top of page
killed at Gettysburg

The Family Spy

 Emeline Jamison Pigott 

She was born December 15, 1836 and died May 26, 1919 in the Crab Point area of Morehead City, North Carolina. Her parents were Col. Levi Whitehurst Pigott and Elizabeth Dennis. 

Levi Whitehurst Pigott has the title Colonel in many stories about his daughter but not on his tombstone. I have yet to find any documentation that he was given that rank while alive. He was listed as a 16 year old Private on the Muster Roll of Pinkham's Carteret County Militia during the War of 1812.

If you grew up in North Carolina you probably know about Emeline Jamison Pigott because even today her story is taught in elementary school history classes. She is known as the North Carolina Confederate Spy. 

Emiline was arrested towards the end of the Civil War and charged with "blockade running." Beaufort, NC had a new Provost Marshal, Major Charles C. Graves of the 1st NC Union Volunteers who was appointed to the position about the same time General Ulysses S. Grant made an inspection of Beaufort and Morehead City on January 29, 1865. Grant must have given orders to clean up things because they put Emeline under surveillance and on February 8, 1865 arrested her while she was in Beaufort. 

The February 17, 1865 edition of the North Carolina Times said "she was discovered carrying articles and letters addressed to rebels outside of our lines. The letters denounced the Federals calling them Yankees and Buffaloes (a derisive term for NC men who joined the Union army) and gave information about the supposed movements of Federal troops. A very large and prominent store in Beaufort was closed as it was supposed to be in complicity with Miss Pigott. This is one of the most important arrests that has been made in the area."

She had been carrying notes and letters through the Union lines to confederate troops for some time along with food, clothing and medicine. 

James Rumley who was the Clerk of the Superior Court of Carteret County wrote in his diary of what he called the "underground rail ways" that started in March 1863. In entries he made in June and July of 1864 he said the railway was "still going strong, bringing news of confederate military actions to Beaufort residents and passing letters and contraband items outside the Union lines." 

When she was captured Emeline's dress had hidden pockets that contained confederate clothing, a pair of boots, pocket knives, razors, combs, toothbrushes and other items weighing over 30 pounds. 

The History Place museum in Morehead City has her carriage and a reproduction of the dress she was wearing on display. They say she refused to allow Union troops to search her when captured because they wanted a black woman to do it. It took them a while to find a white female in the city who would help and by that time Emeline was able to eat or destroy most of the letters she was carrying. 

She was sent to New Bern on February 12, 1865 and confined to a house that had been converted into a jail. She was held as a prisoner for several months but they let her go without ever bringing her to trial. It is rumored she threatened to reveal the names of prominent men in New Bern who were making money in collusion with the Yankees.


Her first cousin Levi Woodbury Pigott wrote the following in his diary when he heard she had been released: 

"I consider her release a miracle, for the United States government had a clear case against her. She had ... several letters written to their friends in Dixie and these letters contained news about the Union army which was criminal. I was agreeably surprised, and utterly astonished, when she obtained her release."

 There are a lot of stories about her some true, some not so. She made the news often after the Civil War and even after she died. She took part in Civil War Veteran's events and memorials and organized the Morehead City Chapter of the Daughter's of the Confederacy which was named for her.

You can't tell Emeline's story without covering her relationship with men, living and dead. The first was the romance she had with a Confederate soldier who she knew for only couple months and the second, apparently because of the first, the devotion she had to a dead Confederate soldier.

Montford Stokes McRae was born September 30, 1833 in Montgomery County, North Carolina the son of Daniel John & Martha McRae. He grew up in Richmond County, North Carolina. His family was pretty well off, listed as farmers on the census but having land valued at $40,000 and personal property of $10,000, which was huge back then. They had enough money to send him off to college and he graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1856. He was living at home, a 27 year old bachelor on the 1860 census with an occupation of domestic. A woman listed with that title would mean she was working in the household as a servant or the wife of the owner. They both had the same title on census records from the 1800s. For a young son in a wealthy family you figure it means he didn't really do anything.

With the Civil War starting up his life changed dramatically. He enlisted as a Private on July 1, 1861 in the North Carolina 26th Infantry Regiment, Company K, known as the Pee Dee Wildcats. The 26th Infantry was stationed in Morehead City, North Carolina for several months at the end of 1861 and beginning of 1862. They were at Bogue Inlet in November of 1861 and were then moved to be part of the planned defense of Beaufort and New Bern, North Carolina.

They had a large camp in Morehead City just across Calico Creek from the Pigott home on Crab Point. During those months Montford Stokes McRae met Emeline Pigott and they started a romance that would endure till death for both of them.

After sitting around for months the 26th finally got a chance to fight the Yankees in the battle of New Bern, North Carolina on March 14, 1862. The 26th Infantry was led by the future NC Governor Zebulon Vance and was the only Confederate force that put up much of a fight that day. The Union army had over 11,000 men and easily pushed through the other Confederate units who only numbered 4,000 troops. 

After New Bern fell the Confederate troops abandoned Morehead City and Beaufort and the Union troops started their siege of Fort Macon in Beaufort harbor. The next week the 26th Infantry was heading north to Virginia where they joined up with the Army of Northern Virginia. There is no record they were ever back near Carteret County so Emeline probably never saw him again. 

Stokes McRae did well in the CSA over the next year and advanced to the rank of Sergent Major.Things changed for him in the summer of 1863. The 26th was with Gen. Lee at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863 and Stokes was wounded and taken prisoner. The 26th NC Regiment suffered the loss of 588 of their 800 men at Gettysburg, the worst casualty loss of any unit on either side in the entire Civil War.

The battle report says Stokes was shot in the left thigh and the shell caused a fracture of the femur. He was taken from the battlefield and ended up in the Camp Letterman Hospital. The report sent back to North Carolina on July 23, 1863 said he had been killed. That is probably the last word Emeline had about him for many years. He actually lived for two months before dying of disease and infection on August 2, 1863 still in the hospital. 

Stokes was buried in the Camp Letterman Cemetery at Gettysburg in the Confederate plot, section or row one. This is where the story changes for us compared to what Emeline knew of it. Today we have transcribed battle records, diaries etc., published in multiple books, some even online. Back then word of what happened after a battle was very limited and especially after a defeat like Gettysburg it would be almost impossible to find out what happened to the wounded and POWs. There were lots of cases  cases where the family had thought their son or husband dead only to receive a letter from him many months later. 

Emeline back in North Carolina never knew what happened to Stokes, other than the report that he had died. She didn't know where or if he had been buried and that is the beginning of story about the next and last man in her life.

Towards the end of the war a wounded soldier from the 26th NC Regiment, the same as Stokes, ended up in Morehead City. Emeline heard about him and arranged to have him moved to her house where she tried to nurse him back to health. Unfortunately he died and she had him buried in the family cemetery on Crab Point. At that time there were only three graves in the small plot including her father and sister Charlotte Pigott Mason. She never said if she knew the name of dead soldier or anything else about him. She refused to talk about him when interviewed later in life. The marker on his grave was inscribed "Unknown Soldier Company B 26th Regiment NCT CSA." She tended to his grave up until her own death in 1819 and she was then buried next to him.

My main reason for visiting the Pigott Cemetery last summer was to see the marker on the grave of this unknown soldier. I heard of Emiline taking care of his grave but in recent years when a census was done of the graves there was no marker found for him. I wondered if they missed it among the large memorials for Emeline and her parents. I found the remains of his grave, a concrete cover next to Emeline but there is no marker. A Confederate Iron Cross is laying next to Emeline's marker and I wonder if it was originally on his grave. 

The Camp Letterman hospital burial records were not available until many years after the war. From 1872 to 1873 the Confederate dead from the Camp Letterman Cemetery were exhumed and moved to cemeteries in the South. Most were sent to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA but others were used also. There is no record of Montford Stokes McRae's body being moved. If they found it, it was not identified and therefore buried as one of the unknowns. If they didn't find him then he is still there, in an open 10 acre field between a Giant Food Store and Dollar Tree on Lincoln Highway. 

Camp Letterman treated over 20,000 soldiers from both sides during the four months it was open. Thousands died and many more lost arms and legs that were buried on the property in mass graves. The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association says there are remains of countless soldiers still on the privately owned site. Target wanted to build a store there several years ago but backed down because of negative publicity.

bottom of page