Prior to all that, though, he was a Civil War hero. After fighting in Virginia and Tennessee, Howell rained fire down on Union troops less than a mile from his family’s namesake mills during the Battle of Peachtree Creek, July 20, 1864.
Howell didn’t grow up around “Howell’s mills.” By the time his father, Clark Howell Sr., moved the family out of Atlanta to what today is Buckhead, Evan Howell was a teenager. He enrolled at the Georgia Military Institute in Gainesville and graduated from Lumpkin Law School, a predecessor of the University of Georgia School of Law. He was practicing law in Sandersville when the War Between the States erupted. Howell quickly signed on with the First Georgia Regiment.
Within a month he earned the rank of lieutenant. Within a year he became a captain and helped organize a battery of artillery, which became known as Howell’s Battery. He served under Gen. Stonewall Jackson in Virginia then was transferred under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Howell’s battery fought valiantly at Chickamauga, where a monument stands in its honor. Following Chickamauga, the company engaged many times with Gen. William T. Sherman’s army during its march to Atlanta.
On the cusp of Atlanta near his family’s mills, Howell took part in the rebel offensive along the current-day Collier Road known as the Battle of Peachtree Creek. During the battle, Howell was ordered across the field under heavy fire to suppress a Union artillery. The move across the battlefield cost Howell half his company and his horse, which was shot out from under him. But he made it across and took up a position off present-day Peachtree Road in the vicinity of Collier. His battery successfully silenced the Federal artillery, which was captured, according a biography of Howell in the Georgia Historical Quarterly dated 1917.
There is a plaque on the Sheffield Building near the corner of Collier and Peachtree commemorating Howell’s battery and its service during the battle. Henry Howell, a relative of Evan Howell’s, however, told the Buckhead Heritage Society in an interview he believes his ancestor was closer to 28th Street and firing west.
In the interview with historian James Ottley, Henry Howell said years after the war, an officer from the Union army was visiting Atlanta and the battlefield, which many did. The officer and Evan Howell were discussing the battle and the officer mentioned one of the hills, saying someone was giving him “absolute hell” during the battle from that position. Evan Howell admitted it was his battery.
Allegedly the Union officer said something to the effect of, “I salute you. I understand what you did and I’m proud you are an American.”
Following the war, Howell returned to his family’s mill on Peachtree Creek and helped Atlanta rise from the ashes by supplying the city with the cut timber it needed to rebuild. He then joined the staff of the Atlanta Intelligencer and became a newspaper editor before returning to law. His legal career carried him to the Georgia General Assembly as a senator, where he helped convince the state to move the capital from Milledgeville to Atlanta.
He left public office and purchased a half interest in the Atlanta Constitution, where he again served as an editor. He retired from the paper in 1897, transferring his interest to his son, Clark Howell Jr.. Evan Howell was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1902 and died in 1905.
While his contributions to the Civil War and the Battle of Peachtree Creek were impressive, it turns out they were but a precursor to a life well lived in public service.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.