Raleigh Edward Colston
(October 1, 1825 – July 29, 1896) was a French-born American professor,
soldier, cartographer, and writer.
He was a controversial
in the Confederate States
during the American Civil
. Colston was among a handful of former
Confederates who served in Egypt following
Early life and career
Paris, France, he was the son of Maria Theresa, Duchess of
Valmy, the divorced wife of one of Napoleon's marshals.
She married Dr. Raleigh
Edward Colston, who adopted the boy and renamed him. In 1842, young Colston
was sent to study in the United States, living with an uncle in
County, Virginia, now West Virginia
Military Institute in 1843 and graduated July 4, 1846, fourth in a
class of fourteen.
Following his graduation, Colston taught
French and military science at VMI. He married Louise Meriwether
Bowyer; the couple would have two daughters, Mary Frances and
Colston and a group of VMI cadets served as guards during the
November 1859 execution of abolitionist firebrand John Brown following his
unsuccessful raid on Harper's Ferry.
With Virginia's secession
in early 1861,
Colston was commissioned as the colonel
of the 16th Virginia
Infantry. Colston commanded the Confederate district
across from Newport News during the historic 1862 battle between the
USS Monitor and CSS Virginia.
On December 24, 1861, Colston was appointed as a brigadier general.
He served under James Longstreet
the Peninsula Campaign
mid-1862, leading three regiments
performance at the Battle of Seven Pines elicited criticism.
Becoming ill from
exposure, Colston left the Army of Northern Virginia
In April 1863, he led a brigade
. At the Battle of
Chancellorsville a month later, he was in charge of a full division of infantry, but was reassigned
shortly after the battle for losing control of his
Colston served under Pierre
G. T. Beauregard in 1864 in the Siege of
Petersburg. In early 1865, he was in command of the
defense of Lynchburg, Virginia, guarding one of the Confederacy's last open
established a pair of military schools, including one in Wilmington,
In 1873, he was hired by the Khedive of Egypt
, Isma'il Pasha
, as a professor of geology and a
colonel in the military. He surveyed and mapped several previously
uncharted deserts along the Nile River in
Colston was badly injured by a fall from a camel
and had to be carried across the desert for
several weeks on a litter, during which time he expected to die
and, as a result, wrote his will. He was partially paralyzed for
nearly a year and suffered life-long lingering aftereffects.
In 1879, he returned to the United States, where he lectured and
wrote several magazine articles on his experiences in North Africa
and in the Civil War. Despite
being crippled, he worked as a clerk and translator in the U.S. War Department
and Surgeon General
's office from 1882–94.
the rest of his life as an invalid in the Confederate Soldiers'
Home in Richmond,
Virginia, where he died penniless. He was buried in
Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, not far from fellow Virginia general
In popular media
Actor J. Scott Watkins portrayed General Colston in the 2003 Civil
War film Gods and
- "Watching the Merrimac", Century
Magazine, Vol. 29, issue 5, March 1885.
- "The Land of the False Prophet",
Century Magazine, Vol. 29, issue 5, March 1885.
- "The Rescue of Chinese Gordon",
Century Magazine, Vol. 28, issue 5, September 1884.
- VMI alumni archives.
Clement, Confederate Military History. Atlanta:
Confederate Publishing Company, 1899.