William McRae

Contributed by: Diane Siniard

Name: William McRae 
State Served: North Carolina  
Highest Rank: Brig-Gen  
Birth Date: 1834 
Death Date: 1882 
Birth Place: Wilmington, North Carolina 
Army: Confederacy  
Promotions: Promoted to Full Captain (15th NC Inf)
Promoted to Full Lt Colonel ((est day))
Promoted to Full Colonel ((est day))
Promoted to Full Brig-Gen  
Biography: Brigadier-General William MacRae was born at Wilmington, NC,
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

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, in line 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

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.

Source: Confederate Military History, vol. V, p. 330

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