Charles William Adams is honored as being one of the seven Confederate generals who lived at Helena during the Civil War. Although only really an acting Brigadier General, he was head of a sub-department during the war. He also had two close friends who recommended him to become a Brigadier General. These men were Patrick Cleburne and Thomas Hindman.
Charles W. Adams was born August 16, 1817 in Massachusetts to Benjamin and Susannah Adams. Around 1819 the family moved to Indiana where Charles was a clerk. After a few years Charles moved to a growing frontier town called Helena along the Mississippi River in Arkansas. Working as a bank cashier and studying at night he soon became a lawyer. He also married Lucy Helena Everett on September 29, 1845. With this new title and growing wealth he began to rise among the upper society of Helena. He partnered with several other lawyers including James C. Tappan and William Sebastian. Then in 1852 he became partners with James T. Moore who came from an extremely wealthy and influential family. From 1852 to 1854 Charles served as judge. He also got involved in farming and became a successful planter.
As regional issues heightened in the United States and conflict loomed, Charles W. Adams was chosen as one of two delegates from Phillips County to the secession convention in Little Rock. On May 6,1861 Arkansas seceded from the Union and Adams returned home to defend his new nation.
Charles W. Adams organized a regiment at Helena in the fall of 1862 made up of ten companies. He was made colonel on April 25, 1862. This new regiment was referred to as Adam’s Regiment Arkansas Infantry. Other field officers were Lt. Colonel Simon P. Hughes and Major James F. Robinson. Companies B and E were from Phillips County while the other companies were from various places in the delta. Colonel Adams was ordered to Corinth, Mississippi where his regiment was placed in the Second Brigade of the Third Division in the Army of the West under Earl Van Dorn . On May 27, 1862 the regiment was reorganized into the 23rd Arkansas Infantry near Tupelo for three years or the war. Then it was reorganized again and consolidated with two other smaller regiments on September 10, 1862. New field officers were chosen and Colonel Adams moved on to new endeavors.
Returning back across the Mississippi River to Arkansas Colonel Adams was appointed Volunteer aide-de-camp to General Theophilus Holmes on October 1, 1862. At about the same time he was ordered to report to General Hindman and take command of a newly organized regiment. Hindman and Adams were both from Helena and knew each other. This new command had been organized under a Confederate conscription act and was the 3rd Arkansas Regiment. The 3rd was transferred to Confederate service at Elm Springs, Arkansas on September 12, 1862. Colonel Samuel W. Peel was assigned command and tried to get it organized, but this proved to be a difficult task. The men and officers were all conscripts and many were not happy about being forced to enlist. Then General Hindman removed Peel and placed Adams in charge. Not good for morale and especially not good before a battle. On December 7, 1862 that internal conflict in Adam’s Regiment led to disaster at a place called Prairie Grove. After some initial confusion the men were formed in line of battle. Just then Yankees appeared. Colonel Adams had his men fire into the flank of this advancing Union regiment sending it into retreat. As the men advanced behind the fleeing enemy a well directed volley came from an orchard just ahead. Most of the men fled the field leaving Colonel Adams and a few soldiers to join with another command. In the official records General Thomas Hindman described what happened:
“Of all the troops engaged on our side, Adam’s Arkansas regiment alone dishonored itself. It was well armed, ably commanded, and surrounded by good soldiers form the same state, setting it an example of courage and patriotism; but after delivering a single fire, the greater part of the men broke ranks, threw down their arms, and shamefully fled, many of them even deserting to the enemy. The field and staff officers who had been appointed rallied about 75 around the colors and these did much to redeem the reputation of the regiment. With but few exceptions, the company officers exerted no influence. “
The Battle of Prairie Grove was a Union victory and Hindman’s defeated army retreated southward toward Little Rock. Adam’s Regiment was disbanded on December 16,1862. As his critics around Arkansas increased their attacks on him, General Hindman was transferred eastward in April 1863 to be involved with a court of inquiry in New Orleans. Charles Adams followed him serving on his staff. In August Hindman was ordered to the Army of Tennessee to take charge of a division under Braxton Bragg. Colonel Adams was acting inspector general and chief of staff of the division. From September 18 – 20, 1863 the Army of Tennessee fought in the Battle of Chickamauga. Although a tremendous victory there was dissension and disagreement among the generals and their commander. Hindman was actually suspended on September 29th and left the army. In his after action report, General Hindman once again praises his friend and fellow citizen of Helena though.
“Colonel Adams especially, by his greater experience, his cool courage, and his admirable promptness and precision has placed me under lasting obligations, and amply shown his fitnesses for higher rank, which I earnestly hope will be given him.”
Brigadier General Hindman and his staff retired toward Newman, Georgia because of a wound he had received at Chickamauga. It was there that he learned he had been suspended and soon began to write letters to President Jefferson Davis requesting a hearing. On October 7, 1863 he wrote a letter to his friend and Assistant Adjutant General J.P. Wilson telling him that his services and those of Colonel Charles W. Adams were indispensable to the army. Records indicate that Hindman and Adams were staying in a five room house near Atlanta from October 12 to 27, 1863. While General Hindman was writing everyone in his defense, Colonel Adams was also busy. On October 3, 1863 he persuaded General Patrick Cleburne, also of Helena, to write a letter to Richmond urging Adams be promoted to Brigadier General . Then on November 1, 1863 General Hindman penned a letter asking that he be promoted. Hindman’s fortunes changed on November 15th when General Bragg agreed to drop all charges. Instead of reporting back to the army though which was investing the union forces at Chattanooga, Hindman was given permission to stay near Atlanta while his wife gave birth. This meant that both men missed the Battle of Lookout Mountain on November 24th. The two men would separate in December as General Hindman returned to the Army of Tennessee and Colonel Adams back to Arkansas in hope of finding a command.
On December 22, 1863 Colonel Adams was identified as bearer of dispatches for General Holmes. Still ever the lawyer he persuaded the old general to write a recommendation for him to be promoted to brigadier general from Camden, Arkansas. Unfortunately there were more officers in the Trans-Mississippi than commands. On March 22, 1864 Acting Brigadier General Adams was ordered to report to General Sterling Price for assignment to duty as commander of the Northern Sub District of Arkansas which was north of the Arkansas River. Although he tried to exert control over any confederate forces that came into his department, he was virtually a commander without any men. As the war came to a close in 1865, most confederates in Arkansas just simply disbanded and went home. Not much is really known about Charles W. Adams at the end.
After the war Charles Adams returned home to Helena and began his law career over. In 1870 he listed his real estate value at about $16,000. Within a few years he moved to Memphis, Tennessee where he joined a new law firm. On July 1, 1878 his daughter Kate married Captain Andrew H. Kellar of Tuscumbia, Alabama. They would be the parents of famous author Helen Keller. Unfortunately C.W. Adams would die on September 10, 1878 during a yellow fever outbreak. Adams is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
“The Daily Memphis Avalanche” Memphis, Tennessee, Tuesday, July 2, 1878. page 4
“Southern Shield” Helena, Arkansas, Saturday, May 17, 1851. page 3
“Southern Shield” Helena, Arkansas, Saturday, January 25, 1851. page 3
“Southern Shield” Helena, Arkansas, Saturday, June 23, 1855. page 2
Shea, William L. “Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009
“War of Rebellion: Serial 032 Page 0143 Chapter XXXIV. Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas” Washington D.C.
Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations fro the State of Arkansas, compiled 1903-1927. National Archives, Washington D.C. for Charles W. Adams. Twenty Third Infantry.
Adam, Charles William – Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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