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Ames, Adelbert (31 October 1835–13 April 1933), soldier and politician, was born in Rockland, Maine, the son of Jesse Ames, a sea captain, and Martha B. Tolman. After spending some time at sea as a teenager, Ames entered the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1861. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Fifth Artillery. During the Civil War he was wounded at First Bull Run (First Manassas) on 21 July, and he later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism there in refusing to leave his post despite the wound. He served with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula campaign of 1862, and for his actions at Malvern Hill he was brevetted lieutenant colonel. On 8 August 1862 he was named colonel in command of the Twentieth Maine Volunteer Infantry, with ...

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Baker, Edward Dickinson (24 February 1811–21 October 1861), statesman and soldier, was born in London, England, the son of Edward Baker, an educator, and Lucy Dickinson. The family emigrated to the United States in 1815 and lived in Philadelphia for about ten years. The elder Baker ran a school that young Edward attended until he secured employment as a hand loom weaver. Attracted by ...

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Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss (30 January 1816–01 September 1894), congressman and Civil War general, was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel P. Banks, a textile mill foreman, and Rebecca Greenwood. He attended a school for factory children until he began work in the mills as a bobbin boy at age eleven. At seventeen he left factory work to assist his father in carpentry and to learn the machinist’s trade....

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Belknap, William Worth (22 September 1829–12 or 13 Oct. 1890), secretary of war, was born in Newburgh, New York, the son of William Goldsmith Belknap, a career army officer, and Ann Clark. Following his graduation from Princeton in 1846, he studied law at Georgetown University. Belknap moved to Keokuk, Iowa, in 1851 and became the law partner of Ralph P. Lowe, who later became the governor of Iowa and a state supreme court justice....

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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Blair, Francis Preston, Jr. (19 February 1821–09 July 1875), statesman and Union army officer, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Francis Preston Blair, the influential editor of the Congressional Globe, and Eliza Violet Gist Blair. He was a brother of Montgomery Blair...

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Burnside, Ambrose Everett (23 May 1824–13 September 1881), soldier and businessman, was born in Liberty, Indiana, the son of Pamelia Brown and Edghill Burnside, a law clerk and farmer. The Burnsides had nine children and only a modest income, so Ambrose received no more than a rudimentary education before starting work as an apprentice tailor in 1840. His father took advantage of a term in the state legislature to have the boy appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, which he entered on 1 July 1843. He graduated eighteenth out of thirty-eight cadets in the class of 1847 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Third U.S. Artillery. His battery was serving in the Mexican War, and he joined it in Mexico City, too late to see action. Bored, he gambled away six months’ pay. Further embarrassment was prevented by a posting, in spring 1848, to Fort Adams, Rhode Island....

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Burr, Aaron (06 February 1756–14 September 1836), revolutionary soldier, U.S. senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Aaron Burr, a theologian and the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and ...

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Butler, Benjamin Franklin (05 November 1818–11 January 1893), governor of Massachusetts and Civil War general, was born in Deerfield, New Hampshire, the son of John Butler, a seaman, and Charlotte Ellison, both of Scots-Irish descent. John Butler died while his son was still an infant, and in 1828 Charlotte moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, to keep a boardinghouse for female factory workers. Butler was educated at Waterville (now Colby) College, which he attended from 1834 to 1838. He studied law while clerking for the Lowell attorney William Smith and was admitted to the bar in 1840. In 1844 he married the actress Sarah Hildreth, with whom he had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood....

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Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence (08 September 1828–24 February 1914), soldier, politician, and educator, was born in Brewer, Maine, the son of Joshua Chamberlain, a farmer and shipbuilder, and Sarah Dupee Brastow. After attending a military academy in Ellsworth, Chamberlain entered Bowdoin College in 1848, graduating in 1852. Three years later, after graduating from the Bangor Theological Seminary, he joined Bowdoin’s faculty and taught a broad range of subjects, including logic, natural theology, rhetoric, oratory, and modern languages. In 1855 he married Frances Caroline Adams; of the couple’s five children, three survived to adulthood....

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Clinton, George (26 July 1739–20 April 1812), soldier, governor of New York, and vice president of the United States, was born in Little Britain, New York, the son of Charles Clinton, a farmer and surveyor, and Elizabeth Denniston. After schooling with a private tutor, George left home in 1757 to serve as a steward’s mate on the ...

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Colquitt, Alfred Holt (20 April 1824–26 March 1894), Confederate military officer and politician, was born in Walton County, Georgia, the son of Walter T. Colquitt, an attorney and later a judge, congressman, and U.S. senator, and Nancy Lane. Graduating from Princeton University in 1844, Colquitt studied law and was admitted to the bar in Georgia in 1846....

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Dix, John Adams (24 July 1798–21 April 1879), politician and general, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the son of Timothy Dix, a merchant, and Abigail Wilkins. He received a varied liberal education, including a year at Phillips Exeter Academy and fifteen months at the College of Montreal. At age fourteen, while being tutored in Boston, Dix pleaded to join the army to defend the nation in the War of 1812. His father, a major, helped him to obtain a commission, and he served in battles at Chrysler’s Field (1813) and Lundy’s Lane (1814). His father’s death during the war caused Dix to stay in the army to help support his stepmother and siblings. Serving as an aide to Major General ...

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Donovan, William Joseph (01 January 1883–08 February 1959), lawyer, soldier, and intelligence official, was born in Buffalo, New York, the son of Timothy Patrick Donovan, a railroad yardmaster, and Anna Letitia Lennon. After starting college at Niagara University, Donovan transferred to Columbia University from which he received an A.B. in 1905 and an LL.B. in 1907. He joined the law firm of Love and Keating in Buffalo. In 1912 he and Bradley Goodyear formed a partnership that merged with Buffalo’s leading firm, O’Brian and Hamlin, to become O’Brian Hamlin Donovan and Goodyear. Hamlin’s withdrawal led to the firm’s dissolution in 1920. Meanwhile, in 1914, Donovan married socially prominent Ruth Rumsey. They had two children....

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Eisenhower, Dwight David (14 October 1890–28 March 1969), U.S. Army general and thirty-fourth president of the United States, was born in Denison, Texas, the son of David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, shopkeepers and laborers. When Eisenhower was a year old, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas. He was a bright, competitive, ambitious, and athletic boy, a bit above average as a student. In 1911 he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1915, after graduating in the middle of his class, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. There he met Marie Geneva “Mamie” Doud ( ...

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Engen, Donald Davenport (28 May 1924–13 July 1999), naval officer, test pilot, public servant, was born in Pomona, California, the son of Sydney M. Engen, a stockbroker and later an Internal Revenue Service employee, and Dorothy Davenport Engen. Engen spent his childhood years in southern California, principally in Pasadena. When he was in fourth grade, he decided that he wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and become a naval officer....

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Forrestal, James Vincent (15 February 1892–22 May 1949), secretary of the navy and first U.S. secretary of defense, was born in Matteawan, New York, the son of James Forrestal, a construction contractor, and Mary Ann Toohey, a schoolteacher. Raised in a small-town Irish-Catholic community, Forrestal attended Dartmouth College in 1911. In 1912 he transferred to Princeton University, where he developed social and business connections with the Protestant establishment. He withdrew before graduating with his class, possibly over a dispute with a professor. He held a number of sales jobs before a Princeton alumnus arranged for him to join the Wall Street investment firm of William A. Read and Company. The First World War interrupted Forrestal’s rising career as a bond salesman. During the war he served as a lieutenant junior grade in the Aviation Division of the newly created Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. In 1926 he married Josephine Ogden, a ...

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Geary, John White (30 December 1819–08 February 1873), soldier and governor of Kansas Territory and Pennsylvania, was born near Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, the son of Richard Geary and Margaret White. After failing in the iron industry, Geary’s father opened a school, where he taught for many years. Geary was a student at Jefferson (now Washington and Jefferson) College when his father died. Forced by the family’s debts to drop out of college, he opened a school before finally completing college. He then spent several years clerking and studying engineering and law and was admitted to the bar. Until 1846 he worked as an engineer for Kentucky and Pennsylvania railroads. In 1843 he married Margaret Ann Logan, with whom he had two children. By the time of his maturity, Geary was an impressive figure, towering six feet five and a half inches, weighing 260 pounds, with an iron jaw and penetrating gray eyes. When the United States declared war against Mexico, Geary, who for ten years had been active in the state militia, organized a company known as the American Highlanders. They joined the Second Pennsylvania Regiment, in which he was elected lieutenant colonel....

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Gordon, John Brown (06 February 1832–09 January 1904), soldier and politician, was born in Upson County, Georgia, the son of Zachariah Herndon Gordon, a minister, and Malinda Cox. After studies at a private school established by his father, John attended Pleasant Green Academy for a year before entering the University of Georgia in 1850. He did well at Georgia but did not graduate. In 1854 he moved to Atlanta to pursue a legal career. His practice, however, was not as successful as he had hoped, and he decided to explore other fields of employment. After a brief stint as a journalist covering the Georgia General Assembly, he joined his father in a coal-mining venture that quickly prospered. In 1854 he married Fanny Rebecca Haralson, with whom he had six children....

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Grant, Ulysses S. (27 April 1822–23 July 1885), Union army general and president of the United States, was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, the son of Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and farmer, and Hannah Simpson. Baptized as Hiram Ulysses Grant, he was called Ulysses from infancy. When he was a year old, the family moved to Georgetown, Ohio, where Ulysses attended local schools and worked in his father’s tannery, a job he hated, and on the farm. Shy and reticent with people, Ulysses loved horses and developed extraordinary skills of gentle discipline and command over them. At the age of seven he was driving a team; soon he took over much of the hauling for the tannery and plowing on the farm....