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Road trip! Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery: Part 3

Here in the final installment of this brief series on the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, let’s look at some Civil War graves, including a prominent officer in the June 1863 Confederate invasion of York County, Pennsylvania, and the occupation of York, the largest Northern town to fall to the Rebels in the entire war.

More than 6,900 soldiers are buried in the Confederate section of the cemetery.

One of them commanded a Georgia regiment during the three-day period in York County during the Gettysburg Campaign. He later commanded a division in the Army of Northern Virginia, wrote a post-war 12-volume work entitled Confederate Military History, and pastored the largest Methodist church in Atlanta. Some account suggest he hauled down York’s massive 18’x35′ U.S. flag which greeted the oncoming Confederate columns on Sunday, June 28, 1863.

His name was Clement Anselm Evans.

A native of Stewart County, Georgia, Evans studied law in August and was admitted to the bar at the young age of 18. Just three years later, he was a county judge. At 18, he served in the state senate. His oratorical skills were persuasive and powerful, and he became noted for his public speaking ability and leadership qualities.

With Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, sentiment in much of Georgia was decidedly against the Republican and his reported policies. Evans, like many other influential young men throughout the South, organized a company of militia and began routine drills in the event of war.

When war eventually erupted, Evans received a commission in the Confederate army as the major of the 31st Georgia Volunteers on November 19, 1861. He became the regiment’s colonel on May 13, 1862, and led his men in heavy fighting during the Seven Days Battles, Second Manassas, and Sharpsburg/Antietam, where his brigade commander, Marcellus Douglass, was killed. Evans took temporary command of the brigade for the next couple of months, and then led the 31st at Fredericksburg in December.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Evans’ regiment was part of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon‘s brigade. The 30-year-old colonel kept a diary and sent a series of letters home to his young wife. His entries while in York County June 27-30, 1863, are rather short and succinct. While camping at Farmers (along today’s U.S. Route 30 west of York), he merely deemed the village as “a little town of two stores.”

On Sunday, June 28, Evans and the 31st Georgia were the first infantry regiment to enter downtown York, marching in from the west on Market Street. A glowing Evans described the martial procession, with flags flying and his band playing a lively Southern tune, as a “triumphal entry.”

Evans reached Center Square, where he could not help but notice the town’s flag defiantly waving over the intersection of Market and George streets between two large market sheds. An elderly York man, ironically also an attorney named Evans (John in this case), decried, “Is it possible to have lived to this day to see the flag torn down and trampled in the dirt?”

According to a member of the 31st Georgia’s color guard, Colonel Evans ordered the flag lowered. Two soldiers complied, and soon the colorful flag, the emblem of the Union, lay on the sidewalk. Accounts then vary widely as to what happened to the captured flag, ranging from it being tied to a horse’s tail and dragged through the streets to General Gordon arriving and placing it in his saddlebags. The truth has been lost, apparently, to history.

Clement Evans survived the subsequent Battle of Gettysburg, and then began a successive rise in rank and responsibility following his mentor and friend John Gordon. When Gordon became division commander, Evans took over the brigade as a general. Late in the war, after Gordon assumed a corps command, Evans became the commander of what had once been Jubal Early’s and then John Gordon’s division. Evans fought in almost all of the Army of Northern Virginia’s major campaigns in 1864 and 1865, surrendering the remnants of his command at Appomattox Court House. He suffered five wounds in the war, but lived to return to Georgia.

He became a very influential Methodist minister and leader in the emerging “holiness movement,” which stressed heart purity and God’s redeeming grace. He pastored several churches in the Atlanta area, some with memberships of more than one thousand congregants, until retiring in 1892. He remained active in various Confederate veterans organizations, including serving as the president of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV).

Evans turned to writing, penning the Military History of Georgia and then editing and co-writing his most widely known and cited work, Confederate Military History, which is still widely read by Civil War scholars and buffs. He also published a four-volume Cyclopedia of Georgia.

Evans is buried about 50 feet from John Gordon in Oakland Cemetery’s Confederate generals section.

Not far from the graves of generals Evans and Gordon (upper right) is the tomb of CSA General William Ambrose Wright, who served for 50 years as Georgia’s public Comptroller General.

Also in Oakland Cemetery is Western & Atlantic Railroad employee Anthony Murphy, who along with conductor William Fuller. thwarted Andrews Raiders during the 1862 “Great Locomotive Chase.”

A short drive from Oakland Cemetery is Grant Park, which contains remnants of the old Confederate earthworks which once ringed Atlanta. The modern park houses the Atlanta Zoo, as well as the famous Atlanta Cyclorama. Inside the cyclorama building is the Texas, the locomotive which railroaders Anthony Murphy and William Fuller used to chase down Andrews’ Raiders in the stolen General.