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.