My short odyssey to find a Confederate general’s grave in central Florida led me to learn something about my current state of residence and military history. This is part biography of Evandor McIvor Law and part travel-post.
Born in Darlington, South Carolina on August 7, 1836 Evander McIver Law is best known for being a Confederate general. Hailing from a distinguished military family; his grandfather and two great-grandfathers had fought in the American Revolution with the famous Francis Marion, aka the “Swamp Fox.” Law was a graduate of the South Carolina Military Academy, known as the Citadel today, and had taught or helped found military schools after graduation
He was a history teacher before he played an active part in American military history.
Law, who was residing in Alabama in 1861, joined the state’s militia but quickly embraced the Confederate cause, transferring into the Confederate States Army as a captain in the 4th Alabama Infantry. By May 1861 he was a lieutenant colonel. He first saw combat at First Manassas in Brigadier General Barnard Bee’s Brigade where he suffered a debilitating wound to his left arm. Upon his return to active duty, he rose to the rank of colonel in October 1861 and the following year, October 1862, he attained the rank of brigadier general.
Throughout 1862 he was present for every major campaign of the Confederate army in Virginia, having served in the corps commanded by General James Longstreet. Although initially praised by Longstreet, the relationship turned sour in late 1863, when the command of the wounded General John Bell Hood’s Division came to pass. Longstreet wanted to install Brigadier General Micah Jenkins, a favorite, although he had never served in the division. Law, who had held a command in the unit since its inception and had commanded it successfully when Hood was wounded both at Gettysburg in July 1863 and Chickamauga in September 1863, was the ranking brigadier.
This would simmer throughout the end of 1863 and into the new year. Law would be one of the general officers arrested and court-martialed by Longstreet in March 1864. Those charges were not sustained by the Confederate War Department upon their receipt though.
With his command still encamped in winter quarters in East Tennessee, Law tried to resign from the Confederate army and even journeyed to Richmond in person to request his resignation be accepted. This prompted Longstreet to issue his arrest, this time for insubordination. This was the final straw for Law’s Brigade, with the majority of the regimental leaders requesting a transfer of the command closer to home, which was Alabama. Although Longstreet, more out of spite, wanted to keep the command in Tennessee, which would have in a roundabout way given in to the officers wanting to stay closer to home, General Robert E. Lee recalled the command to Virginia to participate in what would become known as the Overland Campaign.
As his brigade fought through the horrific battles in the spring of 1864, Law was still under arrest and traveled in the rear of the army. When Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia sparred with General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces at the Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864, Law had been placed back in command. During that engagement he received what looked like a serious wound when a bullet fractured his skull and damaged his left eye.
Upon his return to active duty, Law was transferred south and out of the infantry. He was given an assignment in the cavalry, in charge of a brigade attached to Major General Matthew Butler’s command. He would finish the war in that capacity, receiving a promotion to major general on March 20, 1865 that was never confirmed, however, by the Confederate Congress.
After the end of hostilities, Law would serve in various business ventures in both South Carolina and Alabama before heading to the Sunshine State; Florida in 1881.
That is where in September 2017, yours truly, went on a quest to find Evander McIvor Law.
Venturing out from Tampa, Florida, which had its own unique ties to the American Civil War, I took Interstate Four, which most people use to travel to Orlando, Disney World, and/or Daytona Beach. My destination was in Polk County, Exit 10 off the interstate. Eight miles to the southeast resides the town of Bartow, Florida.
Initially founded in 1851 as Fort Blount, the town was renamed Bartow in honor of Francis S. Bartow, who like Law, had fought at First Manassas but was killed in action there. He was the first brigade commander to die in battle during the Civil War.
When Law arrived in 1881, the town of Bartow was on the rise. The population swelled from 386 residents in 1880 to 1,983 twenty years later. Shortly after his arrival, on July 1, 1882 the town was incorporated as a city. Three years later a railroad connected the town on a north-south route and the following year, 1886, a spur connected it to the west to Tampa. This would prove to be an economic boom to the town when the Spanish-American War erupted in 1898. By the turn of the 20th century, Bartow was the most populated city south of Tampa on the Florida peninsula, boasting a bigger population than cities such as Miami and West Palm Beach!
Into this spiraling city, Law founded the South Florida Military College in 1895 and would be in charge of the institution until 1903. Two years later the college was shuttered due to the Buckman Act, which decreed that the Florida Board of Control had rights to govern the system of higher education. One of the tenets of the law was to consolidate places of higher learning from six to three. The South Florida Military Academy was merged into the University of the State of Florida; the precursor to the University of Florida. Yet, in its short existence, the school was known for its great scientific and technological courses and when the doors closed, part of its civil engineering material and equipment was requested by the University of the State of Florida.
Law continued in education, becoming a trustee of the Summerlin Institute in 1905. Named for Jacob Summerlin who had also served the Confederacy as a smuggler of goods through the Union blockade. The institute is now the only high school in Bartow, Florida. Law continued as a trustee until he became a member of the Polk County Board of Education in 1912, where he promoted public education in the state of Florida. Continuing to stay busy, he also edited the Bartow Courier Informant.
On October 31, 1920, Evander McIvor Law died in Bartow, Florida, due to paralysis for seven days with a contributing factor of senility. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. A pension record, dated three years prior to his death, showed the continuing effects of his two Civil War wounds; his left arm was shrunken, still “practically useless”, the elbow was stiff, and the rotary motion of the forearm was gone. Furthermore, the head wound had severed the supraorbital nerves of the left eye and paralyzed the left frontal quarter of his scalp.
As I slowly drove Parker Street in Bartow, there was no sign for “Oak Hill Cemetery.” As I crept along at barely 5 miles-per-hour, I glanced to my left and saw a small stone and wooden fence situated across an open field. I turned into a broken-pavement turnout, parked the car, grabbed my camera, and traversed the field.
I was the only one in the cemetery, where a few trees sprouted up around gravestones, some in complete disarray, others more cared for. No informational panel depicting where Law’s grave may reside was present. The graveyard seemed to be more a final resting place for Bartow and its residents to remember lost loved ones instead of a spot for travelers to stroll through to see Bartow’s past.
Approximately 100 yards into the cemetery, near a chain-link fence separating the cemetery from a row of houses, sits the iron cross depicting a Confederate veteran. Behind it, a stone marker, of decent size, reads the epitaph of Evander Law. His whole name not even spelled out on the gravestone, which he shares with his late wife, Jane. The tombstone does show is provisional rank of major general though.
Simple, yet appropriate. A man who did so much for Bartow, laid to rest among his adopted town and state, where he spent approximately forty years of his eighty-four year life. A man who dedicated a majority of his life to public education, interrupted by war, who did not even write an official report for his command on Gettysburg, laid to rest in a central Florida, in a small non-descript graveyard, with barely any notice to where his remains lay.
Yet, I had found him. And the journey to this city of central Florida helped educate me in a sense as well. There is a lot of American history in Florida, one just has to look for it. Most of it is off the beaten path. Thanks for the educational lesson Mr. Law.