James Johnston Pettigrew

Contributed by: Diane Siniard

Name: James Johnston Pettigrew 
State Served: North Carolina  
Highest Rank: Brig-Gen  
Birth Date: 1828 
Death Date: 1863 
Birth Place: Tyrrell County, North Carolina 
Army: Confederacy  
Promotions: Promoted to Full Colonel (12th SC Inf)
Promoted to Full Brig-Gen  
Biography: Brigadier-General James Johnston Pettigrew was born on the
shores of Lake Scuppernong, in Tyrrell county, N. C., July 4,
1828, at "Bonarva," the home of his father, Ebenezer
Pettigrew, representative in Congress. The family was founded
in America by James, youngest son of James Pettigrew, an
officer of King William's army, rewarded by a grant of land
for gallantry at the battle of the Boyne. Charles, son of the
founder, was chosen the first bishop of North Carolina.

Young Pettigrew was graduated at the State university in 1847,
with such distinction that President Polk, who attended the
commencement, accompanied by Commodore Maury, offered the
young student one of the assistant professor ships in the
observatory at Washington. He held this position until 1848,
when he began study for the profession of law, which he
completed under his distinguished relative, James L.
Pettigrew, of South Carolina.

After traveling in Europe two years he entered upon the
practice of his profession at Charleston, and in 1856 was
elected to the South Carolina legislature. In 1859 he again
visited Europe and sought to enter the Sardinian service
during the Italian war, but was prevented by the early close
of that struggle.

Returning, he took an active part in the military organization
of Charleston, and became colonel of the First regiment of
rifles of that city. During the early operations in
Charleston harbor, he was in command at Castle Pinckney, and
later on Morris island.

On account of some disagreement about the admission of his
regiment to the Confederate service, he went to Richmond and
enlisted in the Hampton legion, but in May, 1861, received a
commission as colonel of the Twenty-second North Carolina
infantry. With this regiment he was engaged in constructing
and guarding batteries at Evansport, on the Potomac, until the
spring of 1862.

He was then, without solicitation and over his objections,
promoted brigadier-general, and assigned to a brigade which he
led to the peninsula. At the battle of Seven Pines, July 1st,
in which his brigade lost heavily, he was severely wounded in
the shoulder, and while lying unconscious on the field was

He was confined as a prisoner two months, during which he
asked that his rank might be reduced so that he could be more
easily exchanged. But without this sacrifice he returned to
the service, and while yet an invalid was assigned to command
at Petersburg, and a new brigade of North Carolinians was
formed for him.

He operated with much skill and gallantry in North Carolina in
the fall of 1862 and spring of 1863, defended Richmond against
Stoneman's raid, and then accompanied Lee to Pennsylvania, his
brigade forming a part of Heth's division, A. P. Hill's corps.

The conduct of his men on the first day of the battle of
Gettysburg was magnificent, and their loss was terrible.
General Heth being wounded, Pettigrew took command of the
shattered division, and on the third day led it in the
immortal charge against the Federal position on Cemetery hill.

A remnant of his brave men gained the Federal lines, but were
crushed back by sheer weight of lead and iron. At Gettysburg
his brigade suffered the greatest loss in killed and wounded
of any brigade in the army, over 1,100 out of a total of
3,000. Though painfully wounded in the hand, Pettigrew kept
the field, and was on duty during the painful retreat which

On the morning of July 14th, Heth's division reached the
Potomac at Falling Waters, and while Pettigrew was receiving
orders from Heth to remain there in command of the rear guard,
a body of about forty Federal cavalrymen, who had been allowed
to approach under the error that they were Confederates,
dashed recklessly into the Confederate troops, demanding

General Pettigrew's horse took fright and threw him to the
ground. Rising he drew his pistol, and was about to take part
in the skirmish, when he was shot and mortally wounded.

He was borne tenderly across the river and to a hospitable
home at Bunker Hill, Va., where he yielded his life with
Christian resignation, July 17, 1863.

Source: Confederate Military History, vol. V, p. 337

Back to North Carolina Veterans of the Civil War

Back to NC in the Civil War Home Page

© 2005-2011  Diane Siniard