Primary Sources: Clement A. Evans & Confederate Military History

The war had been over for nearly three decades. Veterans of all ranks had been recording their experiences in memoirs, newspapers, journals, speeches, and other published materials. Already, in the short intervening period from the silencing of the guns to the earliest published works on the war, the battle for the memory of the conflict had grown exponentially. The volume of Confederate studies, well organized, well funded, and widely published, had begun creating a distinct narrative. Later referred to as the “Lost Cause” or “Lost Cause Mythology” by historians of the period, these primary sources comprised large portions of early collections of Civil War studies; and, as Lee A. Wallace, Jr. wrote in his 1987 introduction to Confederate Military History, “[f]ew Southern libraries of consequence came to be without” these works. Indeed, many of these early primary sources from the Confederate perspective still remain entrenched in bibliographies today. But who were the writers and editors behind these early works and volumes?

Confederate Military History is a twelve volume collection of Confederate military experiences from each branch of service and from each state of the former Confederacy. Originally published in 1899, the fruition of this work was through the efforts of not only the numerous writers that submitted pieces to the collection, but the able organization and editorial efforts by former Confederate officer Clement A. Evans.

Evans was a standout among his peers in Georgia, indeed perhaps the country during the antebellum years. By nineteen years old, he had already been admitted to the Georgia bar, and, just two years later, elected judge of his home county. At age twenty-six, Evans became a state senator, and during the 1860 presidential election, served as an elector casting a ballot for candidate John C. Breckenridge.

Clement Evans (Courtesy

With the loss of the election to Lincoln and secession rhetoric at an all time high, Evans organized a militia unit in his home county of Stewart. Nicknamed the Stewart Grays, with the secession of Georgia from the United States and the state joining the growing Confederacy, Evans’ unit became Company K, 2nd Georgia Infantry. Evans, however, would join another company, this time in the 31st Georgia Infantry, before the end of 1861. The distinguished Georgian steadily rose through the ranks, and by the time of the Appomattox Campaign, was acting in the capacity of a major general. He had participated in some of the hardest fought battles and campaigns during his service in the Army of Northern Virginia, including: Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Monocacy. At the latter engagement, Evans was severely wounded, one of five wounds he suffered during the war.

Returning home to Georgia following the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender, Evans entered the ministry. For the next twenty-seven years it was a calling that took him to numerous Methodist Episcopal churches across his native state. By 1892, though, his numerous wounds and hardships suffered during his service in the Confederate army had finally caught up to his aging and infirm body. Forced to retire from his ministerial duties, Evans became vigorous in other pursuits, actively engaged on numerous committees and the missions of several commissions and associations.

A postwar image of Clement Evans (Courtesy

It was veterans’ affairs (Confederate veterans), however, that Evans spent a majority of his time and energy during his retirement. Upon creation of the United Confederate Veterans he was named its adjutant general and chief-of-staff. He would later be named commander-in-chief of the organization in 1908. Clearly, Evans was an important figure in his home county, state, the ministry, Confederate war effort, and the memory of the Confederate cause. Although these achievements were well-documented, the details of his work on this collection of Confederate experiences is less certain.

It is not clear when Evans became the editor of the volumes, but his correspondence soliciting authors began in 1895. It is also unclear as to why he committed to the large scale project, other than out of service and memory. His impact on the works, however, was clear. He created guidelines for the many contributors to the project in order that the overall collection would read seamlessly and its organization would become familiar to the reader. Evans created the following framework for the each of the volumes.

  • Each volume would span from 1860 to 1870
  • Prewar events should be covered briefly
  • Facts rather than opinions should be written
  • Military aspects of the war should be the bulk of each volume
  • Organization of troops, arms and equipment, and other important military data should be included in detail
  • Battle descriptions should only be those that were fought within the respective state volume (ie, battles in Virginia should only appear in the Virginia volume)
  • Each volume should avoid controversy and debate, as well as direct attacks or criticisms against other former Confederates
  • Each former Confederate state, as well as Maryland and West Virginia, and the navy would receive a treatment
  • Each volume was limited to 40,000 words, and
  • The writer would receive a small stipend for his efforts.

Four years later, in 1899, Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History was published. Sold as a subscription series beginning in 1896, by the time of their actual release, the expensive price tag negated many sales. Not until the editor and publisher of Confederate Veteran Magazine negotiated with Evans to reduce the original price did he acquire the entirety of the stock and begin offering them at half their original cost and with payment plans.

Today, Confederate Military History remains an iconic primary source for students and scholars of the war. Returning back to Wallace’s introduction to the reprinted and extended edition of the collection in 1987, “If for no other reason, the Confederate Military History is invaluable for its biography; historians, genealogists, and general readers will find much of interest.” None of this would have been possible without the labors and exertions of Clement A. Evans.

10 Responses to Primary Sources: Clement A. Evans & Confederate Military History

  1. Thanks for the profile of the Confederate Military History. I have owned a set for many years, but never really knew the details of it’s origins. I’m primarily a Union-oriented Army of the Potomac guy, but I encounter people with vague knowledge of their Confederate ancestors and I find the set very useful in helping them to begin to understand their ancestors’ experience.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I agree they are a valuable addition to any Civil War library. I’m glad you were able to pick up a few details on the back story of this primary source!

  2. Being an armchair historian of the war, I would like to see a more balanced approach to not only the battles but to the constitution and how that document influenced the southern people. In their eyes, they were fighting for the same principles and rights that our Founding Fathers fought for and established. They believed the power of government lies with the people of each state. The southern people democratically elected to form their own government as the founding fathers established. Several of the 13 colonies would not sign on to forming the United States unless assured that they had the power to leave if their people so desired. In Lincolns own words, he wasn’t going to let a piece of paper, the constitution, keeping him from maintaining the union. Thomas Jeffersons input of the Kentucky Resolution, clearly shows what was intended by the founding fathers.

    1. It is always the objective of the historian to tell a balanced and inclusive story. Unfortunately, there are times when the researcher and writer spend so much time with their subject that they become biased towards it. This applies to writers then and now. There are also works that clearly have a biased agenda, including primary sources on the war and works written today. The varying biases and perspectives make reading, researching, and writing (as well as debate) one of the great aspects of the profession. There are works out there on this period, however, that are pretty close to unbiased and balanced. You have to dig through the historiography but they are there. Thanks for the comments!

      1. Dear sir. Your article was very well written and I thank you for it. Though I “cut my military history teeth” on reading about the Civil War as a kid- I’ve grown a huge interest to so many areas except after Vietnam. That said- starting to gravitate back to the Civil War, and found this piece a great addition to anything historical. Last year I’d found some stats ( I can’t recollect where?) on Union Army Chaplains) which gave numers and of denominations and casualties and of how. To your knowledge, is there such a list of Confederate Chaplains? I’m an Admin ( unwittingly) on a site that covers all kinds of history. Not sure if it’s ok to post the name so I’ll not do so unless you say so? Anyway, I’m always wanting to fill in the blanks as best as possible. The site has viewer traffic, but not a lot of posting activity. Thank you for your time.

      2. Thank you for your kinds words. I do not know of anything off hand regarding a list of Confederate Chaplains, but there has been a recent and growing interest in religious studies during the war since the beginning of the 2000s. I would recommend a work, “While God is Marching On.” It will provide a great overview of religion during the war, as well as the role of chaplains. It may lead you to more about Confederate chaplains in the service. Hope this helps!

  3. Dear Mr. Welch,
    I am trying to locate a copy or newspaper account of a speech delivered by Clement A. Evans as “orator of the day” at the unveiling ceremony for the Jefferson David Memorial in Richmond, Virginia, June 3, 1907. Are you aware of any archives that house the general’s papers and speech manuscripts? Thank you for your time and consideration.

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