Manhood: He Did Not Need to Advertise It

Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer

Sam Evans was that sort of great man noticed in his small circles and forgotten by history.  While others in his regiment fell out with sore feet and heads Sam marched on. His peers knew him as the man who took new recruits under his wing. Sam spent his spare time putting his blacksmith skills to work, fixing guns for his friends and such. He had integrity and heart and he seriously loved his parents who shaped him into who he was. We get to know him because he and his family were so good at keeping the letters coming and going.

Sam, dutiful eldest son, did not “advertise” his decision to run off and join the army. After watching one brother leave for medical school, another marry and move to Indiana and a third join the Union army, Sam (aged 27) went against his father’s wishes. Sam was a good kid. Without much schooling he’d taken to academics well enough to be given a school to teach. To please his father he learned everything there was to learn about the blacksmith trade like his father, but when his younger brother John Evans came home in  Union blues something in Sam stirred.

As he jostled in his family’s wagon, driving young John back to his regiment, Sam felt no great love for the “darkies.” He was for the Union because his father was for the Union, but something made him send the wagon home with a friend and join the army on the spot.

His mother nearly swooned, his girl looked “the most completely beaten” and his father, well, his father was spitting mad (as Sam suspected he would be). Now the home duties would fall squarely on the shoulders of Amos just coming of age! When before Sam had even seen a bullet he came down with the measles his father sent a pissy letter insinuating Sam was more a burden to the war effort than a help. Sam stood firm and while being nursed to health by a kindly old “darkie” in what was once a bawdy house, he must have smiled as he read the next more contrite letter from home about the entire Evans family suffering under the measles.

The Shirker, Winslow Homer
The Shirker, Winslow Homer

Sam was no shirk.  His first chance at bat, he coolly killed a rebel sneaking around camp before the Battle of Shiloh. When his comrades pulled back at the real fighting a few days later he didn’t notice and kept shooting. He wrote home saying he’d been scratched in the battle only later admitting to being shot. “A little wound does not amount to a hill of beans.”

As word of Sam’s great bravery and upbeat attitude made it home to Father, the older man’s hurt attitude toward his son softened into pride. Father quipped to son that much disease and affliction seemed to attack men in the community aged 18-45 preventing them from joining the brave boys at the front. Sam surely smiled at his father’s subtle compliment.

The higher-ups noticed Sam, too. They plucked him out for an assignment that would test his relationship to Father: How would Sam like to be promoted to lieutenant in a newly formed black regiment? First the hard swallow. Sam took note that his time in the military had changed his once ambivalent feelings toward black people (he’d once called a Republican friend a ‘Negroamus’). His views, like the views of many other white Americans had ‘evolved.’ There was no freedom for anyone if there was no freedom for the slave.

amerikaanse-burgeroorlog-winslow-homer-7Sam assumed at first that the men in his regiment would be inferior soldiers. He assured his father by saying it would be better to sacrifice black soldiers than white. This did not assure his father who acidly wrote that his son had sunk to a new low and hinted he’d be ashamed to tell friends and neighbors. “I’d rather clean out s–t houses . . . than take your position with pay.”

Stung, Sam wrote back, “So willing to accept a degraded position! The fact is you have never marched so far with a heavy load and sore feet as I, and have never noticed so plainly the privileges of a commissioned officer’s . . . Although you have rated me very low I think you are mistaken.” Sam continued even after this to write home.

Father soon wrote back chastened. He feared an officer leading a black regiment would be targeted. Neighbors didn’t shun the family for Sam’s actions. As the mood of the country changed, Sam’s bravery (and the bravery of the black soldiers) was celebrated. Even Father got active.

Once Sam sent a very tanned photo of himself home and quipped he was much suited for the regiment he was in. His men impressed him and did well. His father may have feared for his son’s life, but this is what Sam said: “If a man is a true Christian he can be but a brave man. We should meet danger in the full consciousness of its presence {fear of God} –calmly, steadily unfalteringly . . .one must be really honorable . . .A man with the assurance in his own breast that God has forgiven him is not afraid to die.”

By war’s end Father proudly worked and voted for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution and what of Sam? In 1867 he married a Margaret Shelton and had 8 children. He lived out his days in Ohio, never getting rich or being poor. His father adored him even more and he adored his father.

*****I am indebted to Joseph T. Glatthaar for writing the essay Duty, Country, Race and Party: the Evans family of Ohio published in the book: THE WAR WAS YOU AND ME. This post is a summary of his wonderful work.

THEIR PATRIOTIC DUTY THE CIVIL WAR LETTERS OF THE EVANS FAMILY

14 thoughts on “Manhood: He Did Not Need to Advertise It

  1. I was extremely pleased to find this post. Thanks so much for telling us about Sam. He certainly sounds like an amazing man who seemed to be ahead of his time and very intelligent. And I love the painting by Winslow Homer – and – I just attended a lecture featuring his paintings.

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  2. I love and hate Father/Son stories. They both fill me with hope and seem to set either a bar so high I cannot meet it or a bar so low that I look and say: “How easy it would be for me to fall to that depth.”

    The burden of fatherhood – parenthood? – seems to great to bear some days.

    Still, a lovely post.

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    • I think women and girls have more freedom on this one. People celebrate all sorts of motherhood and girls can do whatever they want (society demands it).

      Fathers and sons–I’m fascinated by that relationship. How to make a man–wow! What’s he supposed to be like? I have my ideas but society is opposed to them (or should I say the society spokes-people?).

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    • I love this family! Yes, their initial attitudes were typical, but they really did come round in the end. Sam had nothing but kind words for his men and Father (Andrew) worked the rest of his like for black equality. I think in today’s political climate we need to remember how people in the past put their lives on the line for others and grew from their experiences. There are inspiring stories all around if only we’d look for them! 🙂

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