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Charles Francis Adams Jr.

Charles Francis Adams Jr. Union Army General

Union Army General
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Union Army General
A.K.A. Charles Francis Adams
Countries United States of America
Occupations Officer Historian
Gender male
Birth 27 May 1835 (Boston)
Death 20 May 1915 (Washington, D.C.)
Star sign GeminiGemini
Father: Charles Francis AdamsSr.
Siblings: Henry AdamsJohn Quincy Adams IIBrooks Adams
Education Harvard University
Charles Francis Adams Jr.
The details

Charles Francis Adams Jr. (May 27, 1835 – May 20, 1915) was a member of the prominent Adams family, and son of Charles Francis Adams Sr. He served as a colonel in the Union Army during the American Civil War. After the war, he was a railroad regulator and executive, an author of historical works, and a member of the Massachusetts Park Commission.

Education and Civil War service

Captain Adams (second from right) with officers of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, August 1864

Adams was born into a family with a long legacy in American public life. He was the great-grandson of United States President John Adams, and the grandson of president John Quincy Adams. His father Charles Francis Adams Sr. was a lawyer, politician, diplomat, and writer.

Adams graduated from Harvard University in 1856.

Adams served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry on December 28, 1861. He was promoted to captain on December 1, 1862. He fought with distinction during the Gettysburg Campaign, where his company was heavily engaged at the Battle of Aldie. When the regiment's 3-years enlistment ended it was reduced to a battalion; and Adams was mustered out of service on September 1, 1864.

On September 8, 1864 he was commissioned as the lieutenant colonel of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry (officially designated "5th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry"). He was promoted to colonel and assumed command of the regiment on March 14, 1865, shortly before the end of the war. When he assumed command, the regiment was assigned guarding Confederate prisoners of war at Point Lookout, Maryland.

Adams, who wished to lead his regiment in combat, was able to get horses for his regiment and had it reassigned to front line duty during the closing days of the campaign against Richmond. Adams wrote in his autobiography that he regretted having his unit reassigned since he came to the conclusion that the regiment's black soldiers were ill suited for combat duty. He led his regiment into Richmond shortly after it was captured in April 1865. Adams returned to Massachusetts in May due to illness (probably dysentery) and resigned from the Army on August 1, 1865.

On July 9, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Colonel Adams for the award of the rank of brevet (honorary) brigadier general, United States Volunteers, "for distinguished gallantry and efficiency at the battles of Secessionville, South Carolina and South Mountain and Antietam, Maryland and for meritorious services during the war" to rank from March 13, 1865 and the U. S. Senate confirmed the award on July 23, 1866.

Adams was a Veteran Companion of the Massachusetts Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS).

Post–Civil War activity

On November 8, 1865, he married Mary Elizabeth Ogden, daughter of Abram Ogden of New York City, NY. The couple had three daughters and twin sons: Mary Ogden ("Molly") Adams, Louisa Catherine Adams, Elizabeth Ogden ("Elise") Adams, John Adams (1875–1964) the father of Thomas Boylston Adams, and Henry Adams (1875–1951), both of whom graduated Harvard in 1898.

Following the Civil War, he was appointed to the Massachusetts Railroad Commission. There he attempted to persuade (rather than coerce) railroads into compliance with accepted business norms. Thomas McCraw called Adams's approach to regulation "the Sunshine Commission" since the purpose of the commission was to expose the corrupt business practices in hopes that, once out in the open, the businessmen would be shamed into mending their ways. It was in this vein that he wrote Chapters of Erie. However, true to his regulatory philosophy, he favored the protection of businessmen over that of the consumers. He saw regulation as necessary to protect investors and other businessmen from the capriciousness of a hostile public or the machinations of other unscrupulous stock jobbers. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1871.

Union Pacific Railroad

Congress distrusted the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and in 1884 forced it to hire Adams as the new president. Adams had long promoted various reform ideas, as in his book Railroads, Their Origin and Problems (1878), but he had little practical experience in management. As railroad president, he was successful in getting a good press for the UP, and set up libraries along the route to allow his employees to better themselves. He had poor results dealing with the Knights of Labor labor union. When the Knights of Labor refused extra work in Wyoming in 1885, Adams hired Chinese workers. The result was the Rock Springs massacre, that killed scores of Chinese, and drove all the rest out of Wyoming. He tried to build a complex network of alliances with other businesses, but they provided little help to the UP. He had great difficulty in making decisions, and in coordinating his subordinates. Adams was unable to stanch the worsening financial condition of the UP, and in 1890 the railroad's owner Jay Gould forced his resignation.

Massachusetts Park Commission

From 1893 to 1895, he was chairman of the Massachusetts Park Commission, and as such took a prominent part in planning the present park system of the state. He was influential in establishing the Blue Hills Reservation and the Middlesex Fells Reservation.

Single-tax supporter

In 1900, he wrote a letter to the President of the Massachusetts Single Tax League, declaring himself a supporter of the reform Henry George had proposed, which would later be known as Georgism. An excerpt of that letter appeared in The Outlook, December 15, 1900.

Historical writings

After 1874, he devoted much of his time to the study of American history, and in recognition of his work in this field was chosen president of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1895, and of the American Historical Association in 1901. His writings and addresses both on problems of railway management and on historical subjects frequently gave rise to widespread controversy. Adams also wrote an autobiography which he completed in 1912 and which was published posthumously in 1916. At the beginning of the autobiography is a memorial address about Adams written by Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1875 he published an essay on "The Granger Movement" in the North Atlantic Review which exposes the railroad rate rigging and monopoly practices which prompted the movement.


His siblings include: older sister Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of Charles Kuhn, of Philadelphia; older brother [Hon.] John Quincy Adams II, father of Charles Francis Adams III; historian Henry Brooks Adams; Arthur Adams, who died young during their childhood; Mary Adams, who married Henry Parker Quincy, of Dedham, MA; and historian Peter Chardon Brooks Adams, of Beverly Farms, MA. who married Evelyn Davis.

Death and burial

Adams died May 20, 1915, a week shy of his 80th birthday. He is buried in Mount Wollaston Cemetery in Quincy, Massachusetts. His grave can be found in the Old Section, Lot 337.


  • Chapters of Erie, and Other Essays (New York, 1871), with brother Henry Adams
  • Railroads, Their Origin and Problems (New York, 1878)
  • Notes on Railroad Accidents (New York, 1879)
  • Richard Henry Dana: A Biography (Boston, 1891)
  • Three Episodes of Massachusetts History (Boston, 1892), a work which gives an account of the settlement of Boston Bay, of the Antinomian controversy, and of church and town government in early Massachusetts
  • Massachusetts: Its Historians and Its History (Boston, 1893)
  • Antinomianism in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1636-38 (1894).
  • “Imperialism” and “The Tracks of Our Forefathers” at Project Gutenberg (1898).
  • Life of Charles Francis Adams (Boston, 1900), in the American Statesmen Series
  • Lee at Appomattox, and Other Papers (1902)
  • Tis-Sixty-Years-Since. Address of Charles Francis Adams, Founders' Day, January 16, 1913, University of South Carolina (New York, 1913)
  • Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915: An Autobiography (1916)

Family tree

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