How many of you know that Exmouth played a part in the American Civil War? Our story concerns Collett Leventhorpe who was born in Exmouth on 15 May 1815 to his parents Thomas and Mary. His father died of tuberculosis when Collett was only nine weeks old. Collett had an older brother, Thomas, who played cricket for Cambridge University. Collett studied at Winchester College until the age of 14 and he was then tutored privately for the next three years.

In 1832, at the age of 17 Collett joined the army, serving in Ireland with the Buckinghamshire Regiment followed by his purchasing a Lieutenancy in 1835 at the age of 20 and after being stationed in the West Indies for several years went to Canada where he became a Captain of Grenadiers with the 18th Regiment of Foot in 1842 at the age of  27. He then sold his captaincy to go south to South Carolina on business for an English company. The following year he went to North Carolina on holiday where he met his future wife, Louisa Bryan, daughter of General Edmund Bryan. They married in 1849 after Collett had graduated from Medical College in Charleston, South Carolina, although he never actually practised medicine. That same year he was granted US citizenship.

When the Civil War broke out, he volunteered for the army and became a Colonel in 34th North Carolina Infantry. Between 1861 and 1862 he was drilling the regiment and was sent to the Atlantic Coast and from there back to North Carolina where he led his troops at the Battle of White Hall successfully slowing the advance of the Union Army. In the winter of 1853 he helped to repulse an attack on the Siege of Washington and the brigade joined up with General Robert E Lee for the Gettysburg Campaign. On the morning of July 1st Collett was seriously wounded in his left arm, shattering the bone and his hip and he was removed from the battlefield. He was captured by the Union Cavalry during the retreat to Virginia and was treated by a Union Surgeon who wanted to amputate his arm as gangrene had set in. He refused but let the surgeon cauterize his wound with nitric acid but he refused anesthesia reportedly saying that “he would have died rather than let an enemy see that a Confederate Officer could not endure anything without complaint”.

He survived the operation and was then held as a prisoner at Fort McHenry and Point Lookout before being released when he resigned his commission with 11th North Carolina and took command of the North Carolina Home Guard tracking down deserters. He was later commissioned as Brigadier General of state troops and he was the only Englishman ever to hold that rank in the US – not bad for an Exmouth lad! In 1865 he was requested to join the Confederate ranks once again but refused preferring to stay in state service. His troops defended Raleigh when Major General William T Sherman marched on North Carolina but they were forced to retreat to Greensboro where they surrendered on 26 April 1865.

After the Civil War Collett was involved with several business enterprises and politics. He and his wife settled in New York but they also travelled frequently to England. During this time he was known to have sympathies for the Ku Klux Klan but it is not known if he was ever actually a member.

He eventually settled in Wilkes County, North Carolina where he died on 1 December 1889 aged 74. For an Exmouth lad he certainly had an adventurous life, acquitting himself well on the battlefield but not without suffering. He found happiness with his wife while living in North Carolina in his latter days.

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