Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."

General Colston and the Cape Fear Academy 

by Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute

Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers

Brigadier General

Raleigh E. Colston

In 1868, former Confederate General Raleigh E. Colston was invited

to Wilmington to open the Cape Fear Military Academy, after operating a similar one in Hillsborough, North Carolina since the close of the War Between the States. The new Cape Fear Academy was conducted in the Hill Residence on Grace Street between

3rd & 4th Streets, where General Colston was assisted by Frank H. Alfriend, a biographer of Jefferson Davis, and Richard K. Meade, of Virginia. Many notable and famous Wilmingtonians received their early education at the Cape Fear Academy, including United States Congressman John D. Bellamy, who as captain of cadets in 1870,

led them in a parade to honor the visiting General Robert E. Lee.


General Raleigh Edward Colston

Born in Paris on October 21, 1825, General Raleigh Colston was the son of Maria Theresa, Duchess of Valmy (ca. 1775-1845), the divorced wife of Napoleon's Marshal Georg Kellerman. He was adopted by the Duchess's husband, Virginia doctor Raleigh Edward Colston (1796-1881), and named after him. It is not known who his real father was. At age seventeen in 1842, he was sent to the United States with an American passport issued by the American minister General Lewis Cass, and to live with his uncle Edward Colston of Berkeley County, in western Virginia.

He then entered the Virginia Military Institute on July 8, 1843, from which he graduated on July 4, 1846. Given his fluency in French, Colston was immediately employed at VMI as an assistant teacher of that language, and in 1859, was elected professor of military strategy and history. Colston was with the contingent of VMI cadets assigned to guard duty at the execution of fanatic abolitionist John Brown in November 1859.

Colston was married to Louise Merriwether Bowyer of Thorn Hill plantation in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and had two daughters; Mary Frances and Louise Elezabeth.

Southern military colleges like VMI anticipated secession and prepared their understudies for the war that was sure to come. Colston recommended that more practical subjects be included in the curriculum to ready the Corps of Cadets for the future, and by January 1860 the students were being familiarized with small arms and artillery tactics.

In April 1861, the Governor ordered Colston to march his Corps of Cadets to Richmond in order to instruct new recruits in the rudiments of drill and military procedure, and in May, he was commissioned Colonel of the 16th Virginia Infantry then stationed in Norfolk. Colston commanded Virginia patriots near Newport News in 1862 when the Monitor-Virginia ironclad battle took place, and later wrote his observations for Century Magazine. On December 24, 1861, Colston was promoted to brigadier-general, and fought in engagements at Yorktown, Williamsburg and Seven Pines.

It is notable that Governor Vance wrote to General Lee on several occasions about his State troops being commanded by a “Virginia brigadier.” When Lee then removed Colston from the command of “some North Carolina troops, the officers of the First and Third North Carolina Regiments signed a “memorial” requesting that Colston be left in “the command which…(he had) so gallantly sustained to the general satisfaction of the officers and men of the First and Third Regiments.”

In April 1863, he was transferred to Stonewall Jackson’s corps, and assigned command of a brigade in Trimble’s Division, with which he distinguished himself at the battle of Chancellorsville. In the Spring of 1864, Colston had been ordered to Petersburg to serve under General Beauregard and keeping the enemy at bay while Lee reinforced his lines; and in August of that year was placed in command of Lynchburg’s defenses. He remained there amassing much needed supplies for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, until the surrender at Appomattox.

(In the recent (2203) motion picture "Gods and Generals," Brigadier General Raleigh Colston was portrayed by actor J. Scott Watkins)

After the war, General Colston supported himself by delivering lectures on the life and character of his colleague, friend and commander, Stonewall Jackson, in many cities including Raleigh, Baltimore and Richmond. After establishing a military school in Hillsborough, North Carolina, he was summoned for the same in Wilmington, “in the midst of the officers and men whose brigade commander he had once been.”

The Cape Fear Military Academy

The Cape Fear Military Academy began operation on October 12, 1868 in the former residence of Dr. F.J. Hill with 76 cadets. The Cadet Corps was under strict discipline, wearing uniforms and “drilled to the extent that when occasion demanded it, they were able to maneuver with military precision.” In 1871, the school was moved to “an ample and commodious building in the rear of City Hall, previously occupied by Meginney’s “Wilmington Institute,” at 105 North 4th Street. In the 1869-1870 school year, the Academy employed three instructors for the corps of 83 cadets.

When General Robert E. Lee visited Wilmington in late April 1870, he was entertained at the home of George Davis on North 2nd Street where he received General Colston’s cadets, and Wilmington citizens. Lee addressed the assembled cadets from the front porch of Major C.P. Bolles residence at 215 North Third Street and “each member of the Corps enjoyed the honor of an introduction and a cordial handshake of the hand of the old General.”

General Colston addressed the Ladies Memorial Association

of Wilmington on May 10, 1870, recognizing their signal

work in preserving the memory of their fallen fathers, husbands

and sons, stating:

"Those who fall in the arms of victory and success need no monuments to preserve their memories. The continued existence and prosperity of their country are sufficient epitaphs, and their names can never be forgotten. But how should those be remembered who failed? It is their enemies who write their histories, painting it with their own colors, distorting it with calumnies, their prejudices, and their passions; and it is this one-sided version of the conquerors that the world at large accepts as truth, for in history as in the present, vae victis (woe to the conquered).”

“It is for you, Southern matrons, to guard your cherished ones against “this foul idolatry, and to teach them a nobler and a higher moral. It is for you to bring the youth of our land to these consecrated mounds, and to engrave in their candid souls the true story of our wrongs, our motives and our deeds…tell them that those who lie here entombed were neither traitors nor rebels…who claimed nothing but their right under the Constitution of their fathers---the right of self-government. Tell them how we exhausted every honorable means to avoid the terrible arbitrament of war, asking only to be let alone. Tell them how, when driven to draw the sword, we fought the mercenaries of the world until, overpowered by tenfold numbers, we fell; but like Leonidas and his Spartans of old, fell so heroically that our defeat

was more glorious than victory.”

General Colston led his cadets to the annual memorial ceremonies at the Oakdale Cemetery mound, which held many of the North Carolinians slain at the battle of Fort Fisher in 1865. Mr. R.B. Lewis of the Confederate Memorial Association recalled that:

“On Friday, May 10, 1872, Colonel John J. Hedrick was Chief Marshal of the parade of Confederate Veterans that assembled to march to the cemetery, led by a brass band and the Cape Fear Academy Cadets. Before a great assembly, a prayer was made by Reverend Mr. Dickson, followed by the boom of cannon and a

salute from the Cape Fear Cadets under the command of

General Raleigh E. Colston. As the soft folds of cloth dropped to

the earth, it revealed to over 4,000 people, a bronze statue 15 feet,

3 inches tall, of a Confederate soldier. So intensely natural was every particular of form and feature of the noble figure, as well as position and surroundings, “that one feels,” it was reported, “in gazing upon

it that he is in the presence of one of the wearers of the gray as he might have appeared on the eve of battle.”

To Egyptian Service

In 1873, General Colston was invited by the Khedive of Egypt to a general staff position wsith the equivalent rank of colonel, which he accepted. He was succeeded at the Academy by Major B. J. Burgess, who served as superintendent until 1879, when Captain Washington Catlett was appointed to replace him. Catlett discarded the “military” in the Academy’s name, and was later instrumental in having libraries installed in all county public schools in 1902, both white and colored. Catlett served as Cape Fear Academy superintendent until the school closed in 1916, when he thereupon became Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction for New Hanover County.

Colston in the Egyptian Service

The Academy was operated at several locations in the city, with the 1900 directory listing it at 10 North Third Street, just south of City Hall; the 1910 directory shows it at 105 North Third Street with about 30 cadets; and the 1915 directory placing it at 117 Orange Street.

In “Memoirs of an Octogenarian,” author, former cadet and

US Congressman John D. Bellamy recalled:

“through the influence of his military friends, he was invited by the Khedive of Egypt to become military commander of his forces, at a very large salary. It is said to have been so large that he could not decline the offer….On a visit to America on one occasion; he paid a visit to a number of the most prominent of his old cadets. His description of his work in Egypt was very instructive and entertaining. He found the status of the ordinary Egyptian very low; his utter lack of national pride and patriotism, and his evasion of military duty by all kinds of subterfuges made his task of building up their morale a very difficult one."

In his biographical sketch of Colston, R.B. Lewis relates, “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.

General Colston "surveyed and mapped the deserts of the Kordofan region along the Sudanese Nile, dug wells and collected specimens." The first expedition occupied him from October 1873 to May 1874; the second from 1874 to 1876. In the desert outside of El Obeid, he was stricken with a paralysis and was an invalid for nearly a year. Though he recovered from this illness, he became "permanently semiparalyzed" in 1886. 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 to 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 is never granted except for eminent and meritorious public services.”

General Colston returned to the United States in 1879 after his resignation from Egyptian service, with England having taken control of the country---the Khedive was forced to reduce his military strength and not employ any American officers. In addition to his serious physical ailments, he brought with him a considerable amount of money in gold in payment for his services, but friends in Wall Street lost it all while undertaking plans to build Colston a fortune. Though severely crippled by service injuries and once again reduced to poverty, he delivered lectures and wrote magazine articles on his wartime and Egyptian exploits, and “on subjects with which his great learning and large experience had made him familiar.” He wrote

"The Rescue of Chinese Gordon" for Century Magazine in September 1884, and "The Land of the False Prophet" for Century's March 1885 issue.

In 1882, General Colston was offered the professorship of natural history, mechanics and astronomy at his alma mater, VMI. Though tempted by the offer of financial stability and the familiar surroundings of his youth, he declined, as he felt unqualified to teach astronomy. Through his military connections, he found appointment as a clerk in the Surgeon General’s library division in the War Department in August 1882, and discharged his duties admirably. He held this position until May 1894 when he was released due to his declining health and near-paralysis. “Thrown again upon the world absolutely penniless, his spirit was as bright as ever.”

He spent the last two years of his life in the Richmond Confederate Soldiers Home among “his veteran comrades…and 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 that all, the pleasure of a sweet and edifying society of a lovely man.”

General Raleigh E. Colston died on July 29, 1896, and was buried with military honors in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery among many other American soldiers and statesmen.


Resolution of the Confederate Veterans Association
R.B. Lewis, President
Charles C. Ivey, Secretary
February 4, 1897

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

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.

About the Author:

Bernhard Thuersam is the Executive Director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute in Wilmington. A native of Niagara Falls, New York, he has been a devoted student of world history since 1958 and

is the former Chairman of the Cape Fear Museum Board of Trustees.

Contact him at bernhard1848@att.net


The Civil War in North Carolina, John G. Barrett, UNC Press, 1963
Southern Historical Society Papers, R.A. Brock, Editor, SHSP, 1908
Southern Historical Society Papers, R. B. Lewis, biography, 1897
Cape Fear Academy, 1868-1916, Fanny DeRossett,

LCFHS Bulletin, October 1968
Land of the Golden River, Lewis P. Hall, Lewis Enterprises, 1980

Memoirs of an Octogenarian, John D. Bellamy,

Observer Printing House, 1941

Virginia Military Institute Archives


General Raleigh E. Colston's
Address to the Virginia Ladies' Memorial Association:
"His Words Live After Him"

The late Gen. R. E. Colston went abroad and was long among the Egyptians after our great war, whereby he had the advantage of

broadening his views; and yet to a Virginia Ladies' Memorial Association made an address from which the following is taken:

”It is true that when we, the actors in the last contest, shall be sleeping
in our graves little will it matter to us what the world may think of us or
our motives. But methinks that we could hardly rest in peace, even in the
tomb, should our descendants misjudge or condemn us. And yet, is there
impossibility of this? They will be told that their fathers were oligarchs,
aristocrats, slave-drivers, rebels, traitors, who to perpetuate the
monstrous sin of human slavery, tried to throttle out the life of the nation
and to rend asunder the government founded by Washington;

that they raised parricidal hands against the sacred ark of the Constitution; that they were the unprovoked aggressors, and struck the first sacrilegious blows against the Union and the flag of their country.

What if this be but false cant and calumny? Constant repetition will

give it something of the authority of truth. We cannot doubt it.

Our descendants will see these slanders repeated in Northern and

probably European publications; perhaps even in the very text-books of their schools (for, unfortunately, we Southerners, write too little, and they may be compelled, like ourselves, to look abroad for their intellectual nutriment). It is true that our own immediate sons and daughters will not believe these falsifications of history, but perchance their children or grandchildren may believe them. And those who are still our enemies after five years of peace rely confidently upon this result.

A so-called minister of the Prince of Peace, but whose early and persistent advocacy of war and bloodshed prove that he obtained his commission from a very opposite quarter, has dared to say that "in a few years the relatives of those Southern men who fell in our struggle will be ashamed to be seen standing by the side of their dishonored graves." And he who said this, mark you, is no obscure driveller, but, on the contrary, one of the highest representative men of the North, one whom they delight to honor-no less a personage than the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.

Fellow Southerners, whose teachings and influence can accomplish more than all other agencies combined to hurl back this foul slander in the

teeth of that reverend liar? Who can best guard our posterity from the corrupting odium of falsehood? Who can so implant the right and justice

of our lost cause into their souls as to prevail over all the calumnies of

our detractors?

Your hearts reply, like mine: "It is the noble, patriotic, unwavering women
of the South." Yes, let me repeat this last epithet, for it belongs
peculiarly to them, unwavering, true to the right, true to the South, in the
past and in the present, and they will be in the future. We would be baser
than the brutes that perish could we forget what the women of the South did to promote the success of our efforts. By night and by day they

labored with diligent hands to supply the deficiencies of the government. They nursed the sick and wounded, they bore sorrows and privations of every kind without a murmur.

What they suffered no tongue, no pen, can ever express.

Yet they never faltered, they never gave up, and they continued to cheer the sinking hearts of their defenders and to hope against all hope, even when all was over. And see how nobly they have kept us in faith! While some men who once did gallant service in the Southern armies have, alas, turned false for filthy lucre, where are the renegades among Southern women? Even we who have preserved our faith unstained, have we not grown colder and more forgetful? Had it depended upon us alone, is there not much reason to fear that our brothers' bones would still lie unheeded where they fell? Not that we have grown indifferent or estranged,

but the claims of the living and the anxieties of misfortune have

absorbed our attention.

It is these blessed Southern women, whose tender hearts never forget, that
deserve the credit of all that has been done among us to preserve from destruction the remains of our brave comrades. Unwearied by all their labors and self-sacrifice during four years of war, they were like Mary, the first at the graves of their beloved dead. Therefore to them we may safely entrust the holy ark of our Southern faith. Yes it is for you-wives, mothers, daughters, of the South-it is for you, far more than for us to fashion the hearts and thoughts of our children. We have neither the time nor the aptitude that you possess for training the infant mind from the beginning and inclining the twig the way the tree should grow.

You are now, or will be some day, the mothers of future generations. See that you transmit to them the traditions and memories of our cause and of our glorious, if unsuccessful, struggle, that they may in their turn transmit them unchanged to those who succeed them.
And let them learn from you that, although the same inscrutable Providence
that once permitted the Grecian cross to go down before the Moslem crescent, has decreed that we should yield to Northern supremacy, and that we should fail in our endeavor; yet, for all that, we were right.

It is for you, Southern matrons, to guard your cherished ones against this
foul idolatry, and to teach them a nobler and higher moral.

It is for you to bring the youth of our land to these consecrated mounds and to engrave in their candid souls the true story of our wrongs, our motives, and our deeds.

Tell them in tender and eloquent words that those who lie here

entombed were neither traitors nor rebels, and that those absurd epithets are but the ravings of malignant folly when applied to men who claimed nothing but their right under the Constitution of their fathers---the right of self-government.

Tell them how we exhausted every honorable means to avoid the terrible arbitrament of war, asking only to be let alone, and tendering alliance, friendship, free navigation-everything reasonable and magnanimous-to obtain an amicable settlement.

Tell them how, when driven to draw the sword, we fought the mercenaries of all the world until, overpowered by tenfold numbers, we fell; but like Leonidas and his Spartans of old, fell so heroically that our defeat was more glorious than victory.

Then from so sublime a theme teach our children a no less sublime lesson.
Bid them honor the right, just because it is right; honor it when its
defenders have gained the rich prize of success, honor it still more when
they are languishing in the dungeons of oppression or lying in bloody
graves, like the martyrs we celebrate today. And bid them remember that no triumph, however brilliant, can ever change the wrong into the right. Next to their duty to God, teach your offspring to love their native Southern
land all the more tenderly for its calamities, and to cherish the memories
of their fathers all the more preciously because they battled for the right
and went down in the unequal strife. And should their youthful hearts
wonder at the triumph of force over justice, teach them that the ways of
Providence are mysterious and not our ways. For a time the wicked may
flourish like a green-bay tree, but he shall not endure forever, and far
better it is to suffer with the righteous than to rejoice with the unjust.

Sooner or later, in some mysterious way that we cannot now perceive---

in their own day, perhaps, if not in ours---the truth of our principles will

be recognized. Meanwhile bid them scorn "to crook the pregnant hinges of the knee, that thrift may follow fawning." Yet, while clinging to our
principles and vindicating the righteousness of our motives, let our
children learn also the Christian lesson of forgiveness. God forbid that
the bitterness of our times should be perpetuated from generation to
generation! God forbid, above all, that this land should ever be trenched
again with the blood of contending armies speaking the same language and
springing from a kindred race!

On the contrary, may he grant that the causes of strife, being at last all extinct, peace and harmony may prevail and make this land in truth, and not merely in name, the asylum of human liberty!"