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Amnesty Petition of William MacRae, July 28, 1865


Amnesty Petition of William MacRae, July 28, 1865


William Macrae was born in Wilmington, NC, in 1834. His father, Alexander Macrae was a General and had fought in the War of 1812, also briefly commanding a confederate regiment during the Civil War at the age of 70. William Macrae received a private education and went on to study civil engineering, which he was engaged in when the war broke out. He enlisted as a private but eventually rose all the way to brigadier general, a position he retained until General Lee’s surrender. Lee, in a letter to NC governor, Zebulon Vance, remarked, not just North Carolina, but the whole confederacy owed a debt of gratitude to Macrae’s brigade. (CFHI, 2006) After the war, Macrae returned to Wilmington and continued his work in engineering by focusing on his fascination with railroads. (Powell, 193) He eventually contracted pneumonia and died in 1882, in Augusta, Georgia, at the age of 47. (Siniard 2011)

Due to his rank, Macrae was excluded from presidential pardon by the third provision of Johnson’s amnesty proclamation. In his petition, Macrae argues that his service was out of a sense of duty and that his lack of political ties or ambition should qualify him for pardon. Macrae’s life before, during and after the war all coincide with this notion and portray him not as a man of strong secessionist sentiment but rather as a hard-working, politically disinterested individual who entered the war out of familial ties and a sense of duty to his home state.

Macrae came from a scottish family with a strong military background. At the age of 16, Macrae traveled to Pennsylvania to apprentice as a locomotive engineer and machinist. After 5 years he returned to Wilmington and began work in the machine shops of the Wilmington and Weldon railroad. (CFHI 2006) At the outset of the war, Macrae was in Monroe, NC surveying land for the Carolina Central Railroad. He enlisted as a private and was joined in the war by all eight of his brothers, although one enlisted for the North. His enlistment was expected by his family and influenced by his love for his state, not secession rhetoric as he claims in his petition.

During the war Macrae was gradually promoted all the way to brigadier general. Although not formally trained, Macrae showed great aptitude in both his military strategy and ability to . garner the respect of his men with one his soldiers stating, “General MacRae, on being assigned to the brigade, changed the physical expression of the whole command in less than two weeks and gave the men infinite faith in him and in themselves which was never lost, not even when they grounded arms at Appomattox." (CFHI 2006) As a part of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Macrae saw extensive action and was even wounded in the jaw. In his petition, Macrae notes that his rise in rank and military prowess are not evidence of strong confederate support but rather evidence of his determination in any task he is assigned. He continues to say that this determination will now be lent to the United States to which he would serve as faithfully as he would have served the Confederate States had they been successful.

After the war Macrae returned to Wilmington broke and seeking employment in the railroad industry. (Siniard 2011) He became superintendent of and resurrected the Wilmington and Manchester railroad. He also served as superintendent of the Macon and Brunswick line and the Western and Atlantic line in Georgia where he became manager and chief engineer. Macrae’s overly strong work ethic pushed him to exhaustion and he eventually contracted pneumonia. He died in Georgia on his way to return to Wilmington where he wanted to spend his last days. (Powell 194)

Macrae’s life lends credence to his petition and supports his arguments for pardon. Nowhere does he seem invested in politics or even vaguely interested in it. He personifies the quintessential civil war soldier, one who enlisted out of duty and who served nobly. He argues that his rank, which is the reason for his exclusion from amnesty, is a reflection not of his loyalty to the confederacy or his rejection of the union but rather of his hard-working demeanor and sense of duty to his state.


MacRae, William


William MacRae, Amnesty Petition, July 28, 1865, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003, National Archives, Washington, D.C.




LiVolsi, Nick




New Hanover County, North Carolina

Original Format

Government Document


Your Excellency,

I have the honor to submit the petition covering application for pardon, and restoration to the rights of citizenship under your Amnesty Proclamation of May 29th, 1860.

Previous to the late rebellion, I was a man of no political importance, never having taken any part in politics. My (unknown) were however decidedly (unknown) until North Carolina formally seceded. When, deeming such to be my duty, (unknown) my lot with my natural state (N.C.), responding to the call of Gov. Ellis for volunteers and entered the service as a private, was shortly elected Captain, in May 1862 was elected Lt Colonel, in March 1863 was promoted Colonel, and in June 1864 was promoted Brigadier General, which rank I held at the surrender of Gen. Lee's Army in April, 1865.

Having taken part with the south, I deemed it my duty to and did use my best efforts for the success of the cause in which I was engaged, my promotion to the rank of Brigadier General is to be attributed to this and not any political influences which I did not profess.

If this application be granted and I be restored to the rights of citizenship, I will obey the laws of and serve the United States as faithfully as I would have served the Confederate States had they succeeded in establishing their independence.

I have the honor to be very respectfully yours, William MacRae


Powell, William Stevens. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Cape Fear Historical Institute. “General William Macrae: Lee’s Fighting Brigadier.” Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers. Last modified 2006. Accessed March 24th, 2014.

Siniard, Diane. “William Macrae.” Lost Souls Genealogy. Last modified 2011. Accessed March 24th, 2014.


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MacRae, William, Amnesty Petition of William MacRae, July 28, 1865, Civil War Era NC, accessed June 12, 2024,