Nathan Evans (February 3, 1824 - November 23, 1868) was a Captain in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry who became a Brigadier General for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.
Evans was born in Marion, South Carolina. He briefly attended Randolph-Macon College before receiving an appointment to West Point from John C. Calhoun. After graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1848, Evans served on the western frontier with the dragoons and cavalry, before resigning in 1861 to enter Confederate service. He was commissioned a Colonel and commanded a small brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run, where it was said his command went far toward saving the day for the South. During the thick of the fight, he was everywhere, closely followed by an aide carrying a "barrelita" of Evans' favorite whiskey on his back.
A number of examples of Evans' good tactical leadership and bravery in battle are recorded. However, his abrasive personality and his passion for alcoholic beverages led to his constant difficulties with colleagues and superiors.
He was given command of a brigade of Mississippi and Virginia troops and assigned to guard the upper fords of the Potomac River, above Washington, D.C.. In October 1861, a Union force crossed the river near Leesburg, Virginia, and at the Battle of Ball's Bluff Evans' command drove the enemy into the Potomac River, inflicting great loss. Evans was promoted to Brigadier General to be effective from the day of the battle.
He was then sent to assist in defending the coastal areas just south of Charleston. He was placed in command of the First Military District which included Secessionville, just days before that battle, but played little part in it. In July 1862, he was given command of a newly-formed brigade of South Carolina troops and led it to Richmond to join Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
Evans' Brigade participated in the battles of Second Manassas, South Mountain and Antietam in 1862 and was then assigned to Eastern North Carolina to oppose a major Union raid on Kinston and Goldsboro. After this campaign, he was tried and acquitted for drunkenness during the Battle of Kinston.
In the summer of 1863, Evans' Brigade was assigned to General Joseph E. Johnston's army during the Vicksburg campaign. After this campaign the brigade returned to Charleston where Evans quarreled with General Ripley and was tried for disobedience of orders. Following Evans' acquittal, General P.G.T. Beauregard still considered Evans incompetent and would not return him to command. He was finally reinstated to command in the spring of 1864, but was severely injured in a buggy accident in Charleston as he was preparing to take his brigade north to the Petersburg Campaign.
Although Evans recovered somewhat from his injury, he was never returned to command. He held a minor position at the War Department for a time and fled Richmond with President Jefferson Davis. He and his brother-in-law, General Martin W. Gary, remained with the Davis party until it spent the night of May 1, 1865, at the Gary family home in Cokesbury, SC.
After the war, Evans became a high school principal in Cokesbury, South Carolina and in Midway, Alabama, where he died in 1868 from lingering effects of his Charleston accident. He is buried in Tabernacle Cemetery, Cokesbury, South Carolina.
General William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee, once wrote of Evans:
"Shanks" Evans, as he was called, was a graduate of the military academy, a native South Carolinian, served in the celebrated old Second Dragoons, and was a good example of the rip-roaring, scorn all-care element which so largely abounded in that regiment. Evans had the honor of opening the fight (First Manassas), we might say fired the first gun of the war.