Charles Devens

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Charles Devens Jr.
Hon. Charles Devens of Mass. Atty Gen. Hayes Cabinet.png
35th United States Attorney General
In office
March 12, 1877 – March 4, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by Alphonso Taft
Succeeded by Wayne MacVeagh
Personal details
Born (1820-04-04)April 4, 1820
Charlestown, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died January 7, 1891(1891-01-07) (aged 70)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political party Whig, Republican
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch Union Army
Years of service 1861 - 1866
Rank Brigadier General
Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General
Battles/wars American Civil War

Charles Devens Jr. (April 4, 1820 – January 7, 1891) was an American lawyer, jurist and statesman. He also served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, Devens graduated from Boston Latin School and eventually Harvard College in 1838, and from the Harvard Law School in 1840. He was admitted to the bar in Franklin County, Massachusetts, where he practiced from 1841 to 1849.

In 1848, he was a Whig member of the Massachusetts Senate. From 1849 to 1853, Devens was United States Marshal for Massachusetts, in which capacity he was called upon in 1851 to remand the fugitive slave, Thomas Sims, to slavery. This he felt constrained to do, much against his personal desire; subsequently, he attempted in vain to purchase Sims' freedom, and many years later appointed him to a position in the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C..

Devens practiced law at Worcester, Massachusetts, from 1853 until 1861. During much of this time, he also served as a general in the state militia.

Civil War[edit]

When the war erupted, Devens was initially a major in the 3rd Battalion of Massachusetts Rifles. He was appointed as colonel of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry in July 1861. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Ball's Bluff.

General Charles Devens (center) and other officers in Richmond, Virginia, April, 1865.
General Charles Devens

Devens was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in April 1862 and assigned command of the 1st Brigade/1st Division/IV Corps. He was again wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks in May. His brigade was not heavily involved in the Maryland Campaign. Shortly afterwards, it was reassigned to the VI Corps. Devens commanded the 2nd Brigade/3rd Division/VI Corps during the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Assigned command of the first division in the XI Corps, Devens was again wounded, this time at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.

Devens later distinguished himself at Battle of Cold Harbor, while commanding the 3rd Division/XVIII Corps in Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign. During final stages of the Siege of Petersburg, he commanded the 3rd Division of the XXIV Corps.

Devens's troops were the first to occupy Richmond after its fall in April 1865.

Postbellum[edit]

On January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Devens for the award of the honorary grade of brevet major general, United States Volunteers, to rank from April 3, 1865, for services during the Richmond campaign,[1] and the U.S. Senate confirmed the award on March 12, 1866.[2] Devens remained in the army for a year as commander of the military district of Charleston, South Carolina, before mustering out and returning home. He later served as the fifth Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic from 1873–75.

Devens was also a key figure in the investigation into the unlawful execution of Confederate veteran Calvin Crozier by soldiers of the 33rd Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops, at Newberry, SC in September 1865 following an altercation. Over Devens' strong objections the officer who took responsibility for the lynching was exonerated and returned to duty.

He was a judge of the Massachusetts superior court, from 1867 to 1873, and was an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1873 to 1877, and again from 1881 to 1891. From 1877 to 1881, he was Attorney General of the United States in the Cabinet of President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Charles Devens died in Boston, Massachusetts, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Fort Devens in central Massachusetts, which opened in 1917, was named after him, as was its successor, the Census-designated place Devens, Massachusetts. A statue of him stands outside the Worcester Court House.

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Eicher, 208
  2. ^ Eicher, 711
Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

References[edit]

  • Eicher, John H. and Eicher, David J. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Devens' Orations and Addresses, with a memoir by John Codman Ropes (Boston, 1891).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ambrose Burnside
Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic
1873 – 1875
Succeeded by
John F. Hartranft
Legal offices
Preceded by
Alphonso Taft
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Rutherford B. Hayes

1877–1881
Succeeded by
Wayne MacVeagh
Preceded by
Horace Gray
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
1873–1877
Succeeded by
Augustus Lord Soule
Preceded by
Augustus Lord Soule
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
1881–1891
Succeeded by
John Lathrop