Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans commanded the Seventh Brigade in Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac at Bull Run. His command is often referred to as a demi-brigade due to its size: it consisted of one full regiment, the 4th SC, Wheat’s 1st Special Louisiana Battalion, Alexander’s and Terry’s troops of the 30th VA Cavalry, and one section of Latham’s battery. All told, he had about 1,100 infantrymen with him on the far left of the Confederate line on the morning of July 21, 1861. But what he managed to do with those men made him, for a time, a hero.
Using the advantages of terrain, Evans managed to hold back Burnside’s men until reinforced by Bee and Bartow, which in turn gave Johnston and Beauregard time to send much of their widespread and late arriving manpower to Henry Hill. He would follow up this success later in the year with a victory as the commander of the Confederate forces engaged at Ball’s Bluff, also known as the Battle of Leesburg. That action would earn him the thanks of the Confederate Congress.
But today Evans is probably best known not for his military achievments early in the war, but rather for his “barellita”, a one gallon jug of whiskey carried by an aide that accompanied him in camp and field. His reputation as a hard drinker dogged him throughout his Confederate career, and perhaps played a role in his slow promotion and a series of transfers that earned his men the sobriquet of “The Tramp Brigade”. He would end the war without a command and in relative obscurity.
Evans’s penchant for drink was a widely held impression from early on. In a letter to his mother written 10/18/1861, Longstreet staffer T. J. Goree wrote:
[Evans] is very much censured for not attacking [an isolated Federal force a few days after Ball’s Bluff], but the truth of the matter is he was so elated by his victory at Leesburg that he got a little drunker than usual, and was consequently not in a condition to do anything. Some of the officers under him speak of preferring charges against him. Genl Evans is one of the bravest men I ever saw, and is no doubt a good officer when sober, but he is unfortunately almost always under the influence of liquor. Cutrer, ed., Longstreet’s Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas Goree, p 51
As for the photo below, I have no idea what’s going on there, but the two men are holding hands. As I said here, things were different back then. I think. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
This article was originally published on 9/13/2007, as part of the Nathan George Evans biographical sketch.