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.
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.
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.