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Brigadier General Raleigh Edward Colston, P.A.C.S.


Brigadier General Raleigh Edward Colston was born at Paris, France, of Virginia parentage, October 31, 1825. When seventeen years old he came to America with a passport, as a citizen of the United States, issued by Minister Carr, and entering the Virginia military institute, was graduated in 1846. He remained at the institute as a professor until April, 1861, when he marched to Richmond in command of the corps of cadets. In May he was commissioned colonel of the Sixteenth Virginia regiment of infantry at Norfolk, and was later assigned to command of a brigade and a district on the south side of the James river, with headquarters at Smithfield. He was promoted brigadier-general December 24, 1861. In the spring of 1862 he moved his brigade, composed of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth North Carolina and Third Virginia regiments, to Yorktown, and participated in the defense of that post, and after the retreat to Williamsburg, in the battle there and at Seven Pines. He was then disabled by illness until December, 1862, when he was assigned to command of a brigade in the department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina, and from January to March, 1863, was in command at Petersburg. After the battle of Fredericksburg he was assigned, at Stonewall Jackson's request, to the Third brigade of Jackson's old division, and previous to the battle of Chancellorsville was given command of the division, which was distinguished for heroism on the 2d and 3d of May, participating, under his command, in the onslaught made in the evening of Saturday, and fighting desperately during the storm of battle which swayed to and fro over the Federal works on Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon he made an advance toward the United States ford, in which his division suffered severely. His division lost at Chancellorsville 1,860 men out of about 6,000, including 8 brigade commanders, 3 of whom were killed. General Colston rendered especially valuable services in rallying the men under the terrific fire of the enemy's artillery, after Jackson fell, and again on Sunday morning after the Federal forces had reoccupied their intrenchments. In the latter part of May, on account of the objection of the colonels of North Carolina regiments to service under a Virginia brigade commander, General Lee put a Marylander, George H. Steuart, in command, and General Colston was ordered to report to General Cooper at Richmond. In October he was assigned to command at Savannah, Ga. In April, 1864, he returned to Virginia, and was assigned by General [Henry Alexander] Wise to provisional command at Petersburg. On the night of June 8th-9th, the lines were threatened by the Federal cavalry, and the alarm bells called out the home guards, old men and boys, the regular troops having been transferred to Lee's army. Immediately offering his services to General Wise he was ordered to take command on the line of lunettes, which then constituted the major part of the defenses, with the injunction to hold out until Wise cold bring up his reserves. Colston joined Major Archer, who had less than 200 at the point attacked, and skillfully directed the desperate defense, holding his position until almost surrounded, when he made an orderly retreat, in which he seized a musket and fought with his men. The time gained by this gallant resistance enabled Graham's battery and Dearing's cavalry to come up in time to rout the Federal column, which was about to occupy the city. In July, General Colston was assigned to command of the post at Lynchburg, where he remained until the surrender. Subsequently he was engaged in lecturing and in the conduct of a military academy at Wilmington, N.C., until 1873, when he entered the military service of the Khedive of Egypt, in which he remained until 1879, meanwhile conducting two important exploring expeditions to the Soudan [sic]. During his last expedition he was paralyzed, and was carried hundreds of miles across the desert on a litter. Returning to Virginia he engaged in literary work and lecturing, and from 1882 to 1894 held a position in the war department at Washington. He passed the remainder of his days in the Soldiers' home at Richmond, and died July 29, 1896.

Source: Evans, Clement, Confederate Military History, Volume III, Confederate Publishing Company, Atlanta, GA, 1899.

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