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Alvin Adams

Researcher: Chris Carter

            Alvin B. Adams was born on November 13, 1837 in Franklin, Massachusetts, the third of ten children born into his family. He held the rank of private and served in Company G of the 16th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment or “The Iron Sixteenth.” His unit fought under the command of General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in many battles such as Malvern Hill, the Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Adams was the only man from Franklin in his company, a unit that mainly consisted of men from Lowell, Massachusetts.


            Army life was hard for soldiers on both sides. The food consisted of hardtack, a kind of hard bread which was less than appetizing, and salted meat if a soldier was lucky. The North had the famous blue uniforms for their soldiers, but the South could not always provide uniforms and many Southern soldiers wore only the clothes they had brought with them. The poor weather led to miserable conditions and caused many soldiers to become sick. Death due to disease was commonplace. Also, injuries often resulted in death, even if minor, as a result of lack of sufficient medical knowledge. Amputation was often the method of treating wounds on limbs, and often, that amputation led to infection and death.


            Adams was captured on the second day of the battle at Gettysburg when his regiment’s position was overrun by the Rebel Army. His Brigade commander, Brigadier General Joseph Carr, had advanced his Brigade following the orders of Major General Daniel Sickles. Sickles had ordered the advance against the orders of his superiors into a different position than where he was ordered. This resulted in the famous fight for the Peach Orchard, where around 5,000 Union soldiers were captured. They were led back by the remnants of Confederate General Picket’s army, the same force that was involved in “Pickett’s Charge,” a pivotal event in the battle for Gettysburg. This battle was arguably the turning point in the Civil War. It destroyed almost half of Lee’s army, resulting in 28,000 casualties, and greatly weakened the South’s ability to resist the North’s advance. While the North suffered 23,000 casualties, they could afford the losses while the South could not.  


            From Gettysburg, Adams was taken with other prisoners to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. In early 1864, Andersonville Prison opened, and Adams, along with thousands of other prisoners, was moved there. He became just one of over 33,000 prisoners held there. Because of the number of people in Andersonville, prisoners were assigned a number - Adam’s was 21286. He survived there until October 22, 1864, when he died of scorbutus, also known as scurvy. This disease comes as a result of vitamin deficiencies and was common among sailors at the time. He was buried at the prison’s cemetery in Macon County, Georgia in grave number 11286. The commander of the prison, Henry Wirz, was the only man executed for war crimes after the Civil War ended.


            Alvin Adams left behind his father, Oren Adams, his mother Hannah Dawley, nine brothers and sisters, his wife, Lydia Dawley, and his son, Frank Adams. His mother lived until 1888. His father lived until 1890 when he died at the age of eighty. Alvin Adams was only married to his wife for two years from 1862 to 1864 when he died. She later married Alvin’s brother Henry and the pair had six children. Alvin’s son went on to have two children of his own, who undoubtedly heard stories of their grandfather who died in the Civil War.

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