Biography of General James Johnston Pettigrew

A promising citizen soldier, North Carolina General Johnston Pettigrew, a brilliant scholar, was killed in the last stages of the Gettysburg Campaign.


Born at the family home in Tyrrell County known as "Bonarva," Pettigrew, who was born on the Fourth of July 1828, entered the University of North Carolina at the age of 15. His scholastic career there was brilliant, and earned him an assistant professorship tendered by President Polk for the Naval Observatory in Washington. He spent two years there, then began to study law. He did some traveling overseas, eventually settling in Charleston, South Carolina, where he practice law. He was elected to the South Carolina state legislature in 1856.

As a colonel in the South Carolina militia, Pettigrew saw service in Charleston Harbor and with the Hampton Legion. Elected colonel of the 12th South Carolina, Pettigrew was sent to Virginia. Over his objections, he was promoted to general on February 26, 1862. Serving under Joseph Johnston, Pettigrew was severely wounded at the battle of Seven Pines when a bullet entered his throat, struck his windpipe, passed through the collarbone, and then through the shoulder. An artery was cut, and if not for the help of a Colonel Bull, Pettigrew certainly would have bled to death. Knocked unconscious, he was wounded again in the left arm and suffered a bayonet wound to his right leg. Thinking himself mortally wounded, he refused to allow himself to be taken to the rear. As a result, Pettigrew spent the night insensible on the field, and was captured. He was not exchanged until August 5, 1862. Upon his return to duty, Pettigrew was placed in a command at Petersburg and commanded a brigade in North Carolina.

This brigade was selected for addition to the Army of Northern Virginia for the Gettysburg Campaign and joined Heth's division of the Third Corps. After Heth was wounded on July 1, Pettigrew took command of the division. His horse was killed in the July 3 attack and he was wounded severely in the right hand by grapeshot, the bones being crushed. He was one of the last to leave the field. Continuing in command during the retreat, Pettigrew was mortally wounded on July 14, 1863 at Falling Waters in a sudden attack by Union cavalry. His horse was frightened and with only one able hand, Pettigrew was unable to control the animal and fell. Rising, he was struck in the left side of his abdomen, just above the hip, the bullet passing downward and out his back. Although it was thought that his recovery depended upon quiet care, Pettigrew refused to consent to being taken prisoner again. He was carried by litter across the Potomac to the Boyd Home in Bunker Hill, about 22 miles away. He died there of peritonitis on July 17. General Pettigrew was buried at his birthplace which is now part of the Pettigrew State Park.

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