John Houston Thorpe (October 2, 1840 - February 22, 1932) was born in North Carolina. He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina and during his lifetime held such occupations as teacher, lawyer, farmer, NC state senator in 1887 and Confederate soldier. On April 18, 1861, he enlisted as a Private in Company A of the 1st North Carolina Volunteers at Tarboro, NC and was quickly promoted to the rank of corporal. The 1st Volunteers was only a six-month regiment, and on March 1, 1862, Thorpe reenlisted in Nashville, North Carolina and was commissioned an officer in Company A of the 47th North Carolina. He was promoted from the rank of Lieutenant to Captain on June 25, 1862 after the death of Captain John W. Bryant. He held this position for the remainder of the war, surrendering at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
In the 1920s, he began gathering historical documentation of his old regiment which he eventually published as an official history of the regiment. He died on February 22, 1932 at the age of 91. Many years later Harry Turtledove found this book to be a very useful reference in writing The Guns of the South.
John Houston Thorpe in "The Last Reunion"
After some reticence, John Houston Thorpe decided to attend a reunion of Confederate veterans in Richmond, Virginia in 1932. He generally enjoyed himself, but was painfully aware of his age. He befriended a number of veterans, especially an old forager named Jed Ledbetter.
Some of the events were business meetings of the United Confederate Veterans, the organization which ran the reunions. Thorpe didn't mind attending since it let him catch up on his sleep from late nights by napping. He wasn't the only veteran to do so either.
Other events, while not parties, were interesting. One was the dedication of the Richmond Battlefield Parks. While in of itself it might have been almost as boring as a business meeting, one of the speakers was United States Army Colonel U.S. Grant III, the grandson of the Federal General. On learning this, Thorpe immediately joined the crowd of veterans waiting to shake his hand and exchange a few words. Not all felt this way. Ledbetter refused but Thorpe noticed he clapped as loudly as anyone after Grant finished his speech.
One night, after an evening of dancing, Thorpe died in his sleep. His soul joined those of the men who died in battle during the Civil War, re-enacting various battles in a far more congenial manner in the afterlife.
John Houston Thorpe in The Guns of the South
John Houston Thorpe commanded his company on Robert E. Lee's 1864 campaign against the Army of the Potomac, the campaign in which the Army of Northern Virginia took Washington City. His Company A was something of a rival to Company D of the 47th North Carolina.
Capt. Thorpe took part in the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5-6, 1864. The first day of the battle scattered troops throughout the undergrowth such that Thorpe found himself the sole officer in the van of the Confederate advance south against General Hancock's II Corps on the second day. The advance was stalled by Federal soldiers' field fortifications despite the superiority of the Confederates new repeaters. Thorpe succeeded in rallying the mixed group of Confederate forces and organizing an assault which forced the Federals from their positions. Later that day, Thorpe's troops linked up with units of Longstreet's I Corps fighting north thus eliminating Hancock's II Corps as an organized threat.