Evans (Seth Gilbert) Papers, 1861-1876
1 Item

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Copyright: The copyright of these letters is held by Navarro College Archives, Navarro College, 3200 W. 7th Ave., Corsicana, Texas. Internet: archives@navarrocollege.edu.

Cite As:Seth Gilbert Evans, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas

Forms Part of: Pearce Civil War Collection

Location: 1-E14-b, 1-E14-c, 1-S6

Transcription(s): Yes

Scanned Copies on File: No

Accession Number: 1998.111

Processed by: Bradley C. Ford, June 2003

Reproductions of original materials and transcriptions may be available. Please contact the archivist for further information.

Abstract: Sergeant Seth Gilbert Evans of the 57th New York State Volunteers wrote a variety of letters to his mother and sisters throughout his three-year term in the army. Evans enlisted in October 1861 and served in several posts including ambulance corps and commissary. He described action at battles such as Fair Oaks (June 1862), Fredericksburg (December 1862), skirmishing around Thoroughfare Gap (June 1863) and life in the trenches around Petersburg (1864-1865). It was at Petersburg that Evans became ill and was discharged just as his enlistment ran out. Evans described not only battles, but also camp life and conditions in his letters. Also included in the collection are a variety of military passes, furloughs, a copy of his military promotion, and an honorable discharge document, as well as a post-war photograph showing Evans with his captain’s bars.

Biographical/Historical Sketch

Sergeant Seth Gilbert Evans enlisted in the 57th New York Infantry, Co. C, in Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 19. Over the next three years, Evans would send and receive letters to and from his mother and sisters at home, telling of camp life and battle experiences from almost every location the Army of the Potomac made camp. On March 1, 1864, Evans was promoted to the rank of 1st Sergeant. He served with the ambulance corps as well as with the commissary department. Later in 1864, while outside of Petersburg and only months before his three-year volunteer term expired, Evans contracted dysentery and possibly suffered sunstroke. His last letters were written from a hospital in Washington, D.C. He was mustered out of service on October 14, 1864, and supposedly returned home to New York. In June of 1876, Evans was honorably discharged from the New York State Militia where he had served as Captain, Ordinance Officer.

Scope and Content Note

One hundred seventy letters and items (1861-1876) sent, received, or concerning Sergeant Seth Gilbert Evans of the 57th New York State Volunteers. In these wartime letters, the majority from October 4, 1861 to November 1, 1864, Evans describes the movements of the Army of the Potomac, camp life, comments and his opinions of several of his officers, pay and rations in the army, job descriptions of a commissary sergeant as well was member of the ambulance corps, and brief battle descriptions. His letters were almost exclusively written to his mother or sisters, with an occasional letter to friends. This includes a journal, which has been associated with Correspondence because it is addressed to Evans' mother. Also included in the collection are several military passes, an order to relieve a company on guard duty, several articles documenting various states of Evans' health, and notice of promotion. Post-war documents include a certificate dated April 21, 1876, documenting Evans' honorable discharge from the New York State Militia, where he served as captain of ordinance. A post-war photograph, which shows Evans' in his militia uniform and captain's bars, is also included in the collection

Through Evans' writings to his family back home, the reader can get a personal feeling for the war from the Union lines, both in military camp life and motivation. Evans enlisted in New York as a volunteer in the infantry and fought to "stand up for God and my country" (Jan. 26, 1862). His reasons for fighting did not include the slaves or freedmen in either North or South, and stated that if that is what the war has become he hopes that his army will "be whiped." (January 22, 1863). Evans, a pronounced Christian, on several occasions spoke of religion in the camps. Numerous times he thanked God for his health (Jan. 23, 1862; Feb. 19, 1862). Other times demonstrate his faith and trust in God in his words (Dec. 10, 1861; Sept. 24, 1862; May 12, 1864; June 5, 1864; July 11, 1864). A group of soldiers even went so far as to pool their money for a tent in which to hold Bible meetings (Mar 16, 1862), which did not assuage his longing to be able to attend church services (Sept. 14, 1862). Much of Evans' writings described the life of the soldier in camp in all of its good and bad elements, such as drunkenness and "wickedness" that he witnessed (Nov. 27, 1861; Dec. 15, 1861; journal). To take this one step further, Evans also noted that, while the war might have been over in the summer of 1864, he wondered if God might not delay it because of the wickedness in the North (Feb. 24, 1864). In the same letter, he observed, "thier are more rebels around N York than around Richmond." He was referring to the Copperheads who favored a peaceful separation between the sections.

Evans through his letters mentioned a great deal about life in the camps, especially in the winter when the army was static and in winter quarters. Almost every letter had some elements of camp life, such as those which concerned religion (see above), the ordering and making of winter camp (Journal dated November 29, 1862 - February 2, 1863; Letters dated each year from approximately November to March), diet of the soldiers (June 14, 1862, journal), theft and vandalism (June 14, 1862; April 6, 1862), illness (Feb. 11, 1862; Oct. 10, 1864) and the importance of receiving letters in camp (Sept 22, 1862). At one point, he even mentions what might be the first "reenactment," when a general's wife came to the camp and the soldier's fired blank cartridges in a "mock battle" (March 18, 1862). It should be noted that this was before the 57th New York was engaged in a heavy conflict.

Several interesting occasions of camp should be noted. On March 16, Evans wrote a letter to his sister in which he closed with a story about what could be supposed as a ghost. He wrote the following to his sisters:

I am setting at the table writing a lone in my tent and by my saying Jack! Jack! are you their? the spirit of a rebel will rap rap for a half minute very loud under the table I have tride it for the last fiew days and each day with more success can you explain it?

A second event was documented in his letter dated April 24, 1864; Evans addressed his mother's question concerning a book that he sent home, which he called an "infidel book." Evans stated:

The infidel book that you speak of Nellie I found in an old Camp that the troops had left I have had it in my quarters all winter and have red a good share of it I was sorry at first but I dont care now I think it is a very dangerous book to have around. I sent it home for I want to try and break some of the strong arguments down that he uses.

At this time, the identity of this book has not been determined. In addition to the above details, Evans mentions several officers in his letters and the political winds that were blowing. He mentions Col. (later General) Samuel Zook (Nov. 13, 1862; Nov. 25, 1862; Nov. 27, 1862; Mar. 14, 1863; June 24, 1863), General William Henry French (Dec. 22, 1861; Feb. 11, 1862; Feb. 28, 1862; Mar. 31, 1864), General Israel Bush Richardson (Nov. 13, 1862; May 13, 1863) and General Winfield Scott Hancock (Nov. 13, 1862; Dec. 5, 1862; May 13, 1863; May 24, 1863; Jan. 7, 1864; Jan 17, 1864; Mar. 31, 1864), General Edwin Vose Sumner, whom he calls "Old Meat Ax" (Dec. 5, 1862), General Ulysses S. Grant (May 24, 1863; Mar. 7, 1864; June 5, 1864; June 10, 1864; June 28, 1864; July 4, 1864), General George B. McClellan (Nov. 25, 1861; Nov. 30, 1862; Dec. 5, 1862), and General Ambrose Burnside (Nov. 30, 1862; Journal- Nov. 30, 1862; Dec. 5, 1862). Through these writing it can be somewhat traced the command of the army, and Evans' opinion of it. For instance, he likes General McClellan until the battle of Fair Oaks and the retreat. He felt Burnside would do a better job than McClellan. He did not care for Grant's appointment and thought the John Fremont would have made a better choice. At one point he predicted that General Hancock would be general of the entire army (all cited above).

Combined with these, Evans also describes various battles and events where he was present. It must be remembered that Evans was transferred to the ambulance corps and later to the commissary department, so in many letters he did not describe battles in detail. Examples of battles that he mentioned are actions within the Peninsula Campaign, such as Yorktown (April 22, 1862), Williamsburg (May 4, 1862), Fair Oaks (June 14, 1862), and mentions the retreat in a letter (July 20, 1862). He described the march towards Antietam and the skirmishing before the battle (Sept. 16, 1862) and mentions the actual battle with few details (Sept. 24, 1862). He documented the various opinions and preparations prior to the battle of Fredericksburg and the following winter camp in a series of letters (Nov. 30, 1862 - April 21, 1863). One letter of note was the shelling of Fredericksburg (Dec. 12, 1862). After the battle of Chancellorsville, Evans referred to the Army of the Potomac as a "beaten army" (May 13, 1863). Fighting is mentioned at Thoroughfare Gap (June 24, 1863), and a brief note predicts "hot work" on the third day at Gettysburg (July 2, 1863). Here there is a gap in the correspondence. There are no details given of the fight at Gettysburg, yet on several occasions Evans mentioned that mail has been lost. The execution of a deserter was described on August 20, 1863. A few details were given from Spotsylvania (May 12, 1864; May 18, 1864) and Petersburg (June 5, 1864 - July 29, 1864). After this, Evans fell ill with what seems to have been sunstroke and dysentery. He was discharged sometime after November 1, 1864.

Two documents also exist from after the war. One was Evans' certificate that showed his honorable discharge from the New York State Militia (Apr. 21, 1876) and the other is an undated photograph of Evans showing his captain's bars.

The Seth Gilbert Evans collection gives great insight into a soldier of the Army of the Potomac. Through the personal correspondence, details of his life, politics, religion, and family can be seen. While letters containing great battle content are not present, the primary element of the collection is camp life and the movement of the army.

The copyright of these materials is managed by the Navarro College Archives on behalf of the Navarro College Foundation, 3100 W. Collin St., Corsicana, Texas 75110. Phone: 903-875-7438. Internet: archives@navarrocollege.edu.