|LA Gen. Adams
among casualties in Georgia
Terry L. Jones
Adams' statue at the Vicksburg National Military Park and his only known photograph (National Park Service).
|On September 19-20, 1863,
the largest Civil War battle in the western theatre was
fought at Chickamauga, Georgia. Among the more than
35,000 casualties was Louisiana's Gen. Daniel W. Adams.
Daniel Weisger Adams was born in Frankfurt, Kentucky, on May 1, 1821, but moved with his family to Natchez, Mississippi, as a child. "Dan," as he was known to his friends, went on to attend the University of Virginia and open a law practice in Natchez.
In 1842, young Dan confronted Vicksburg newspaper editor James Hagan after Hagan published several editorials criticizing Adams' father, a federal judge. A scuffle ensued in which Adams pulled out a pistol and fatally shot Hagan in the head. There were conflicting accounts, however, as to how the fight started. Some claimed Adams hit Hagan with a cane from behind, and Hagan turned on him in self-defense. Others said it was Hagan who attacked Adams when the young man asked the editor to retract his accusations.
Whatever the case, a jury chose to acquit Dan of murder. It is curious to note that his older brother, William Wirt Adams (who also served as a Confederate general), was killed in 1885 when he engaged in a similar street brawl with the editor of a Jackson newspaper.
Dan Adams went on to serve in the Mississippi state senate before moving to New Orleans to practice law. He opposed Louisiana's secession in 1861 but accepted the decision once it was made. Gov. Thomas O. Moore even appointed him to a three-man commission to prepare the state for war.
Adams was elected lieutenant colonel of the 1st Louisiana Regulars when the war began and was soon promoted to colonel. Thrown into the thick of the fighting at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, he lost his right eye when a bullet smashed into his head.
Promoted to brigadier general, Adams was given command of the Louisiana Brigade in the Army of Tennessee and fought at the Battles of Perryville, Kentucky, and Stones River, Tennessee. In the latter battle, he suffered his second serious wound when a shell fragment hit him in the right forearm.
On the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga, Adams' brigade was pushing the enemy back through dense woods when a bullet tore through his arm. After a Union counterattack forced the Louisianians to retreat, the brigade's officers began reforming the unit and noticed the general was missing.
Adams had lost so much blood from his wounded arm that he could not keep up with his retreating men. Union soldiers captured the general and stripped him of his pistol, sword, and binoculars. The officer who took the sword said it looked as "savage as a meat axe."
Apparently Adams' captors abandoned him in the woods, and about an hour later an Ohio lieutenant discovered him leaning against a tree crying for help. Several Yankees were attempting to rob him, and, according to one report, Adams "was loading them with imprecations of unique and vigorous character." The lieutenant and another soldier ran off the men and put Adams on a horse. Adams thanked the Buckeye for his help and expressed a desire to give him something as a token of his appreciation. Having been robbed of all his possession, the general instructed the lieutenant to take a button from his coat as a keepsake. Adams told the lieutenant that if he was ever captured, he should send him the button and he would do what he could to help. In turn, the lieutenant gave Adams his pocketknife so he could cut tobacco while being held in a prisoner of war camp.
Adams' loss was a blow to his superior, Gen. D. H. Hill, who had always appreciated the general's service. Hill, who noted that Adams had suffered three severe battle wounds, wrote, "It was difficult for me to decide which the most to admire, his extraordinary judgment as an officer, his courage on the field, or his unparalleled cheerfulness under suffering."
After being released in a prisoner exchange, Adams was given a cavalry brigade in Alabama and commanded most of that state for the rest of the war. There he gathered supplies, rounded up deserters, suppressed Unionists, and participated in one of the war's last significant engagements at Selma on April 2, 1865.
After the war, Adams lived in Great Britain for a while but then returned to Louisiana to practice law. He died on June 13, 1872, and was buried in Jackson, Mississippi.
Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.