DEVENS, CHARLES (1820–1891), American lawyer and jurist, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on the 4th of April 1820. He graduated at Harvard College in 1838, and at the Harvard law school in 1840, and was admitted to the bar in Franklin county, Mass., where he practised from 1841 to 1849. In the year 1848 he was a Whig member of the state senate, and from 1849 to 1853 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; and subsequently he attempted in vain to purchase Sims’s freedom, and many years later appointed him to a position in the department of justice at Washington. Devens practised law at Worcester from 1853 until 1861, and throughout the Civil War served in the Federal army, becoming colonel of volunteers in July 1861 and brigadier-general of volunteers in April 1862. At the battle of Ball’s Bluff (1861) he was severely wounded; he was again wounded at Fair Oaks (1862) and at Chancellorsville (1863), where he commanded a division. He later distinguished himself at Cold Harbor, and commanded a division in Grant’s final campaign in Virginia (1864–65), his troops being the first to occupy Richmond after its fall. Breveted major-general in 1865, he remained in the army for a year as commander of the military district of Charleston, South Carolina. He was a judge of the Massachusetts superior court from 1867 to 1873, and was an associate justice of the supreme court of the state 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 Hayes. He died at Boston, Mass., on the 7th of January 1891.
See his Orations and Addresses, with a memoir by John Codman Ropes (Boston, 1891).