Thomas Hamilton McCray

Thomas Hamilton McCray, the son of Henry and Mary (Moore) McCray, was bom near Jonesborough in Washington County, Tennessee, in 1828. His parents, originally from South Carolina, were farmers. McCray lived in Washington County, Chattooga County, Georgia, and Monroe County, Tennessee, until reaching manhood. He then appears to have moved to Arkansas, where he operated a mill near Little Rock. Around 1856 he removed to Texas and became a manufacturer in Tellico, Ellis County, with land holdings in Navarro County. He removed to Wittsburg, in what is now Cross County, Arkansas, just before the start of the war.

In June, 1861, McCray enlisted in the 5th Arkansas Infantry and was quickly promoted to lieutenant and regimental adjutant. Ambitious for a larger role in the war, he got himself detached from the regiment to become a mustering officer under then Brigadier General William Hardee, who commanded Confederate troops in northeast Arkansas. Utilizing his position as mustering officer, he raised a battalion later known as the 31st Arkansas Infantry. On January 25, 1862, McCray was elected major and commander of the battalion. The 31st joined Major General Earl Van Dorn's Army of the West just, in time to be caught up in that army's transfer from Arkansas to Mississippi. When in May, 1862, the regiment was reorganized, McCray was elected colonel and led a brigade of the Army of Kentucky at the August 30, 1862, Battle of Richmond, Kentucky. His "gallantry and coolness" in that smashing Confederate victory won praise from his division commander. As senior colonel, McCray led this brigade throughout the Kentucky campaign of 1862.

However, after the campaign a junior officer (Matthew Ector of Texas) was promoted to brigadier general over McCray's head to lead the brigade permanently. McCray believed that the promotion had been promised to him and charged that the War Department had promoted another officer of the same name (presumably Dandridge McRae of the 21st Arkansas) by mistake. In 1863 the 31st, reduced to only 125 men, was consolidated with another regiment. Now without a command, McCray was transferred back to Arkansas that August with a plan (never realized) to harass Union shipping on the Mississippi River. In 1864 McCray was ordered to his north Arkansas home grounds, behind Union lines, to organize the area's floating bands of deserters, conscripts, independent companies, and volunteers into cavalry regiments. He eventually succeeded in organizing a brigade of three regiments. In the fall of 1864 McCray's mostly unarmed command was attached to Brigadier General Joseph Shelby's division and took part in Price's raid into Missouri. The raw troops performed poorly in the assault on Fort Davidson, Missouri, on September 27, 1864, breaking for cover before they had advanced a hundred yards. At the October 22 and 23, 1864, Battle of Westport the brigade, by now fairly well armed with captured Union supplies, performed somewhat better. In the disastrous retreat after Westport, however, McCray's reluctant troopers deserted by the hundreds and the brigade essentially dissolved. McCray himself retained a nominal brigade commander's position in northern Arkansas throughout the winter of 1864 and the spring of 1865, "powerless for good or for evil," up to the final collapse of the Confederacy.

After the war McCray, like many other Trans-Mississippi Confederates, fled to Mexico, but he soon returned and in 1870 was again farming near Wittsburg. Sometime after that McCray became affiliated with the McCormick reaper company and worked as a merchant for them, based in Chicago. He died on October 19, 1891, in Chicago and is buried in the Cook County Cemetery at Dunning in an unmarked "potter's field" gravesite.

Wood, Heitman, SHSP, and CV all list him as a general, the first and third stating that he was appointed brigadier general in 1863 to lead his old brigade (3rd Brigade, McCown's Division) of the Army of Tennessee. An article on Arkansas generals in Arkansas Historical Quarterly cites a November 7, 1863, date of appointment. However, the OR show him as a colonel from September, 1863, to March, 1865. An 1873 newspaper article calls him "colonel," thus suggesting that McCray was generally known by that rank to his contemporaries.

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Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.