Confederate general John Adams was born on 1 July 1825 in Nashville, Tennessee. Adams entered West Point in 1841 and graduated in June 1846. Commissioned second lieutenant in the First Dragoons, he saw action in the Mexican War and won a brevet to first lieutenant for gallantry in combat. From 1850 to 1856 Adams moved frequently, serving in various outposts. While in Minnesota he married Georgia McDougal, the daughter of an army surgeon. They went on to have four sons and two daughters.
Promoted to captain in 1856, he spent the next two years on recruiting duty. Stationed in California when the Civil War began, he resigned his commission in late May 1861 and made his way down south. After receiving an appointment as a captain of cavalry in the Confederate service, he commanded the post at Memphis and served in western Kentucky before being ordered to Jackson, Mississippi. Adams won promotion to colonel in 1862 and led a cavalry brigade in field operations until the late summer of 1862, when he was placed in command at Columbus, the site of a Confederate arsenal. In early 1863 he went back to Jackson to command the Fourth Military District.
Following the death of Gen. Lloyd Tilghman in mid-May 1863, Adams was promoted to brigadier and placed in command of Tilghman’s old brigade, which consisted of six Mississippi infantry regiments. He led this unit through the Vicksburg Campaign, where he served under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston as part of the force that maneuvered between Vicksburg and Jackson. Following the fall of Vicksburg, Adams and his command served under Gen. Leonidas Polk, primarily in Mississippi, before moving with Polk’s corps to Resaca, Georgia, in May 1864. Adams’s brigade served with distinction throughout the Atlanta Campaign and then was in the vanguard of Gen. John Bell Hood’s force that unsuccessfully attempted to draw the Federals away from Atlanta. After capturing a large number of prisoners at Dalton, Georgia, Adams and his brigade accompanied Hood on his ill-fated invasion of Tennessee.
At Franklin, Tennessee, on 30 November 1864, Adams led his troops in a desperate charge that decimated his brigade. His unit suffered more than 450 casualties, and Adams himself was among the many officers who fell. Although several versions exist of his last moments, it is clear that Adams had spurred his horse too near the Federal breastworks when he was shot down. The horse struggled to its feet, plunged forward, and died astride the Union parapet. Mortally wounded, Adams died shortly after being brought inside the Federal works.
- “Gen. John Adams at Franklin,” Confederate Veteran (June 1897)
- Terry Jones, in The Confederate General, ed. William C. Davis (1991)
- Christopher Losson, “Jacob Dolson Cox: A Military Biography” (PhD dissertation, University of Mississippi, 1993)
- James D. Porter, in Confederate Military History: Tennessee, ed. Clement A. Evans (1899)
- Ezra Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (1959)