Colston in CSA / Colston in Egypt
Raleigh Edward Colston was born in Paris, France on October 1, 1825. His mother, Maria Theresa, Duchess of Valmy, was the divorced wife of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's marshals, Georg Kellerman. He was adopted by the Duchess' husband, a Virginia doctor, Raleigh Edward Colston, who gave the young boy his own name. Colston's natural father is not known. To complete his education, in 1842, at the age of seventeen, the young Raleigh Colston was sent to the United States with an American passport issued by the American minister, General Lewis Cass, to live with his uncle Edward Colston in Berkeley County in western Virginia. He was enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute on July 8, 1843 and graduated fourth in a class of fourteen on July 4, 1846. Because of his fluency in French, Colston was immediately employed by VMI as an assistant teacher of French, and, in 1859, was elected professor of military strategy and history. Colston accompanied his friend, Thomas J. Jackson, and the contingent of VMI cadets assigned to guard duty at the execution of John Brown in November 1859. Colston married Louise Meriwether Bowyer of Thorn Hill plantation in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and had two daughters, Mary Frances and Louise Elizabeth.
After the surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Colston and his colleague, Jackson, both received their initial Confederate commissions on the same day, but their careers took entirely different paths. Jackson, of course, became the immortal "Stonewall" while Colston went on to a mixed career in various posts in the Confederate army during the war and several jobs after the war, including service as a colonel in the Egyptian army from 1873 to 1879. The governor of Virginia ordered Colston to march his VMI corps of cadets to Richmond in order to instruct new recruits in the basics of drill and military procedures. In May 1861, he was assigned command of the 16th Virginia Infantry stationed at Norfolk. He was later given command of a brigade and a military district on the south side of the James River, with headquarters at Smithfield. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General on December 24, 1861. While serving in this position near Norfolk, he was an eyewitness of the battle between the Monitor and the CSS Virginia (Merrimack). His account of the battle was later published in "Century Magazine" after the war and is included in "Battles and Leaders", Volumn I.
In the spring of 1862, he moved his brigade, composed of the 13th and 14th North Carolina and the 3rd Virginia regiments to the defense of Yorktown. He served as a brigade commander in Longstreet's division at the Battle of Seven Pines, but he was then disabled by illness until December 1862. At that time he was assigned to brigade command in the department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina, and from January to March, 1863, he was in command at Petersburg. In the spring of 1863, at Thomas J. Jackson's request, Colston was assigned to command the Third Brigade of Jackson's old division. Then, just prior to Chancellorville, he was placed over the entire division.
Colston's performance at the Battle of Chancellorsville seems to have been credible. Colston's division performed heroically during Jackson's flank attack against the Army of the Potomac's XI Corps on May 2, 1863. Throughout the course of the entire battle, Colston's division lost 1860 men out of 6000 engaged, including eight brigade commanders, three of whom were killed. As Jackson was being carried from the field after his fateful wounding on the evening of May 2, "Sandie" Pendleton, describing the fighting to Jackson said that "General Colston behaved with conspicuous gallantry." While riding in the ambulance, Jackson remarked to his doctor that the brigadier generals commanding two of his divisions "are soldiers, Colston and Rodes, both soldiers!" In his after-action report, Brigadier General Rodes wrote about the "brave and accomplished Colston." Moreover, he has been given credit for rallying his men under the terrific fire of the Union artillery after Jackson fell. On May 3, however, something happened that jeopardized Colston career. A.P. Hill stated in his report that on the morning of May 3, "Colston's division [had] become broken and disordered." Then, later in the afternoon, Colston was ordered to advance up the road to United States Ford. Colston had the Union positions reconnoitered by his engineer, who returned with a report that the positions could not be taken with Colston's weakened division. Colston then reported to JEB Stuart, acting corps commander, that he believed his division was "not able to attack with any prospect of success the position of the enemy." At that point, Stuart, evidently disgusted with Colston, ordered him to shelter his men in some abandoned Federal entrenchments. Although Lee did not explain why, by May 20, he had decided to replace Colston as divisional commander, telling Jefferson Davis simply, "I think it better to relieve Colston from duty."
Serving for a time at Savannah, Georgia, from October 1863 until the spring of 1864, he returned to Virginia in April and was placed under service to P.G.T. Beauregard in defense of Petersburg. When elements of Ben Butler's Federal Army of the James attempted to break the Petersburg defenses on the morning of June 9, 1864, General Henry Wise directed Colston to take command on the line of lunettes and to hold until reinforcements could arrive from Beauregard. Colston joined Major Fletcher Archer and skillfully directed the desperate defense that was made by two hundred "old men and boys" of "reserve militia" supported by a single piece of artillery. Fighting until nearly surrounded, Colston grabbed a musket and fought with the men in his command as they made an orderly withdrawal. The time gained was enough, however, to allow the Petersburg defenses to be reinforced and the Federal forces driven off. It would be ten months before Petersburg would fall. In July, Colston was assigned to command the military post at Lynchburg, Virginia, where he remained until the end of the war.
Colston's post-war career was colorful. For a time he returned to military education, establishing a military school in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and settling in as the head of the Cape Fear Military Academy in Wilmington in 1868. In addition to teaching and managing these schools, Colston also supported himself by touring and giving lectures on his old friend and colleague, Stonewall Jackson. In 1873, the Khedive of Egypt offered Colston the rank of colonel in the Egyptian army and a position teaching geography at the military academy. Colston accepted and almost immediately became involved in active exploration work. First making hydrographic surveys of Egypt's Red Sea coastline, he then mapped the area between the Red sea coast and the Nile River. In December 1874, Colston set off on an 18-month expedition to explore the Kordofan region of central Sudan. The journey nearly killed him. Suffering severe physical ailments after a fall from a camel, Colston completed much of his work in the Sudan while paralyzed from the waist down and being carried in a litter. He spent six months being nursed by nuns at a Catholic mission two hundred miles southwest of Khartoum. At one point his doctor advised him that he only had three or four days to live. He survived, however, and came to believe that his recovery was a miracle. He later suffered from semiparalysis as he grew older after his return to the United States in 1879.
Colston wrote extensively on his Egyptian experiences and eventually worked as a translator in the surgeon general's office in Washington, DC. He died in the Confederate Soldier's Home in Richmond in 1896 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
VMI biography (http://www.vmi.edu/archives.aspx?id=5601)
Clement Evans, Confederate Military History, Vol. III
James A. Morgan, III, "Searching for Redemption in the Deserts of Egypt," Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. XLVI, No. 1 (February 2007)
Bernard Theursam, "General Colston and the Cape Fear Academy," Cape Fear Historical Institute (http://www.cfhi.net/CapeFearAcademysEarlyHistory.php)
Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants, Vol. 2
R.E. Colston, "Watching the 'Merrimac,'" Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. I