Historian, Lawyer, Brigadier General (United States of America)
Few men display a potential for greatness while still in their teens. As the offspring of several generations of educators and jurists, Edward Chambers Betts was an exception. At the age of eighteen, he authored An Early History of Huntsville, Alabama, 1804-1870. The distinguished life that followed was centered upon an appreciation of learning and a commitment to citizenship, law, and military service.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama on June 9, 1890 Betts graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law with highest honors at the age of twenty-one. Joining the firm of Betts and Betts, a Huntsville institution since 1847, he was an active participant in politics, business, community, and church. When America entered World War I, he was the first man to volunteer from Madison County. During his two-year tour of duty as an infantry captain, and before going overseas, he married Marie Hubbard Hobbs in 1918. After a brief postwar return to civilian life, Betts reenlisted for a second tour of duty that was to consume the remainder of his days.
Law and learning remained major catalysts throughout Betts' military career. After stints as a post commander in the Philippines, and as a member of a scientific expedition in 1927, he chronicled his extensive travels in his second book, Kaleidoscopics of Other Peoples and Places. Transferring from the infantry to the Judge Advocate General's Corps in 1929, he rose through the ranks to claim a professorship of law at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1938. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was promoted to full colonel and named Judge Advocate, Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, where he served as legal advisor to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General. His death from a sudden heart attack, at Frankfurt, Germany, on May 6, 1946, ended the preparations he was making for the trials of German war criminals at Nurembeg. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
The many honors bestowed upon Brigadier General Edward Chambers Betts in his lifetime included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the French Legion of Honor (as chevalier), French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Luxembourg Croix de Guerre, the Belgium Order of Leopold II Commander, the Order of the British Empire Commander, and-as the only American so honored-a member of London's Anthenaeum Club, a literary and scientific body founder by Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Moore in 1824.
Edward Chambers Betts was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1997.