Nathan Evans was born in South Carolina in 1824. After graduation from West Point in 1848, where his distinctive, spindly, knock-kneed legs caused his classmates to nickname him “Shanks,” Evans served with distinction against hostile Plains Indians in the 2nd US Cavalry, rising to the rank of captain. He resigned his US Army commission in 1861 to join the Confederacy. At First Manassas, exposed on the extreme left of the Confederate line, at the Stone Bridge, by Irvin McDowell’s flanking maneuver over Sudley Springs Ford, Evans turned his vastly outnumbered brigade to oppose the unexpected Union crossing of Bull Run. Evans’s Brigade delayed the flanking Union columns long enough for Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston to shift sufficient forces from the Confederate right to meet McDowell’s flank attack, eventually securing a Confederate victory. While in command of Confederate forces at Leesburg in 1861, Evans’s deft handling of his brigade during the Battle of Balls Bluff led to an overwhelming Confederate victory, earning him a promotion to brigadier general. He went on to serve at Second Manassas, Antietam, the Vicksburg Campaign, and in various engagements in the Carolinas.
During the final two years of the War, Evans’s often contentious personality, added to a reputation for injudicious consumption of alcohol, created strained relationships with some of his superiors, peers, and subordinates, most particularly his Department Commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard. Those strains led to two separate courts martial. He was acquitted of all charges in both cases, but those two proceedings, plus a serious head injury, sustained in an April, 1864 carriage accident in Charleston, would combine to cut short a once promising career. Beauregard effectively blocked Evans from regaining command of his Brigade after his acquittals, citing his lack of confidence in Evans’s ability to command. The final act of Evans’s Confederate service came after the Confederate Government’s evacuation from Richmond in April, 1865. For a short time, Evans and his brother-in-law, Brigadier General Martin Gary, accompanied President Jefferson Davis and his fugitive entourage through South Carolina, as far as their homes in Cokesbury, SC, arriving there on May 1, 1865. Evans and Gary remained in Cokesbury after Davis and his escort headed south the following day. Davis was captured by Union Cavalry in Georgia just a few days later. Evans died in 1868, while serving in a teaching position at Midway, Alabama. He was buried in Tabernacle Cemetery, near Cokesbury. A son, born during the War, John H. Gary Evans, would grow up to become the youngest man to serve as Governor of South Carolina. He was elected in 1894.
Bertram Hayes-Davis discusses the life of his great-great grandfather , Jefferson Davis. This video is part of the American Battlefield Trust's In4 video series, which presents short videos on basic Civil War topics.