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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Montfort McRae and Miss Emeline Pigott, Confederate soldier and Confederate Spy

by Gordon Thorsby


In 1860, Emeline Piggott could not have known that life would take her down an untraveled and twisted path. It was a path that included lifelong love, tragedy of war and becoming North Carolina’s most famous spy. Emeline Jamison Pigott (12/15/1835-5/26/1919) was born in Bogue Sound, NC to a successful farmer. She was the youngest of four sisters. At 25, the Piggott family moved to Crab Point, just north of the seaport town of Morehead City.

In July,1861, her world became a Confederate encampment for the 26th North Carolina Infantry. The Confederate troops were stationed across the creek to protect the ports and Emeline volunteered to perform nursing duties in their regimental hospital for sick recruits.

It was during the 26th NC’s stationing near the Pigott home that Emeline and a Montgomery man, Montfort Stokes McRae (called Stokes) met and fell in love. Who was this man McRae?

Montfort Stokes McRae was born in Montgomery County (between Charlotte and Fayetteville), in a well-to-do family and a graduate of University of North Carolina class of 1856. The war came to the South and the once self-professed "idle" man was invigorated to fight for the South. He enlisted in the “Pee Dee Wildcats” that became Co. K, 26th North Carolina in July 1861 as private. He would be promoted to Sergeant Major in March,1863 and put on the staff of the company.

Confederate officers held social events where young ladies were invited but Emeline did not attend since privates could not partake in the activities, particularly her private. (Her 1861 invitation to the Beaufort New Year’s Eve Ball still exists.) Stokes and Emeline agreed not to marry until after the war that they hoped would end soon. Emeline did do one thing for Stokes when he eventually had to leave. She made a special Confederate flag just for him. They became engaged and the war took him north. When New Bern fell to Union forces, the 26th was ordered north to join the Army of Northern Virginia. Emeline, who accompanied the regiment to New Bern, remained in Kinston to assist the wounded.


It was in June,1863, things changed dramatically. At Gettysburg, on July 1st, the 26th advanced as part of Brig. Gen, Pettigrew’s brigade of General Harry Heth’s Division. The 26th NC was one of the largest regiments of either army with 800 men for duty. The regiment made contact with the Iron brigade on McPherson’s Ridge, fighting was deadly. Casualties for the North Carolina regiment that day were 86 killed and 502 wounded. Stokes was seriously wounded and captured, a ball breaking the left thigh bone. It was a wound that probably required amputation but never confirmed. He was documented as hospitalized on July 2 in a Federal hospital. McRae succumbed to his wound one later on August 2nd at Camp Letterman, outside of the town. He was buried as one of the unknowns behind the hospital. The Elliott map of Gettysburg indicates Confederate burials near Camp Letterman.


Devastated by the news, Emeline was reported to have rededicated herself to helping the Southern cause and with it, spying. In December 1863, she left the Kinston area, went to Concord, and where she became friendly with a Mrs. Brett, the widow of a chaplain in the Union army. Together, “They worked their way through Union lines, sometimes on foot and sometimes by cart, until they reached the Pigott farm on Calico Creek.


Back in Morehead City, she implemented a series of efforts to obtain intelligence of Union forces to benefit Confederate efforts of North Carolina. She organized fishermen to get information while selling fish to Union soldiers and then report to Emeline. She socialized with Yankee officers to uncover bits of information. With brother-in-law Rufus Bell, she passed along supplies to nearby Confederate forces. She became a courier, taking messages to drop points. Her special strength was her hoop skirt that hid pockets where she could stash medicines and other supplies.

In 1865, With the war focused on New Bern and Morehead City for Sherman’s approach, Union officials were watchful for female spies. Police stopped Emeline and Bell when

the two on were on their way to Beaufort NC and arrested on suspicion of spying. Rufus was checked and cleared. Emeline was not. She ate her messages to prevent discovery but could not eat the “1 pair of boots, 2 pairs of pants, a shirt, a cap, a dozen linen collars, 12 hankies, 50 skeins of wool, needles, a lot of spools of thread, toothbrushes, hair combs, 3 pocket-knives, several pairs of gloves, razors, and 4-5 pounds of candy,” thirty pounds total.

Over the next month, Emeline was scheduled for trial on several occasions, but the case never went before a judge. She was unexpectedly released from imprisonment in New Bern and returned home. It is reported that after her release, she remained under close watch at her family’s farm and Federal soldiers sat across the creek and took shots at her house with their muskets.


After the war, Emmeline joined the New Bern Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and later set up the Morehead City chapter with herself as honorary president until her death in 1919. Emeline lived a long life and enjoyed telling stories of her adventures as a spy but she never explained why she was never tried nor did anyone else.

Emmeline is buried in the Pigott family graveyard on the north shore of Calico Creek near 20th Street and Emmeline Place in Morehead City. The graveyard is cared for by the city and it is padlocked. But you can see her headstone from the gate.


She never married.



Note 1: The carriage in which they were arrested is on display at the History Museum of Carteret County, North Carolina


Note 2: The Jones House (231 Eden Street was used as a jail during the Civil War. Referred as the 'Secesh Jail,' said to have housed Emeline Pigott.)


Sources:

The Battle of Wise’s Forks, March 1865, by Sokolosky, Wade, and Smith, Mark A., Savas Beatie, 2015.


https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/

Emeline Jamison Pigott. State Archives of North Carolina, Audio Visual Materials. Call no. N_96_12_163.

https://www.ncpedia.org/Pigott, Emeline Jamison by Ruth Royal Barnes, 1994.


The Elliott Map of the burials Gettysburg.


Find a Grave (photo)

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2 Comments


tchome2
Jan 21

NC's most famous spy? Rather by definition to American history, most infamous spy. Pigott was a traitor to the United States of America, spying to bring wounding, death, and defeat of United States Army soldiers. She sent her fiance off to Gettysburg. There, with fellow enemy of the United States, he fought and killed more United States soldiers, citizens, than died from other enemy attack against Pearl Harbor, and on 9-11. Each.

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Gordon Thorsby
Gordon Thorsby
Feb 26
Replying to

Thank you for your input. Famous, infamous, notorious, the adjective was meant to define a state of notoriety or celebrity. Judgment as to her results is left to the reader. The article was meant to shed light on the individuals because of the lack of mention in Civil war history and yet what the impact they had and that you raise.

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