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Evander McNair (1820–1902)

Evander McNair was a prosperous antebellum merchant in Mississippi and Arkansas, a Mexican War veteran, and a Confederate general who ranks among Arkansas’s most successful and respected Civil War commanders.

Evander McNair was born to Scottish-immigrant parents John McNair and Nancy Fletcher McNair on April 15, 1820, in Laurel Hill, North Carolina. He and his parents moved to Simpson County, Mississippi, in 1821. By 1842, McNair had established a mercantile business in Jackson, Mississippi.

During the Mexican War, he served as ordnance sergeant in Company E of the First Mississippi Rifles, a regiment commanded by Colonel Jefferson Davis (future president of the Confederacy). McNair fought at the Battle of Buena Vista and received an honorable discharge. After the war, he initially returned to Mississippi but migrated to Washington (Hempstead County) in 1856 and operated a mercantile business until the outbreak of the Civil War.

In 1861, McNair recruited seven companies of volunteers and served under Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. When this battalion reached regimental strength, McNair was elected as colonel of the Fourth Arkansas Infantry on August 17, 1861. He led the Fourth Arkansas at the Battle of Pea Ridge and assumed command of the brigade after the death of McCulloch and the capture of Colonel Louis Hébert. Soon afterward, McNair and his brigade transferred east of the Mississippi River and participated in the unsuccessful invasion of Kentucky as part of Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Army of Kentucky. During the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, McNair’s brigade contributed significantly to Confederate victory when they turned the Union right flank. In recognition, McNair earned promotion to brigadier general on November 4, 1862.

Serving with the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862, McNair earned additional praise when his brigade attacked the Union right flank as part of Major General John P. McCown’s division. By May 1863, McNair and his brigade joined General Joseph E. Johnston’s unsuccessful effort to relieve the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Early in McNair’s command of the brigade, Major General William Henry Talbot Walker, the new division commander, openly expressed criticism of the brigade’s discipline. The strained relationship between brigade and division ultimately led to McNair’s transfer by late June 1863 out of Walker’s division and into that of Major General Samuel Gibbs French. McNair’s efficient leadership of his brigade in Dyer’s Field during the Battle of Chickamauga earned him a belated apology from Walker, but difficulties with General French would nonetheless last beyond McNair’s command of the brigade. McNair sustained a serious wound during the Battle of Chickamauga.

After Chickamauga, McNair and his brigade recuperated in the Trans-Mississippi Department. McNair served in the Trans-Mississippi for the remainder of the war and took over command of Brigadier General Thomas Dockery’s brigade, which he commanded during Major General Sterling Price’s 1864 Missouri Raid. Command of McNair’s former brigade passed to Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds.

Exempt from the general amnesty of May 29, 1865, due to his rank as a Confederate general officer, McNair applied to President Andrew Johnson for a special presidential pardon. With endorsements from U.S. District Attorney Orville Jennings and W. D. Snow, McNair received a pardon on December 12, 1865.

After a brief residence in New Orleans, Louisiana, McNair returned to Mississippi. Living first in Magnolia and then Hattiesburg, he once again established a mercantile business. In 1859, McNair married Hannah Merrill, a native of New York State. She died in 1878. McNair died at the home of his son-in-law in Hattiesburg on November 13, 1902, and is buried next to his wife in Magnolia at Magnolia Cemetery.

For additional information:
Bunn, Henry G. “Gen. Evander McNair.” Confederate Veteran 11 (1903): 265–266.

Crute, Joseph H., Jr. Units of the Confederate States Army. Midlothian, VA: Derwent Books, 1987.

Douthat, James L., comp. Special Presidential Pardons of Confederate Soldiers: A Listing of Former Confederate Soldiers Requesting Full Pardon from President Andrew Johnson. Signal Mountain, TN: Mountain Press, 1999.

Shea, William L., and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

United States War Department. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas. National Archives Microcopy 376, Roll 16. Washington DC: National Archives and Records Administration.

United States War Department. Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations Raised Directly by the Confederate Government and of Confederate General and Staff Officers and Non-Regimental Enlisted Men. National Archives Microcopy 818, Roll 16. Washington DC: National Archives and Records Administration.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.

Robert Patrick Bender
Eastern New Mexico University–Roswell

Last Updated 7/21/2017

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