Confederate general Evander McNair was born on 15 April 1820 near Laurel Hill, in Richmond County, North Carolina, the son of John E. McNair and Nancy Fletcher McNair. The family moved to Wayne County, Mississippi, when the boy was about a year old and moved again to Simpson County a few years later. After working on the family farm and teaching school, McNair opened the firm of McNair and Company in Jackson in 1843. He enlisted in the 1st Mississippi Rifles, a regiment commanded by Col. Jefferson Davis, when war broke out with Mexico in 1846, rising to the rank of orderly sergeant.
After the war, McNair returned to his store in Jackson until 1856, when he moved to Washington, Arkansas, and opened another store. On 11 August 1859 he married Hannah Merrill, a native of New York who taught at a school for girls.
In 1861 McNair raised a seven-company battalion for the Confederate service. Three more companies were added, the battalion was reorganized as the 4th Arkansas Infantry, and McNair was elected colonel on 17 August 1861. McNair temporarily commanded his brigade at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on 7–8 March 1862 after the senior officers were killed or wounded.
McNair’s regiment was transferred east of the Mississippi to Maj. Gen. Kirby Smith’s army to take part in an invasion of Kentucky in late 1862. At the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on 30 August, McNair commanded a brigade that contributed greatly to the Confederate victory. After this action, he was promoted to brigadier general. His brigade consisted of Arkansas units and one North Carolina regiment.
McNair’s brigade fought at Murfreesboro (31 December 1862–2 January 1863). In May 1863 the unit was transferred to Lt. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army in an unsuccessful effort to relieve the Siege of Vicksburg. While with Johnston, McNair’s brigade was involved in fighting around Jackson. The brigade was transferred to the command of Gen. Braxton Bragg in time for the Battle of Chickamauga. At that battle, McNair was wounded while his brigade played an important role in Longstreet’s breakthrough of the Union lines on 20 September 1863.
After recovering from his wound, McNair was transferred back to the Trans-Mississippi Department in 1864 to command another unit, the 2nd Arkansas Brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Churchill’s Division. The last months of McNair’s Confederate service were uneventful. The units of the Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered in May 1865.
After the war, McNair returned to Arkansas, relocated to New Orleans, and then moved to Magnolia. After the death of his wife, McNair moved to Hattiesburg, where he lived until his death on 13 November 1902. He is buried in Magnolia.
- Confederate Veteran (June 1912)
- William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (6 vols., 1979–96)
- US War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (128 vols., 1880–1901)
- Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray: The Lives of the Confederate Commanders (1959)