Nathan George Evans, 1824-1868

Confederate general during the American Civil War. Born in South Carolina, Evans attended West Point, graduating in 1848. After West Point he entered the cavalry, rising to the rank of captain in the 2nd Cavalry. At the start of the civil war he resigned from the United States army, and entered the new South Carolina army, receiving a promotion to major, and an appointment as adjutant-general of the army.

In his new role he was present at Charleston during the siege of Fort Sumter, where he commanded the Confederate forces on James Island. He followed General Beauregard on the First Bull Run campaign, where he had command of a tiny brigade, containing one infantry regiment, one infantry battalion, a small force of cavalry and an artillery battery. This brigade was posted on the Confederate left, guarding the Stone Bridge over the Bull Run stream.

This position was the target of a major Union outflanking manoeuvre. Evans detected this, and took the bold step of moving most of his men away from the position they had been ordered to defend, to take up a new position a mile away to the north, on high ground north of Young’s Branch of the Bull Run, that gave him a chance of repelling that attack.  In that position he did indeed repel the first Union attack of the day, even managing to launch a brief pursuit. Confederate reinforcements soon appeared under General Bee. Eventually the Confederate line was forced back across Young’s Branch, on to the Henry house plateau, where his shattered brigade was reorganised behind the protection provided by Stonewall Jackson’s troops. Evan’s daring move had probably saved the Confederate army, but his only reward was a temporary promotion to Colonel.

Ironically he was to receive much more acclaim for his role in the minor battle of Ball’s Bluff (21 October 1861). Here he had had command of the Confederate forces that repelling a badly organised Union attack into northern Virginia. The Union commander, Edward D. Baker, was killed in the battle and his superior officer, General Charles Stone, was later arrested for his part in the affair. Evans was promoted to brigadier-general, and given command of a brigade that was meant to be part of the defences of the Carolinas. However, the endless shortage of manpower in the south meant that Evans and his brigade saw action at Groveton, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam and on the final Vicksburg campaign. At South Mountain and Antietam he had temporary command of a division,

His one battle in the Carolinas was a defeat. The coastline of North Carolina had fallen into Union hands early in 1862. Towards the end of that year, an expedition was sent out from New Berne towards Goldsborough. This expedition contained 20 infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment with good artillery support. Evans was very badly outnumbered. He still managed to delay the Federal advance for several hours (five in the Federal reports, ten in his own) at Kinston, on 14 December 1862. A key bridge at Kinston was destroyed, but the Federal advance was not significantly slowed.

1862 was the peak of his military career. The following year saw him enter into a feud with General Beauregard. He was accused of drunkenness, then of disobeying orders. Although he was eventually cleared of these charges, Beauregard still did not believe him to capable of commanding a brigade. When Evans complained that the efficiency of his brigade was being ruined, Beauregard replied that ‘I am sorry to have to add that no distribution or dispersion of the regiments of this brigade, as commanded by General Evans, would diminish its efficiency.’ A report on his brigade found it to be far from satisfactory.

Evan eventually returned to duty in the spring of 1864, but almost immediately after that he was badly injuring in a buggy accident in Charleston, and was out of action for the rest of the war. By the time of the final Confederate collapse his old brigade had been moved to the defences of Petersburg and Richmond, which may explain why Evans came to be accompanying Jefferson Davis during part of his flight from Richmond, although he had not regained command of the brigade.

His courage was never doubted, but he was probably not suited for the higher commands that his bravery earned him during the Civil War. A system that rewards personal bravery by promotion to ranks that do not necessarily demand it will often produce men like Evans. Despite this, he was not personally responsible for any significant Confederate defeat, and at First Bull Run played a crucial role in preventing one.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 February 2007), Nathan George Evans, 1824-1868, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_evans_ng.html

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