artist and writer. The mansion she designed and had built is now part of Borderland State Park in Massachusetts.
Adelbert Ames was also the great-grandfather of George Plimpton. John F. Kennedy, through George Plimpton, is indirectly responsible for a full-length biography of General Ames. In Profiles in Courage, Kennedy relied on Jim Crow-era historical texts to produce a brief but devastating portrait of Ames’ administration in Mississippi. Ames’ daughter Blanche, a formidable figure in Massachusetts, bombarded the then-senator with letters complaining about the depiction, and continued her barrage after Kennedy entered the White House.
President Kennedy then turned to his friend Plimpton to tell Blanche, Plimpton’s grandmother, that she was “interfering with state business.” Her response was to write her own biography of her father, Adelbert Ames, which was published in 1964. In the years since Profiles in Courage was published, historical opinion has shifted, and Ames’ role as a politician in Mississippi is viewed far more favorably.
Blanche Butler Ames did extensive genealogical research on her family, and the portion of the Ames Family Papers pertaining to her life includes a great deal of historical and genealogical information. She was also a gardener and a sculptor known for her fanciful creations. In 1935, she compiled a collection of letters that the family published in 1957 as Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche Butler and Adelbert Ames.
Blanche Butler Ames died in Ormond Beach, Florida, on December 26, 1939.