James “Jimmie” Evans was a fixture and a beloved figure on the Norwich University campus for over 30 years. After serving in the Civil War under future Norwich president Charles Curtis and spending 15 months as a POW, Evans took a post as armorer and janitor at Norwich in 1869. He came to be a friend, father figure, and indispensable part of everyday life to an entire generation of Norwich cadets.
Jimmie Evans was born in Wales in 1833, migrated to the United States in 1860, and volunteered to fight for the Union just one year later. He was captured by the Confederates on the front lines while trying to rescue a wounded soldier at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. He was a POW for 15 months. This experience is recounted in a memoir he wrote entitled Jimmie Evans’s Camp-Fire, or 15 Months in Rebel Prisons.
He was released as part of a prisoner exchange in Charleston, South Carolina in 1864 and re-enlisted just months later with the 5th U.S. Infantry. It was then that he came under the command of Captain Charles A. Curtis, an 1861 graduate of Norwich University. After the war, Curtis would become a professor of military science and tactics and eventually president of his alma mater. He convinced Jimmie Evans to take a post as armorer and janitor of NU in 1869.
It quickly became clear that Norwich was where Jimmie belonged. The cadets referred to him fondly as “Uncle Jimmie” or “Janitor Jim.” They loved to hear his stories around campfires and his heavily accented greeting of “mornin’ me b’y” in the barracks every day. When he passed away in 1904, he was given a seven-page obituary in the student newspaper. In it, George D. Thomas ’76 wrote that “another has come to perform the manifold tasks that fell to his lot, but his place will forever be vacant except in sweet memory.”
James Evans’ memoir of his time as a POW can be read in the Norwich University Archives reading room.