Taking the Oath

Oliver Evans was a small, young man attending law school in New Orleans when the war broke out in 1861. Attending law school was still a new thing in 1861. Oliver was one of the first. His law school friend, E. John Ellis had enlisted. Although, John Ellis was a reluctant secessionist. Ellis came from a slave holding family. The Ellis family generally opposed secession. But, like many Southerners, he enlisted when his state, Louisiana, seceded.

Oliver wanted to join his friend. He felt the pull of patriotism then resounding through New Orleans. Though barely old enough, Oliver joined in 1861, despite the protestations of his father and John Ellis. The young Oliver was small and thin. His friends did not think he could withstand the rigors of soldiering. In December, 1862, Oliver was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Murfreesboro. Oliver could not walk and was left behind when Gen. Bragg retreated. Oliver was taken prisoner and sent to a military hospital in Cincinnati. Oliver’s uncle, Caleb Evans, lived in Cincinnati. Uncle Caleb tried to provide personal medical treatment by his own doctor. But, Uncle Caleb insisted Oliver first take the oath of loyalty to the Union. The young Oliver feared for his honor. He would not take the oath. His wound festered until he was finally exchanged the following Spring.

At the Battle of Chickamauga, Oliver was wounded again, more seriously this time. Ellis looked at his young friend in the field hospital and was overwhelmed by Oliver’s willingness to sacrifice his body for a cause he believed in so deeply. Oliver joined in part to emulate his friend’s service. Now, Oliver was seriously injured. Capt. Ellis left his manservant, an enslaved African-American named Stewart to look after Oliver. A week later, the captain returned. Stewart told him Oliver had died, but he left a packet of letters for Ellis to deliver. The reluctant secessionist would in time become more ardent.

Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the War, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 45-46

2 thoughts on “Taking the Oath

  1. Very interesting, do we know how old he was? I read that when the confederates introduced the conscription law, those under 18 could leave the service but had to wait 90 days unless a substitute could be found


  2. Good question, Simon. The book simply says Oliver was “barely old enough to serve.” So I expect he was 18 or a bit older. In those days, a person could attend law school at the age of 18, like any other college.


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