previous next

General Raleigh E. Colston, C. S. Army.

A Tribute to the memory of the gallant and accomplished soldier. An Ode by him.

A monument proposed to be erected over his remains in Hollywood. Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

For years as he lay helpless on a bed of physical anguish, which was only partially alleviated by opiates, the fortitude with which the accomplished gentleman and gallant soldier bore his constant suffering, was as pathetic as his gallantry in the field had been impressive. The representative of a family long seated in the State, an ancestor, William Colston, having been for years the clerk of Richmond county in the Seventeeth century, in General Colston were united the traits of the Virginian which are held in such regard.

General Colston was twice married. His first wife was Louise M. Gardiner, the widowed daughter of Captain John Bowyer, of ‘Thornhill,’ near Lexington, Rockbridge county, Virginia. Of this union two daughters survive: Mrs. Louise E., wife of Captain James D. Ragland, of Petersburg, Virginia, and Mrs. Mary F., wife of Captain A. D. Lippitt, of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The spirit of good — will and charity which pervaded his being in the last days of his pilgrimage, is manifested in his own words which preface an address of his which was published in Vol. XXI, of the Southern Historical Society Papers, pp. 38-49:

Prejudices on both sides have melted away and there are now no better friends than those who fought each other in the blue and gray. Mr. Beecher's prophecy proved conspicuously false, and all the Southern land is now dotted with monuments growing more numerous each year, erected to the memory of her fallen heroes. Peace has made us in many respects the most powerful nation in the world, and the most prosperous.

We shall always cherish the memory of our struggle, which was inevitable, and in which we acted our part honorably and gloriously; and now looking to the future and realizing the magnificent destiny placed before us and our children, as one people, with one country, and one flag, we accept the verdict of Fate, and say: It it well!


The virtues of General Colston endeared him to a wide circle of friends. Some of them in this city have expressed the desire that a suitable monument be raised by subscription over his remains, which rest in our beautiful Hollywood Cemetary, and that a portrait in oil of him be added to the appealing collection of Southern Chieftains, which now grace the walls of the Hall of R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, of Confederate Veterans in this city. The zeal which impelled Captain John E. Laughton, Jr., now Commander of the Camp, as Chairman of the Committee, to secure these portraits, cannot be too highly commended. All desiring to aid toward the objects stated, may send their subscriptions to Captain Laughton, who will duly acknowledge them.

General Raleigh E. Colston.

The members of the Confederate Veterans' Association of the District of Columbia, in regular meeting assembled, January 21, 1897, unanimously resolved:

1. That we mourn the death of our beloved and honored comrade Raleigh Edward Colston.

General Colston was born of Virginia parentage in the city of Paris, France, on October 31, 1825. In the year 1842, when seventeen years old, he came to America with a passport as a citizen of the United States issued by the American Minister, General Lewis Cass. In July, 1843, he entered the Virginia Military Institute as a cadet, and graduated in 1846. He was at once employed as assistant teacher of French. He was afterwards elected professor of French, and in the year 1859 he was also elected professor of military history and strategy, and of political economy, at .his alma mater. During the twelve years which elapsed between his graduation and this last promotion, Professor Colston was a diligent and successful student, in almost every department of human knowledge. He became master of many languages, and familiar with their literature. He was expert in mathematics and the physical sciences, especially those most useful in war.

In April, 1861, by order of the Governor of Virginia he marched in command of the corps of cadets from Lexington to Richmond, where he, and his cadets were for sometime employed in drilling and setting up as soldiers, the recruits who were assembling for the war.

In May, 1861, he was commissioned as colonel of the 16th Regiment of Virginia Infantry then stationed at Norfolk. In December, [348] 1861, he was commissioned as brigadier-general, and assigned to the command of a military district extending from Smithfield, Va., to Weldon, N. C., and including 15,000 troops. In April, 1862, he and his brigade were, upon his request, ordered to Yorktown, Va., to reinforce General Magruder. He participated in numerous assaults and skirmishes on the peninsula, and in the battles of Williamsburg and Seven Pines.

In June, 1862, General Colston was stricken down with a severe attack of fever and jaundice, from which he did not recover until the following December; when he reported for duty and was assigned to the command of a brigade of Southwestern Virginians, and was ordered to Petersburg.

In April, 1863, by request of Stonewall Jackson, who had been for ten years his colleague in the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute, and knew him well, General Colston was assigned to the command of a brigade in Trimble's division, of Jackson's corps.

At Chancellorsville, at 6 o'clock P. M., May 2, 1863, the hour when Stonewall Jackson ordered his corps of 26,000 men to disclose their presence in rear of the right flank of General Hooker's grand army, Jackson's command was formed, with Rodes' division in front, Trimble's division under Colston (Trimble being disabled), in the second line two yards in the rear, and A. P. Hill's division in supporting distance in column. At the word, the ‘men burst with a cheer upon the startled enemy, and like a disciplined thunderbolt, swept down his line and captured cannon before they could be reversed to fire.’ ‘Rodes, who led with so much spirit, said, that the enemy taken in flank and rear, did not wait for an attack. Colston's division followed so rapidly, that it went over the enemy's work at Lodall's Tavern with Rodes' troops, and both divisions. fought with mixed ranks until dark.’ These extracts are from General Fitzhugh Lee's life of General Lee, in which he gives a graphic and picturesque account of this great event, which rounded out and finished the career of Stonewall Jackson.

Colston was, on duty, possibly a little impetuous.

After the death of Jackson, General Colston was ordered to report to General Beaureguard, and was placed in command of a brigade of Georgians at Savannah, and also in command of the defences of St. Augustine river. He was appreciated as a scientific soldier.

In the spring of 1864, when General Butler landed at City Point and threatened Petersburg, General Colston was ordered to Petersburg, where he remained in command of the lines south of the [349] Appomattox until General Lee came with the Army of Northern Virginia. During that period General Colston kept the enemy at bay, and repelled several assaults upon our lines; in one of which his horse was shot.

In August, 1864, he was placed in command of the city of Lynchburg, and ordered to strengthen its defences. There he remained on duty until after the surrender, holding the city committed to his keeping.

In every field of duty General Colston served with distinguished gallantry, fidelity and ability.

After the war he was without resources, except his intellect, attainments and character. He delivered lectures in Baltimore, Richmond, Raleigh and other cities, on the life and character of his colleague, friend and commander, Stonewall Jackson. Later he established in Wilmington, N. C., a military academy in the midst of the officers and men whose brigade commander he had once been, and conducted it successfully until March, 1873, when he accepted military service under the Khedive of Egypt, as one of his general staff; with a rank equivalent to that of colonel, to aid in the organization and discipline of his army.

Colston continued in that service until 1879, when he resigned; England having assumed control of Egypt and required the Khedive to reduce his army and discharge his American officers. During that period he commanded two expeditions of great importance sent for the exploration of the great south country lying between Egypt and the equator. The first occupied him from October, 1873, to May, 1874; the second from 1874 to 1876. His services in these expeditions, for which his scientific attainments, and his capacity and experience as a soldier eminently fitted him, were very valuable and were highly appreciated by his government. To attest the esteem and honor in which General Colston was held, the Khedive obtained for him from the Sultan, the firman and decoration of ‘Knight Commander of the Turkish Imperial Order of the Osmanieh;’ a distinction which is never granted except for eminent and meritorious public services.

During the last expedition he was called upon to exhibit the highest virtues which ever adorn mankind. Marching with his command over deserts of sand, hundreds of miles in extent, with watering places distant four or five days journey apart, under the burning rays of a tropical sun, and in a temperature reaching sometimes 160 degrees, General Colston became ill. He was also thrown from his [350] camel and injured by the fall. The result was paralysis of his legs, accompanied with great pain about the region of his liver. He could neither walk nor ride. But his intellect was bright, and his spirit undaunted. He was carried hundreds of miles across deserts in a litter supported on the shoulders of four Arab soldiers, who were relieved every half hour. He always remembered affectionately these strange, but kind and gentle men who were detailed for the duty.

The surgeon advised and insisted that he should turn over the command to the next in rank, and go direct to Cairo for proper attention and treatment. He refused. He was the only American left with the force; had been obliged to send one home to Cairo on account of his illness, but he had been notified that the government had sent another American officer by another route to meet him at El Obeid hundreds of miles away. He knew that if he gave up, the expedition would be a failure, and the American staff would be discredited in Egypt. He declared his purpose to remain in command, and march (in the litter) with his army until he could meet the officer sent out to relieve him. When at El Obeid he turned over the command to Major Prout, Colston was wholly paralyzed from his waist down, and was given up to die by the attending surgeons. Reaction and relaxation, following relief from the tension of so great responsibility, would probably have been fatal to most men under the circumstances. But his vigorous constitution, cherished by habits of virtuous life, and his indomitable pluck enabled him to rally. After remaining at El Obeid for six months in the care of an order of charitable sisters, he got well enough to be carried to Khartoum, 300 miles across the desert, in a litter rigged up between two camels.

“Courage and constancy; steadfast to the last.” These immortal words of Lee addressed to his army, doubtless recurred to Colston's memory, and helped to sustain him in his dire distress.

General Colston brought back to America a considerable sum of money in gold, the savings of his Egyptian pay—enough probably to satisfy his modest wants for life. Some of his friends in Wall street undertook to make a great fortune for him, and he lost it all. Thrown again upon his own personal resources, he delivered lectures and wrote for magazines on subjects with which his great learning and large experience had made him familiar. In the year 1882 he was offered the professorship of natural philosophy, mechanics and astronomy in the Virginia Military Institute. This was a great temptation. It offered him a berth for life, with most congenial surroundings. [351] But he declined the offer, because, he said, he did not consider himself competent to teach astronomy, as it ought to be taught there. He had not made a specialty of astronomy.

Modesty, self-sacrifice, conscientiousness, absolute truthfulness, virtues which adorned his whole life, attained supreme radiance here.

In August, 1882, he was appointed a clerk in the SurgeonGen-eral's library division of the War Department. He discharged his duties so well, that for several years after he became unable to go to the office, his work was sent to him to be performed in his bedroom. In May, 1894, he was removed on account of his physical disability. Thrown again upon the world absolutely penniless, his spirit was bright as ever. He never murmured.

Then the Confederate Soldiers' Home at Richmond, Virginia, threw wide its doors. His veteran comrades opened their arms and hearts, and said: ‘Come to us beloved and honored friend, and be our guest.’ And there, with the light of love, friendship, and admiration shining all about him, he passed the painful remnant of his days. He was not debtor. He gave more than he received. To the last, amid all his suffering, he was bright, cheerful, witty, and charming. To the many who gladly sought his company, he gave knowledge, instruction, and entertainment; and more than all, the pleasure of the sweet and edifying society of a lovely man.

He died on July 29, 1896, and was buried with military honors.

2. Resolved, That we remember with gratitude, pride, and pleasure, his exalted character, his pure and manly life, and we cherish the remembrance.

3. Resolved, That our sorrow is not without hope. He served his generation faithfully and well. He lived unselfish, died poor, and entered with clean hands the court of divine equity.

4. Resolved, That these resolutions be spread upon the minutes, and copies thereof sent to the daughters of the deceased.


R. B. Lewis, President Confederate Veteran Association, Washington, D. C.
(Attest.) Chas. C. Ivey, Secretary C. V. A.
February 4, 1897.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: