William MacRae was born at Wilmington, North Carolina, September 9, 1834. He was educated as a civil engineer and was so engaged at Monroe, North Carolina, in 1861. Enlisting as a private in the Monroe Light Infantry, he was elected captain when the company became a part of the 15th North Carolina; he was promoted lieutenant colonel of the regiment in April 1862, and colonel in February 1863. The 15th was in Virginia during the Seven Days battles, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg; afterwards it served in North Carolina for a time in the brigade of John R. Cooke. Rejoining the Army of Northern Virginia, MacRae distinguished himself during the campaign of 1864; and after the wounding of General Kirkland at Cold Harbor, he was appointed brigadier general from June 22. This temporary rank was made permanent, under the act of October 13, 1862, to rank from November 4, 1864. Small in stature, and an iron disciplinarian, MacRae was said to have the ability of instilling more "fight" into his troops than any other officer in the army, John B. Gordon excepted. Paroled at Appomattox, he returned to his home, penniless. Subsequently he became general superintendent of a number of southern railroads, but his intense application to his duties destroyed his health, and he died, February 11, 1882, at Augusta, Georgia, at the early age of forty-seven. He was buried in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Ref: Generals in Gray, Lives of the Confederate Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Printed by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London.