Another installment of the “Tales From the Tombstone” series.
Been a hiatus, I know. Recently though, my career afforded me the opportunity to travel a bit, moving from one national park site to another. I was able to chart a course, mix in a few vacation days, and visit a few graveyards along the southeastern seaboard. With the transfer concluded thought was high-time to restart this series of the gravesites of Confederate generals with a lesser known brigadier general.
Born on September 3, 1835 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, William Gaston Lewis grew up around Raleigh until the death of his father when the family relocated to Chapel Hill in time for Lewis to attend the University of North Carolina located there. When he graduated, at the age of nineteen in 1855 he entered into teaching, initially in Chapel Hill and after a year in Florida. With his education he gained an appointment to the U.S. Survey Corps, spending two years, 1857-1859 in Minnesota. Near the end of the 1850s saw Lewis back in his native state as an assistant engineer for the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in Tarboro.
Although he started the American Civil War as a third lieutenant in the 1st North Carolina Regiment, which earned the nickname the “Bethel” regiment due to their involvement in that engagement on June 10, 1861, Lewis’s military bearing was quickly recognized. He earned his first commission, as major, of the 33rd North Carolina in January 1862 and in recognition of his service at the Battle of New Bern in March, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 43rd North Carolina in April 1862.
After action during the Seven Days’ Campaign his command defended Drewry’s Bluff on the James River below Richmond, Virginia but was returned later in 1862 to North Carolina. The brigade, in which the 43rd was a part of, was recalled to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for the Gettysburg Campaign and after the wounding and eventual capture of the regimental commander, Lewis assumed command of the unit.
After continued service in North Carolina, including leading the brigade when the commander was killed in action at Plymouth in April 1864, the brigade ping-ponged back to Virginia. After the Battle of Cold Harbor, Lewis earned his brigadier general’s star and then with the brigade attached to the Second Corps under General Stephen D. Ramseur headed to the Shenandoah Valley. Upon the movement into Maryland Lewis was wounded in July 1864 during General Jubal Early’s raid on Washington D.C. Lewis did not return to command until September of that year.
On April 7, 1865, at the engagement in Farmville, Virginia, during the Appomattox Campaign, Lewis was wounded again and captured while leading in an advance. Paroled in Farmville in mid-April he returned to North Carolina having participated in 37 engagements in the four years of the war.
His post-war career saw him connected with railroads in some capacity for the next six years before becoming a hardware merchant in Tarboro for the next seven. He even dabbled in farming before returning to civil engineering. Lewis died of pneumonia on January 7, 1901 at the age of 65. He was laid to rest in Willow Dale Cemetery in Goldsboro, North Carolina, near one of the battlefields he saw action at.