Dylan James and the Brothers of the 56th Ohio

Once in a while, I take a break from blogging about the Civil War to feature the work of a fellow author. Today’s guest on Dan Masters’ Civil War Chronicles is Dylan James, author of a new work entitled Brothers, a historical novel based on the Civil War experiences of his Welsh ancestors who served in the 27th and 56th Ohio regiments.

The Evans family emigrated to the U.S. from Wales in the summer of 1839, settling in the iron-mining region of Jackson County in the southeastern portion of Ohio. The father worked as a farmer, and moved to neighboring Gallia County a few years later where the he died in 1852. The three older brothers, Richard, David, and John, were thrown into life on their own at a very young age, but found work at the Gallia Furnace as colliers. It was a hard life, one symbolized by long hours of back-breaking labor, but their time in the furnace served to toughen the brothers and helped prepare them for the rigors of their forthcoming service in the Civil War.

Brothers follows the varied story of each of the three brothers; the stories of Richard and David are closely tied as they served side by side in the 56th Ohio for the first months of the war. John's story with the 27th Ohio is described separately. While historical fiction, Dylan did a fine job basing his work on the available sources of the campaigns of the 56th Ohio that really helps bring to life the experiences of the common soldier in the war. One of the other highlights of the book was the extensive section of family photographs and articles that document the Evans’ family story, and even includes some personal recollections from John Evans of the 27th Ohio (Ohio Brigade fans, it is well worth the read!)

The three Evans brothers from left to right: Richard and David who served with the 56th Ohio, and on the right youngest brother John who served as a captain with the 27th Ohio. Author Dylan James is the great-great-great grandson of Richard Evans and the two bear an uncanny resemblance to one another. 

Dylan and I recently sat down at our respective desks to discuss his work, and following our Q&A, Dylan allowed me to publish an excerpt from his book that covers one of the most intriguing episodes of the war for the 56th Ohio: the capture of the flag of the 23rd Alabama on May 1, 1863 at the Battle of Port Gibson by Dylan’s ancestor David Evans.

1. Please give me some life background on yourself: where are you from, where did you attend school including college, current life situation and employment.

I’m a born-and-raised Ohioan, recent graduate of Ohio University, and I am currently working as a Marketing Specialist at Thirty-One Gifts. I call Pickerington, Ohio my hometown and I hold an extensive creative writing background.

2. What sparked your interest in the Civil War?

    Since childhood, I’ve held a strange attachment to the Civil War that I can’t entirely describe. As a kid, it felt oddly familiar to me. I was always specifically drawn to stories not commonly covered in the greater arena of Civil War history too. You can see why I wrote Brothers with this in mind: the story of the Evans brothers is one of those long-lost gems if you will. Much like the lot on Dan Masters’ Civil War Chronicles!

3. Brothers is a fascinating story of three Welshman who became Buckeye boys who went to war with the 27th and 56th Ohio regiments. How did you come across the story?

    I was about 8 years old when my Grandpa Tom Evans (former mayor of Jackson County, Ohio) showed me a photo of my Great-Great-Great Grandpa Richard D. Evans. I still remember the feeling that the photo gave me vividly. With age, the desire to reveal the story behind the photo only grew. Who was the man in this photograph—truly, who was he? And well, I never could’ve imagined the story that revealed itself.

Dylan James

4. How did you go about conducting the research for this book? Any great research stories from the road or from the field?

    I conducted research for this book through immersing myself in heavy-hitting non-fiction literature on the necessary battles, campaigns and regiments—it was a process that I honed in on for about a year. I learned so much through reaching out to distant family members too. Every piece of the puzzle was there waiting for me, and heck, I even made contact with the descendants of Lieutenant Thomas J. Williams, Corporal David Evans’ best-friend. Making contact with them was something else I tell you. David’s life is a brilliant and tragic one, and he was truly the beating heart of this book.

5. What was your favorite part of the research and publishing process? Least favorite?

    My favorite part of the research process for Brothers was by far painting the entire picture of what occurred for my ancestors during the Civil War. It really brought Richard and his brothers to life, and I’m proud to have them receiving their oh-so deserved recognition all these years later. In that regard, I enjoyed every moment of the process. Nothing was negative. I was simply driven by giving my ancestors the spotlight and making them proud.

6. One of the things I enjoyed about the book was its contemporary style of presenting images- its non-traditional, almost graphic-novel like. What inspired you to depart from tradition here and what has been the response thus far from the public?

    Yes! I initially conceptualized Brothers as a graphic novel, but I ended up settling on a healthy medium. I wanted to break the barriers of time with artwork versus photos. The novel is factual, yet its imaginative element gives it a cinematic fluidity that has been its most well-received aspect. Brothers could have easily been a graphic novel, but its final form most certainly is the best in presenting it with lasting effect.

7. Another aspect that I enjoyed about the book was the fact that all three brothers were hard-working Welshmen, an ethnic group not often featured in Civil War literature. How do you think their experience as immigrants colored their experiences in the Civil War?

    I entirely agree. Richard and his brothers were simply proud to call America their home, and their enduring patriotism is beyond commendable. Richard, David and John knew struggle well as Welsh immigrants before and after leaving Wales, and that struggle hardened them and made them the exceptional soldiers that they were. Civil War literature seems to be void of Wales outside of subtle broaches, too. That element of Wales is just another surprising element that truly makes Brothers one-of-a-kind.

8. Let discuss each of the brothers in turn and give a short synopsis of their services during the war: Richard, John, and David.


Sergeant Richard D. Evans
Co. C, 56th OVI
   Sergeant Richard D. Evans was a strapping Sergeant in Co. C of the 56th Ohio, a man of distinct kindness and strength, and he was well-liked by his comrades, too. Following the Battle of Fort Donelson in February of 1862, Richard was struck by typhoid fever and battled through grueling hospital stays before miraculously returning to the 56th in October of 1862. However, Richard was soon medically discharged in November of 1862 as a result of chronic diarrhea evinced by his past typhoid fever. In July of 1863, following the death of his brother David, Richard battled it out as a captain of a Gallia County Militia Regiment, still sick while doing so and hand-selected by Ohio Governor David Tod himself to serve as a Captain in the face of Morgan’s Raiders.

    Corporal David Evans was an intimidating yet embraced figure amongst the men of Co. C of the 56th Ohio, a scrappy regiment where he fought alongside Richard (until Richard’s medical discharge). David had been studying war tactics for seven months before his September enlistment and he was a mammoth of a man; David’s best friend Thomas recalled David as a “man of fine physical frame”. David saw action at Shiloh, during skirmishes a part of Grant’s Yazoo Pass Expedition and beyond, at Grand Gulf, at Port Gibson where he captured the flag of the 23rd Alabama, and he sustained a  gruesome shell wound injury at Champion Hill after hours of heavy, heavy fighting. Inhumanly tough, David died of this wound nearly two months after sustaining it with the shell still shanked deep into his chest.

Corporal David Evans, Co. C, 56th OVI
Died of wounds July 14, 1863

    Captain John A. Evans of Co. E of the 27th Ohio, Richard and David’s little brother, was an esteemed Captain and sharp man who was closely associated with Generals McPherson and Sherman. Not missing a “single day” of action, John’s military resume is jaw-dropping. He saw action at Island No. 10, Corinth on both occasions, Iuka, during the Atlanta Campaign, during Sherman’s March to the Sea and during the Carolinas Campaign as well. All in all, John fought in 42 battles and in over 100 skirmishes.

Captain John Evans
Co. E, 27th OVI

9. Could you please give me the background and set up for the story of David Evans capturing the flag of the 23rd Alabama at the Battle of Port Gibson on May 1, 1863?

Following the draw at the Battle of Grand Gulf, General Grant of the Union planned to shift his landing point downstream at Port Gibson. This is what happened alright, and General Bowen of the Confederacy was now responsible to muster an outnumbered defense against Grant’s readying forces.

As expected, the Battle of Port Gibson soon reared its ugly head on May 1st of 1863. Atop a ridge by Magnolia church, the 23rd Alabama and Howitzer Section of the Botetourt Artillery were delivering hot shell fire into the Yankees below them. Soon, the 56th Ohio was selected to charge this ridge with the support of the 34th Indiana. Amidst the 56th Ohio and carrying his prized book on war tactics, David was soon sent headfirst into the crushing action when the charge was sounded. What followed here for David can only be described as greatness. Absolute greatness as he captured the regimental flag of the 23rd Alabama.

10. David Evans sustained a chest wound a few weeks after Port Gibson and died of the wound. What happened to the 23rd Alabama flag that he captured?

Many men of Portsmouth, Ohio were soldiers in the 56th Ohio during the Civil War and in late May of 1863, the women of the Soldiers’ Aid Society founded by Portsmouth local Amanda Pussell rounded up a mass of donated supplies that they proceeded to send to the 56th Ohio who were still inching towards Vicksburg. The 56th Ohio received these supplies while David was a patient aboard the R.C. Wood, and the men of the beaten-down regiment were beyond thankful to have such an abundance of donated food, clothing and hospital supplies before them. Their appreciation was so great in fact that they proceeded to send David’s captured flag back to Portsmouth as a token of appreciation. David’s captured flag was soon suspended in the Council Chamber at Portsmouth City Hall where a printed account of its capture was attached to it, and the flag would hang here for 58 years. On February 17th of 1921 however, a fire ravaged through Portsmouth City Hall in the night as the captured flag was still on display. The fire was discovered quickly enough, however, to prevent absolute damage to the building itself. But after the fire, David’s captured flag was never seen by anyone again as it was either burned to fabric ash or moved elsewhere where it remains lost in time. I’ve made efforts at locating it, specifically in the Portsmouth, Ohio area, but it is likely gone forever.

11. Now that you have Brothers completed, what are you looking at for future projects?

    I’m currently working on a historical nonfiction novel covering the 7th Vermont Infantry Regiment. Many Civil War buffs will know their unfortunate place in Civil War history following the Battle of Baton Rouge. It’s a tale I tell you, even in nonfiction form.

     Brothers is available through Barnes & Noble as a paperback for $19.99; click here to order your copy. Here is an excerpt from Brothers regarding the Battle of Port Gibson on May 1, 1863.


Day became night, and as David and the 56th marched into the darkness before them, the men came to terms with the fact that none of them were going to get any sleep. The threat around them was too dire. David and the 56th had seen the tail ends of battles, had fought hard in skirmishes too, but never had they been thrusted into battle as a central piece of an offensive. The air was thick and uneasy around the regiment. And they did not stop marching at any given time.

          On May 1st in its earliest hours, the first shots of Port Gibson were fired. Martin E. Green, Brigadier General of the Confederacy, was inspecting his picket line near the Shaifer house as his Confederate forces lay in wait behind the cover of a fencerow near Magnolia Church. Women of the Shaifer house were frantically packing up their belongings and cramming them into a wagon as Green smirked at them in amusement. He told the women to calm down, that Union forces would not arrive before daylight. And just then, a single shot boomed through the night as Confederate pickets spotted the 21st Iowa out in the murky distance. A volley of musketry broke out and whizzing bullets split into the wood of the wagon itself as well as the Shaifer home. The women immediately leaped into the wagon and whipped their oxen through Confederate lines to Port Gibson as Green found even more amusement in their hurried departure.

          A loud back and forth exchange of fire ensued but the Iowans could not efficiently fire at Confederates as the ground before them was uneven with ravines. They needed to reach the Shaifer house for better positioning, but firing from both sides soon ceased. Quiet settled in, and Green’s soldiers near Magnolia Church who jumped awake upon hearing the earlier firing were on the lookout for incoming Union soldiers. Union officers were shouting in the night, their echoes frightening and urgent. Then, there was the shuffling of Union boots over crinkly undergrowth as soldiers crept forward. Confederates at Magnolia Church waited. And upon seeing Union forces out 50 yards before them near the Shaifer house, they fired away.

          Union soldiers hit the dirt; others sought cover. Muskets roared with fury as artillery crackled down onto both sides as a sole 12-pounder cannon was rushed into placement by Union forces before spewing heavy shell and canister into the Rebels. There was no visibility for either side. You could only hear the screams of men and the death gurgles of horses who met their unfortunate ends amidst the booming clash of weaponry. David and the 56th were still marching towards the hot activity when Brigadier General Carr made the decision to stop his men at the Shaifer house; they would wait for light before deploying. Soon enough, firing from both sides died down and exchanges became intermittent. Both sides knew that the sun would bring war.

          At daybreak and after a long night of marching, David and the 56th halted in a valley by a small stream for breakfast. They had made it to their destination and Confederate forces lay in wait not far from them. A few men of the 56th proceeded to gobble their meals down, but many men didn’t even get to touch their food as enemy artillery soon boomed throughout the land and shook the ground.

“Fall in!” was the order and the 56th proceeded to quickly move up a nearby hill before halting in a deep cut in the road at the very top of the hill. During the formation of collective Union lines, the battle officially broke out and continued relentlessly. The Confederates, outnumbered 4 to 1, were wounded animals pressed up into a corner at the sight of the 23,000 determined Union soldiers before them—23,000 Union soldiers who began to close in.

          The 56th alongside the 47th Indiana were ordered to the extreme left amidst their brigade and the 24th Indiana and 28th Indiana were ordered to the extreme right and soon, David and the 56th marched into a heavy contest where a nearby piece of fallen timber provided a natural defensive against enemy fire. Wounded Union comrades previously engaged fell back to the position of the 56th, crawling and hobbling out of fire to safety—a grueling fire that the 56th began to endure themselves as shell and canister ripped into their lines. While returning fire, David and the 56th took the onslaught without flinching and were ordered to advance shortly thereafter.

          The 56th alongside the 47th Indiana moved forward without hesitation and soon stopped by a road leading to Port Gibson. Here, David and his comrades under nonstop fire took cover behind a fence, and many portions of this fence acted as unintentional shrapnel when enemy cannister and shell exploded and pierced numerous men of the 56th with flying fence rail fragments. The 56th and 47th Indiana then proceeded to cross the road and move down into a nearby canebrake where they formed at another fence atop a ridge.

          Around this time Green recognized that his Rebel troops on the left flank were highly vulnerable. He needed reinforcements and fast as Union forces were cutting through his lines like butter. At 7:00 am, Green sent nearby Brigadier General Edward D. Tracy (commanding the right side of Confederate lines) an urgent request for infantry and artillery assistance. Green told Tracy that he would not last another 15 minutes in the face of the overwhelming force before him, and reluctantly, Tracy proceeded to send the 23rd Alabama Infantry alongside the 12-pounder Howitzer Section of the Botetourt Artillery under the command of Lieutenant William Norgrove to aid Green’s lines. Help was on its way.

          Norgrove’s Howitzer Section and the 23rd Alabama arrived on Green’s front at about 8:30 am and quickly set up positioning atop a ridge near Magnolia Church. The aid immediately began firing down upon the spread-out wave of Union blue before them. Bodies dropped, shells and canisters exploded into the dirt and struck men viciously, but Union forces would not stop coming.

          On another ridge and under cover behind a fence amidst the brutal pandemonium, David watched General Hovey and his staff ride atop their galloping horses to the 56th before abruptly halting before the regiment.

          “Who’s in command?” Hovey asked.

          Colonel William H. Raynor, recently taking the place of Colonel Kinney as acting Colonel of the 56th responded. Hovey then ordered Raynor and his 56th to support the 34th Indiana Infantry in a charge against the Rebels at their front, these Rebels being the 23rd Alabama, Howitzer Section and other Confederate forces atop the ridge by Magnolia Church.

          Colonel Slack, commanding the 2nd Brigade of Hovey’s Division, primed the timing of the soon to occur charge. David gripped his musket and took a steady breath.

          It was now or never.

          “CHARGE!” Slack shouted and the 56th and 34th Indiana swiftly began their charge on the Confederate ridge before them as they swept through the field leading up to it.

          Amidst brutal enemy fire, the 34th Indiana was in advance of the 56th but their progress slowed down as bullets and artillery crushed into them. The 56th soon took lead of the charge and rushed to a secure a good position just up the ridge. Now in close range, Confederate forces poured their shot and shell into the 56th with greater accuracy. Thomas, David’s best friend, was hit by grapeshot that bruised his foot to an intense purple. Nonetheless, Thomas and the 56th persevered.

          Atop the ridge, Norgrove’s Howitzer Section continued to sustain heavy casualties alongside the 23rd Alabama. All but two of the horses from Howitzer’s Section had been killed under Union fire too and there was no chance for Norgrove and his men to remove their guns as their horses lay brutalized. And as David and the 56th alongside the 34th Indiana soon ascended the ridge farther, a defeated Norgrove instructed his men to fire a final double-shotted volley.

          Confederates stood their ground until the 56th reached the top of the ridge at last. Carnage ensued atop the ridge. Rebel cannoneers and troops dropped like flies. The enemy was doing their best to escape, but the 56th wanted them dead or alive. Amidst the carnage of retreating men and as a brute force of nature in his ruthless pursuit of the enemy, David captured the flag of the 23rd Alabama Infantry.

          Civil War soldiers viewed their regimental flags as being of the utmost importance. These flags marked the position of a regiment on the battlefield, were a symbol of a pride and loyalty binding soldiers as brethren, and the color bearers from each regiment who carried these flags were highly celebrated and more often than not killed. To a soldier and their regiment, the loss of a regimental flag during battle was a disgrace. And conversely, to capture the battle flag of an enemy regiment was a monumental triumph. David, in capturing the flag of the 23rd Alabama, had just accomplished one of the rarest and most celebrated feats of the Civil War.

          During the mass retreat of Confederate forces atop the ridge, the 56th alongside the 34th Indiana continued passing over living, dead and wounded Rebels. The 56th had promptly taken the cannons of the Howitzer Section and were now firing them into the retreating Confederates too. Lieutenant Norgrove made a worthless attempt to commandeer one of these cannons until a Union soldier quickly ordered him to surrender. Norgrove refused to do so and started punching the soldier. The soldier then shot Norgrove who collapsed to the ground clutching a mortal wound.

          The 56th swept beyond the ridge and proceeded to capture 125 Confederate prisoners during the Confederate retreat, a staggering number amidst the 387 total Confederates reported missing or captured by day’s end. But the day was not over as the 56th soon formed line on a hillside after their mass capturing of the enemy.

          As Confederate forces were pushed back where they continued scrapping with all of their might, General Ulysses S. Grant and his staff rode down on their horses to the 56th where he soon shook hands with Colonel Raynor. Grant thanked the regiment for their gallant conduct, telling the men that he was beyond proud to be a native Ohioan. The 56th’s fearless charge to the top of the ridge, heroic onslaught of the enemy and mass capturing of Confederate soldiers and cannons had impressed Grant greatly and David’s capturing of the 23rd Alabama regimental flag was the icing on the cake. Grant and his staff soon rode off as battle continued roaring throughout the land.


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