William MacRae

Contributed by: Diane Siniard

Brigadier-General William MacRae was born at Wimington, N. C., September 9, 1834,
the son of Gen. Alexander MacRae, whose wife was the daughter of Zilpah McClammy. 
His family was descended from the clan MacRae, of Rosshire, Scotland, whose valor 
is recorded in the history of many famous wars, from the Crusades to Waterloo. He was 
educated for the profession of civil engineering, in which he was occupied at Monroe 
when the crisis arrived between the North and South. He at once enlisted as a private 
in the Monroe light infantry, and was elected captain when it became Company B, 
Fifteenth infantry. In April, 1862, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel; in February, 1863, 
colonel, and in 1864 was commissioned brigadier-general. In the peninsular campaign 
in Virginia and at Second Manassas his regiment was a part of Howell Cobb's brigade, 
first under the division command of Magruder and later of McLaws. At Sharpsburg he 
commanded the brigade, reduced to 250 men, repelled three assaults of the enemy, 
and fell back when he had but 50 men left and the ammunition was exhausted. At 
Fredericksburg he fought with his regiment at Marye's hill. Immediately after this battle 
the Fifteenth was transferred to J. R. Cooke's North Carolina brigade, with which he 
served in his native State and southeast Virginia until after the Pennsylvania campaign. 
Rejoining the army of Northern Virginia, he was distinguished for valor at the battle of 
Bristoe Station. After General Kirkland was wounded at Cold Harbor, 1864, Colonel 
MacRae, with the temporary rank of brigadier-general, was assigned to the command 
of that brigade, General Pettigrew's old command, and he proved a fit leader for the 
heroes which composed it. He was identified with the record of Hill's Third army corps 
during the Richmond campaign, among the bravest of the brave. At Reams' Station, 
August 25, 1864, the brigade under his command, inline with Lane and Cooke, advanced 
at double-quick without firing a gun, drove Hancock's corps from its intrenchments in 
their front, and captured a Federal battery which was fought with valor equal to that of 
its assailants. It may be said that the success of this assault was largely due to the 
keenness of General MacRae in selecting the moment to strike without waiting for 
orders. At Burgess' Mill, October 27, 1864, he displayed remarkable coolness and 
gallantry. Having advanced against the enemy, broken his line and captured a battery,
he was left unsupported while the Federals closed about him. In this predicament he 
drew back his flanks and kept up a desperate fight, holding the enemy at bay until night 
approached, when he cut his way back through the Federal lines partly formed in his 
rear. He was with the army to the end at Appomattox, and then returned to his native 
State, penniless, but enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen. He had not gained high 
rank speedily during his service, but his ability, as well as his modesty, was recognized 
by General Lee as well as by the people, and it was generally understood that a major 
general's commission would in a measure have rewarded his services if the war had not 
come to a sudden close. In civil life, during the years of peace which followed, he was 
conspicuous as general superintendent of the Wilmington & Manchester railroad, later 
of the Macon & Brunswick, and finally of the State road of Georgia, now known as the 
Western & Atlantic. His intense application to the duties of these positions wrecked his 
strength, and he died at Augusta, Ga., February 11, 1882, at the age of forty-seven years.

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