CS Augusta Jane Evans Wilson - Her Pen was as Mighty as her Words

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Aug 6, 2016
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Augusta Jean (Evans) Wilson
(1835–1909)

Born on May 8 1835, Augusta Jean Evans was destined to become one of the most popular female authors of her day. She was the first woman in the United States to earn more than $100,000 for her books but arriving at financial success is the story of her life.

Augusta’s father Matthew “Matt” Ryan Evans (1809-1868) co-owned a successful general store with his brother. In 1835 after the birth of his first daughter he built a mansion he named “Sherwood Hall”. His family prospered both in wealth and along with his wife Sarah (1813-1878) they produced eight children. By the early 1840’s the family fortune disappeared. Floods and financial panic along with attacks from dispossessed Indians brought disaster on the family. Matt Evans nearly bankrupt was forced to sell his thirty-six slaves and one-hundred and forty three acres and for the next several years the family wandered from Houston, Galveston and San Antonio Texas until they settled in Mobile Alabama in 1849.

She displayed her writing talent at the young age of 15 when she penned her first novel “Inez, A Tale of the Alamo”. She gave the manuscript as a Christmas gift to her father in 1854 and by 1855 it was published. Her second novel in 1859 titled “Beulah” sold 22,000 copies and allowed Evans, who had never forgotten the poverty from her youth, to financially support her family. The family was able to live in a home purchased by Augusta they named Georgia Cottage.

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"Georgia Cottage"
Mobile, Alabama

Then came the 1860’s and life changed for this Southern family. Augusta had a strong Christian faith which was reflected in her writings. As her literary career was blossoming she visited her publisher in New York and while she was there she made the acquaintance of James Reed Spalding editor of the New York World. Not only did he share the love of the written word he also shared her faith. They were secretly engaged, however this relationship collapsed when sides were decided as the election of 1860 approached and war loomed on the horizon. When Spalding a supporter of Abraham Lincoln heard rumors of states talking about secession after Lincoln’s electoral win, wrote an article in which he urged: “the South to keep a cool head, warning that the South could not possibly win in a war against the North”. {3} These words were the eulogy of their relationship.

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During the civil war years Augusta formed a correspondence with an unusual pair of Confederates: Alabama Congressman Jabez L.M. Curry and General P.G.T. Beauregard. Jabez Curry met Evans in 1861 in Montgomery when Curry was serving as a Deputy for Alabama at the Confederate Constitutional Convention. Within a year he had submitted two of his speeches to the literary expertise of Evans for pre-approval. She could not help including her opinion that she “was disappointed that none denounced the Exemption Bill that allowed wealthy planters to pay men, even their slaves to substitute for them as soldiers in the army” . {3}

In 1863 Curry was Speaker Pro Tem in the Confederate House of Representatives {8} and through correspondence with Evans demonstrates how close a relationship they shared. It appears she was an advisor and confident. When he is scheduled to give a speech in Richmond titled: “Is the character of Southern women prejudicially affected by slavery?”, it was to Augusta he turned and she did not disappoint in giving her opinions. She must have felt confident after helping him with his speech for soon she was giving him advice on possible changes to the Confederate Constitution. In another letter Evans, a good friend of Willian Yancey, was upset when he had been replaced by Robert Jamison in the Alabama State Legislature.

It must have been known throughout the Mobile area that Evans had a pipeline to power when in January 27, 1864 she wrote Curry after Admiral Buchanan complained that he did not have enough men to defend the city. Her letter to Curry:

[Admiral Buchanan] desired to inform you that he had made 650 applications for seamen to be transferred from the army to his navy.” {3}

Whether Curry helped is not documented however it is noted that at
the Battle of Mobile Bay, Admiral Buchanan’s ship the “Tennessee” was fully staffed.​

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Jabez L.M. Curry (1825–1903) & General P.G.T. Beauregard (1818–1893)

She corresponded with General Beauregard about the defense of Mobile. It was claimed General Forney was replaced with General Buckner at her request. She even requested, after the Battle of Manassas, for Beauregard take a little bit of time to write details about the battle so they could be included in her latest novel. She shared confidences between herself and Rachel Lyons that included: “discussions about various generals, about their effectiveness and battle strategies, which she passed along to Beauregard.” {3}

She also wrote to him regarding her opinion of Yankee women:

“masculine, Amazonian - strong minded, imbued with heinous heresies, both social and religious. Northern society is more corrupt today than was that in Paris antecedent to the Revolution and in the realm of morals as well as physics, only a terrific tempest can purify the tainted and noxious atmosphere.” {3}

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Augusta Jane Evans was never shy to write her thoughts and stood firm in her beliefs on the Southern cause. In 1861 she visited Confederate fortifications in Norfolk Virginia where two of her brothers were stationed. She even took enemy fire when she peered over an “exposed point” to take a look at Fort Monroe and the Yankee’s started firing. Evans had to be forcibly removed from the danger. The next day she asked General Huger if she could go along with Southern soldiers under a flag of truce for the sole purpose of spying. {3}

At the start of the war she also volunteered her service as a nurse. She started her nursing at Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay. She visited troops at Chickamauga. While she was sitting with the troops she would always be writing. In 1864 she published her third novel she titled “Macaria” (or “Altars of Sacrifice”). In this novel (the Yankees labelled a pro-Confederate propaganda novel) was so despised that General George Thomas forbid his soldiers to read it and burned any copies he found), Evans manages to idealize the sacrifices of the Confederate women. Her dedication follows:

“To the Army of the Southern Confederacy, who have delivered the South from despotism, and who have won for generations yet unborn the previous guerdon of Constitutional Republican Liberty: to this vast legion of honor, whether limping on crutches through the land they have saved and immortalized, or surviving uninjured to share the blessings their unexampled heroism bought, or sleeping dreamlessly in nameless martyr-graves on hallowed battlefields whose historic memory shall perish only with the remnants of our language, these pages are gratefully and reverently dedicated by one who, although debarred from the dangers and deathless glory of the ‘tented field’, would fain offer a woman’s inadequate tribute to the noble patriotism and sublime self-abnegation of her dear and devoted countrymen.” {4}

A smuggled version of this book made its way to New York and 5,000 copies were sold. In fact after the war when Augusta was in New York she received a royalty payment (in northern currency) which came in handy to the family after they lost their wealth after the war. She quickly wrote her next book “St. Elmo” and was now on sound financial footing.

At thirty-three years of age Augusta Jane Evans married Lorenzo Madison Wilson. He was sixty-years old. With marriage she moved into “Ashland” Wilson’s mansion. She also was a mother to Lorenzo’s youngest child Fannie born in 1857.

After the death of her husband in 1891, Augusta moved to her brothers home in downtown Mobile. John Howard “Bud” Evans (1837-1908) had fought in the war and sustained a serious injury that left his arm paralyzed. She continued writing and in 1907 when she wrote the novelette “Devota” she dictated the manuscript to her niece. Two years later she died on May 9, 1909 from a massive heart attack.

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Sources
1. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1072
2. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/...ripts-and-maps/wilson-augusta-evans-1835-1909
3. The Life and Work of Augusta Jean Evans Wilson, by Brenda Ayers
4.
https://www.sc.edu/uscpress/books/2001/3440.htm
5. https://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/macaria/macaria.html
6. https://www.geni.com/people/Augusta-Evans-Wilson/341407192360013273
7.
https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2007/04/augusta-evans.html
8. http://community.village.virginia.edu/howwememorialize/biography-curry.php
Photos - Public Domain
 
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