Virginia Military Institute—Building and Rebuilding/10

Virginia Military Institute—Building and Rebuilding  (1890)  by Francis H. Smith



BEFORE the Legislature had acted upon the important Report of the Board of Visitors, the raid of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry had taken place.

John Brown and his co-conspirators had been arrested, and tried under laws of the State of Virginia, were convicted and the sentence of death pronounced against them. In order to maintain the majesty of the law, it was deemed proper by His Excellency, Governor Wise, under the peculiar circumstances attending this execution, to order a portion of the military of the State to be present, and the Superintendent was ordered by the Governor to take the battalion of cadets to Charles Town as a part of the military command. The raid of John Brown, his trial and his execution, constitute a prominent element in the history of our State and country. It, in fact, was the first blow in the Civil War which soon followed. The following graphic account, written at the time by Maj. J. T. L. Preston, who was present with the corp of cadets, on the staff of Colonel Smith, is transcribed:

“CHARLES TOWN, DEC. 2, 1859.

“The execution is over; we have just returned from the field, and I have sat down to give you an account of it. The weather was very favorable; the sky was a little overcast, with a gentle haze in the atmosphere that softened without obscuring the magnificent prospect afforded here. Between eight and nine o’clock the troops began to put themselves in motion to occupy the positions assigned them on the field, as designated on the plan I send you. To Colonel Smith had been assigned the superintendence of the execution, and he and his staff were the only mounted officers on the ground, until the Major-General and his staff appeared. By one o’clock all was arranged; the general effect was most imposing, and, at the same time, picturesque. The cadets were immediately in rear of the gallows, a howitzer on the right and left, a little behind, so as to sweep the field. They were uniformed in red flannel shirts, which gave them a gay, dashing, zouave look, and was exceedingly becoming, especialy at the Battery. They were flanked obliquely by two corps, the Richmond Grays and Company F, which, inferior in appearance to the cadets, were superior to any other company I ever saw outside of the regular army. Other companies were distributed over the field, amounting in all to about 800 men. The military force was about 1,500.

“The whole enclosure was lined by cavalry troop posted as sentinels, with their officers — one on a peerless black horse, and another on a remarkable looking white horse, continually dashing round the enclosure. Outside this enclosure were other companies acting as rangers and scouts. The jail was guarded by several companies of infantry, and pieces of artillery were put in position for its defense.

“Shortly before eleven o’clock the prisoner was taken from the jail, and the funeral cortege was put in motion. First came three companies, then the criminal’s wagon, drawn by two large white horses. John Brown was seated on his coffin, accompanied by the sheriff and two other persons. The wagon drove to the foot of the gallows, and Brown descended with alacrity and without assistance, and ascended the steep step to the platform. His demeanor was intrepid, without being braggart. He made no speech; whether he desired to make one or not, I do not know. Had he desired it, it would not have been permitted. Any speech of his must, of necessity, have been unlawful, and as being directed against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth, and as such could not be allowed by those who were then engaged in the must solemn and extreme vindication of law. His manner was without trepidation, but his countenance was not free from concern; and it seemed to me to have a little cast of wildness.

John Brown 1859


He stood upon the scaffold but a short time, giving brief adieus to those about him, when he was properly pinioned, the white cap drawn over his face, the noose adjusted and attached to the hook above, and he was moved blindfold a few steps forward. It was curious to note how the instincts of nature operated to make him careful in putting out his feet as if afraid he would walk off the scaffold. The man who stood unblanched on the brink of eternity was afraid of falling a few feet to the ground.

“He was now all ready. The sheriff asked him If he should give him a private signal before the fatal moment. He replied in a voice that seemed to me unnaturally natural, so composed was its tone, and so distinct its articulation, that ‘it did not matter to him, if only they would not keep him too long waiting.’ He was kept waiting, however. The troops that had formed his escort had to be put into their position, and while this was going on, he stood for some ten or fifteen minutes blindfold, the rope round his neck, and his feet on the treacherous platform, expecting instantly the fatal act. But he stood for this comparatively long time upright as a soldier in position, and motionless. I was close to him, and watched him narrowly, to see if I could perceive any signs of shrinking or trembling in his person, but there was none. Once I thought I saw his knees tremble, but it was only the wind blowing his loose trousers. His firmness was subjected to still further trial by hearing Colonel Smith announce to the sheriff, ‘We are all ready, Mr. Campbell.’ The sheriff did not hear, or did not comprehend; and in a louder tone the same announcement was made. But the culprit still stood steady until the sheriff, descending the flight of steps, with a well-directed blow of a sharp hatchet, severed the rope that held up the trap door, which instantly sank sheer beneath him, and he fell about three feet; and the man of strong and bloody hand, of fierce passions, of iron will, of wonderful vicissitudes, the terrible partisan of Kansas, the capturer of the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, the would-be Catiline of the South, the demi-god of the abolutionists, the man execrated and lauded, damned and prayed for, the man who in his motives, his means, his plans, and his successes, must ever be a wonder, a puzzle, and a mystery — John Brown — was hanging between heaven and earth.

“There was profound stillness during the time his struggles continued, growing feebler and feebler at each abortive attempt to breathe. His knees were scarcely bent, his arms were drawn up to a right angle at the elbow, with the hands clenched; but there was no writhing of the body, no violent heaving of the chest. At each feebler effort at respiration his arms sank lower, and his legs hung more relaxed, until at last, straight and lank he dangled, swayed to and fro by the wind.

“It was a moment of deep solemnity, and suggestive of thoughts that make the bosom swell. The field of execution was a rising ground, and commanded the outstretching valley from mountain to mountain, and their still grandeur gave sublimity to the outline, while it so chanced that white clouds resting upon them, gave them the appearance that reminded more than one of us of the snow-peaks of the Alps. Before us was the greatest array of disciplined forces ever seen in Virginia infantry, cavalry and artillery combined, composed of the old Commonwealth’s noblest sons, and commanded by her best officers; and the great canopy of the sky overarching all, came to add its sublimity ever present, but only realized when other great things are occurring beneath each.

“But the moral of the scene was its grand point. A sovereign state had been assailed, and she had uttered but a hint, and her sons had hastened to show that they were ready to defend her. Law had been violated by actual murder and attempted treason, and that gibbet was erected by law, and to uphold law was this military force assembled. But, greater still — God’s Holy Law and righteous Providence was vindicated, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ — ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’ And here the gray-haired man of violence meets his fate, after he has seen his two sons cut down before him, in the same career of violence into which he had introduced them. So perish all such enemies of Virginia! all such enemies of the Union! all such foes of the human race! So I felt, and so I said, with solemnity and without one shade of animosity, as I turned to break the silence, to those around me. Yet, the mystery was awful, to see the human form thus treated by men, to see life suddenly stopped in its current, and to ask one’s self the question without answer — ‘And what then?’

“In all that array there was not, I suppose, one throb of sympathy for the offender. All felt in the depths of their heart that it was right. On the other hand, there was not one single word or gesture of exultation or of insult. From the beginning to the end, all was marked by the most absolute decorum and solemnity. There was no military music, no saluting by troops as they passed one another, nor anything done for show. The criminal hung upon the gallows for nearly forty minutes, and after being examined by a whole staff of surgeons, was deposited in a neat coffin to be delivered to his friends, and transported to Harper’s Ferry, where his wife awaited. She came in company with two persons to see her husband last night, and returned to Harper’s Ferry this morning. She is described by those who saw her as a very large, masculine woman, of absolute composure. The officers who witnessed their meeting in the jail said they met as if nothing unusual had taken place, and had a comfortable supper together.

“There was a very small crowd to witness the execution. Governor Wise and General Taliaferro had both issued proclamations exhorting the citizens to remain at home and guard their property, and warned them of possible danger. The train on the Winchester Railroad had been stopped from carrying passengers; and even passengers on the Baltimore Railroad were subjected to examination and detention. An arrangement was made to divide the expected crowd into recognized citizens, and those not recognized; to require the former to go to the right, and the latter to the left. Of the latter there was not a single one. It was told last night there were not in Charles Town ten persons besides citizens and military.

“There is but one opinion as to the completeness of the arrangements made on the occasion, and the absolute success with which they were carried out. I have said something about the striking effect of the pageant as a pageant, but the excellence of it was that everything was arranged solely with the view of efficiency, and not for effect upon the eye. Had it been intended as a mere spectacle, it could not have been made more imposing, or had actual need occurred, it was the best possible arrangement.

“You may be inclined to ask was all this necessary? I have not time to enter upon the question now. Governor Wise thought it necessary, and he said he had reliable information. The responsibility of calling out the force rests with him. It only remained for those under his orders to dispose the force in the best manner. That this was done is unquestionable, and, whatever credit is due for it, may fairly be claimed by those who accomplished it.”

The cadet command at the execution of John Brown consisted of sixty-four cadets serving as infantry, under command of Maj. Willam Gilham, assisted by Lieutenants John McCausland, Hays, Otey, and Scott Shipp; and two howitzers, under the command of Maj. T. J. Jackson (Stonewall), assisted by Lieut D. Truehart, manned by twenty-one cadets. Maj. J. T. L. Preston and Maj. R. E. Colston accompanied the command. On the staff of Colonel Smith were Dr. E. L. Graham, Surgeon, and Capt J. T. Gibbs, Commissary.

After the execution of John Brown, the cadets were ordered to return home by way of Richmond, and whle in Richmond executed an artillery drill on the Capitol Square, under the command of Maj. T. J. Jackson. The cadets reached the Institute safely on the 10th of December, 1859.

The lawless invasion of John Brown admonished the people of the State of the duty of preparation for war, and a law was passed by the General Assembly in 1860 appropriating $500,000 for the armament of the State. The Act placed the disbursement of the appropriation in the hands of three commissioners to be appointed by the Governor. Governor John Letcher, who had been inaugurated on the 1st of January, 1860, appointed Col. Philip St George Cocke, Capt George W. Randolph, and Col. F. H. Smith, commissioners, and they were instructed to proceed without delay to the execution of the duty assigned to them. Colonel Cocke was chosen as chairman, and it was determined to visit at once the various arsenals of the United States. Upon the invitation of the commission, Governor Letcher accompanied them on this important tour. The commission visited Springfield, the West Point Foundry, and Harper’s Ferry. While at West Point, a kind invitation was extended to them, by my old Army friend, Capt. Robert Parker Parrott, one of the proprietors of the West Point Foundry, to visit it, and to witness some experiments he was making with a new rifled gun. The commission visited the foundry, and witnessed the experiments behind an epaulement, and, as the Ordnance Department of the Army was slow to take hold of this new gun, I was instructed by the commission to say to Captain Parrott that if he would send to the Virginia Military Institute one of these guns, with 100 shells, orders would be given to the Instructor of Artillery at the Institute, Maj. T. J. Jackson, to give this gun a fair trial, and if the result proved satisfactory, the commission would order some for the State of Virginia. The experiments were duly made by Major Jackson, were satisfactory, and twelve of these guns, with a complement of shells, were ordered for the State. These guns were first used, and with great effect, at the Battle of Big Bethel, and the reputation founded upon this use of them led to the general introduction of the Parrott Gun into the artillery of the U. S. and C. S.

In the meantime the development of the Academic and Special School of the Institute was pressed forward. The claims upon Colonel Giham in the new Department of Agriculture made it necessary to establish an Adjunct Professorship of Chemistry, etc., to which Capt M. B. Hardin, of the class of 1858, was called; and under the full organization of studies recommended in the Annual Report of the Superintendent in June, 1860, the school was just ready to enter, with every prospect of success, upon a career of usefulness which seemed to be opened before it, when everything had to be set aside to prepare for the State defense.

Two full decades in the life of the Virginia Military Institute had passed away, and with what results?

Promptly responding to the special duty imposed upon it by the Act of March, 1842, and which made it a Normal School, its graduates were sent to every quarter of the State as teachers, and between the years 1842 and 1860, the number of students attending college in Virginia had been increased from 500 to nearly 2,500. This increase was largely due to the stimulus given to the cause of education by the class of teachers sent out from the Virginia Military Institute, then from the University of Virginia, and also from the colleges of Virginia.

Here this important mission was well and fully discharged. It heeded also the demand for Civil Engineers, a want so strikingly presented by President Wayland when he said:—

“There has existed for twenty years a great demand for Civil Engineers. Has the demand been supplied by our colleges? We presume the single Academy at West Point, graduating annually a smaller number than many of our colleges, has done more towards the construction of our railroads than all our 120 colleges united.”

The Virginia Military Institute, by its distinctive scientific course, and its system of discipline, met the demands of the South, and by such graduates as Mahone, Rives, Rodes, Wharton, Jordan and a number of others, divided the honors with those of the U. S. Military Academy.

And then, again, although but just entering upon the special field of Scientific Agriculture, the following testimonial from Edmund Ruffin, Esq., in striking terms shows what had already been done in this behalf. In the June number of the Southern Planter, for 1852, he thus refers to the report of Major Gilham on the marls of Virginia:—

“The foregoing report of the constituent parts of certain marls of peculiar qualities is a valuable addition to the before-existing information on the subject. We believe this is the first, and so far the only, aid of this kind rendered by a scientific investigator to the agricultural laborers in this department of Virginia. And this total withholding of aid from Chemical Science has not been for want of a long and full notice that such aid was needed.”

Subsequently, the same professor rendered a valuable service to the farming interest, by exposing the true nature of the spurious super-phosphates at that time extensively vended in the markets of Virginia. So that in the twenty years of the distinctive work of the Virginia Military Institute, the record of that work shows that it had honorably fulfilled its mission: —

1st. As a Normal School in supplying teachers for the schools of Virginia.
2d. As a School of Scientific and Practical Engineering.
3d. As a School of Scientific Agriculture, in its contributions to the important interests of Agriculture.

And now, 1861, as its third decade opens upon it, its distinctive mission as a military school has to be entered upon, and met, in the baptism of blood which the Civil War of 1861-65 brought upon it, and for which it had been preparing under the wise policy adopted by the Board of Visitors during the whole of the second decade of its existence.

April 17, 1861.
“Have you witched o’er a mother, when, day after day,
“Her strength and her beauty are wasting away;
“When a treasure seemed bound in each moment of life,
“And you looked in dismay on the fast coming strife
“Of the body and spirit; when every dear tone
“Struck the ear with the knell of a happiness gone:
“Did you call back the hours which you once used to spend,
“And wonder your being could carelessly blend
“With existence so sacred, til each failing breath
“Seemed to lead you with her, to the portals of death?
“With your last look on one who had given you birth,
“Have you felt that no love like this, on the earth;
“Then bent to your grief till, its agony o’er,
“For the battle of life, you have railed once more,
“While the wound unforgotten, keeps still in your heart
“The past, from the present, forever apart,
“So one long-drawn-out anguish is over at last,
“And the Country we loved is a thing of the past.
“No more alternations of hope and of fear;
“It is gone — and the period for action draws near.
“The Commission for Peace had left nothing untried,
“To avert the war struggle; had laid down its pride
“To submit to vexatious delays; all the while
“Truth was met with base falsehood — fair dealings, with guile.
“We know not all yet, but enough has been told
“To teach us that Seward, is the Seward of old;
“While he magnifies virtue in phrases sublime,
“The track of the serpent is told by its slime,
“We know Northern power, we have counted the cost,
“Nor falter, till all but our honor is lost.”

The following brief summons came to me by dispatch: —

Richmond, April 17, 1861. (Night)

My Dear Sir — The Governor requests that you will come here as soon as you possibly can. He wants your counsel and advice particularly.

Yours truly,
W. H. Richardson.
Col. F. H. Smith.

This note was received by me on the morning of the 18th, and in one hour I was on my way to Richmond. On reaching Richmond I received the following communication: —

Richmond, April 21, 1861.
Col. F. H. Smith.

Dear Sir — I am instructed to communicate to you the within resolution, adopted by the Convention of Virginia, now in session, and to notify you that you have been appointed a member of the Council referred to in the resolution.

Very respectfully,
Jno. L. Eubank,

Secretary of Convention.

Resolved, That a "Council of Three" be appointed by the Convention upon the nomination of the Governor, to aid, counsel, and advise him in the exercise of his executive authority in the present emergency, the said Council to continue in office at the discretion of this body.

Resolved, That the 15th Section of the 6th Article of the constitution of this State shall not apply to the office now created.

Adopted April 20, 1861.

John L. Eubank,

Secretary of Convention.

The COUNCIL OF THREE was composed of the following members:—
Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, late Superintendent U. S. Observatory;
Col. Francis Henny Smith, Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute.
Hon. John J. Allen, President of the Court of Appeals of Virginia;<p\>

This council was subsequently augmented by the addition of two other members:
Hon. R. L. Montague, President of the Convention
General Thos. S. Haymond.

After consultation with the Governor, it was deemed advisable to establish a Camp of Instruction for the troops in the vicinity of Richmond, and to order the cadets down at once to drill the volunteers as they came in. Camp Lee was accordingly organized, Col. William Gilham placed in command of it, and orders were sent by express messenger to Lexington for the cadets to be sent down under the command of Maj. T. J. Jackson.

“The Memorials of the Virginia Military Institute,” of date April 21, 1861, has the following notice of the departure of the corps of cadets for their post of duty:—

‘They are gone! they are gone! never more shall they come
“With no gap in their ranks to this dearly loved home.
“They are gone! they are gone! From depression up-springing.
“Its bold onward flight the young spirit is winging:
‘In memory still lingers the touching refrain
“Of exulting farewell, spoken once and again.
“Still I see the light form — the flushed cheek — the quick eye,
“Still I hear the firm tread, as ‘boy heroes’ sweep by;
“But the mantle of evening from daylight is won,
“And the mother’s worn heart looks in vain for her son.
“Alas! for the eyes that have scarce known a tear!
“Alas! for the hopes that were safe garnered here!

“They are gone! It is over! From terrace and hill,
“Of the light springing footsteps, the echo is still.
“The rich music of youth’s wild exuberance is gone;
“Through this midnight of sorrow, we watch all alone
“In a sickness of heart, that sees nought in their path
“But the Great Reaper’s sickle, the harvest of Death!
“This is feeble distrust. It is cowardly fear
“To linger thus idly, when danger is near.
“Arise — break its shackles — look out from this gloom,
“To thy work bravely done will the Comforter come.

“Did the sun’s rosy light o’er the Blue Ridge this morning
“Kiss the high mountain peaks? I know not, for the warning
“Note eagerly longed for, prevented the day,
“And the hours unchronicled glided away,
“All to one paying tribute. Well each cadet knew,
“To the stroke of the clock, the command would be true;
“Major Jackson in charge, he would linger for none,
“And he still would move on, did he move on alone.

“With Love, holiest cares, as her purpose fulfilling,
“Another’s burdens to lighten, the heart is made willing,
“Thus to lighten its own, each moment passed on,
“Smiles brightening to tears — then, in tear, the smiles gone.
“Fair young fingers were busy — on many a fair face,
“This April of sunshine and showers you might trace;
“While gay words of greeting were followed as soon
“By some errand accepted, as quickly as known.

“Hark! the roll of the drum. It has called them to prayer,
“And each uncovered head bows in reverence there,
“Through the barracks is hushed all the vexed strife of earth,
“As the servant of God* breathes falteringly forth
“In grief-broken accents, but firm, trusting faith,
“A prayer for His presence in danger and death.
“Let them only be Thine, then must suffering be
“The path Thou hast chosen to lead them to Thee!
“The silence is broken — a quick rush of feet —
“Each one takes his place, and the ranks are complete.
“A stroke of the clock, — the battalion moves on —
“A dull, measured tramp — a last look — they are gone!’
— The Rev. Dr. Wm S. White

War! Civil War! in all its intensest fury was begun. The Virginia Military Institute was now called upon to fulfill the mission for which it had been so earnestly preparing. The cadets were organized as drill masters for the infantry troops as they arrived at Camp Lee. A detachment was sent to Harper’s Ferry for a like purpose, and a detail was made to drill the batteries of artillery as they were organized by Gen. John B. Magruder at the Richmond College grounds. The duty imposed upon the cadets was severe, but it was necessary, and it was well and most effectively done; and 20,000 troops were thus prepared by them for the first great Battle of Manassas.

I do not propose to give, in this record of the Virginia Military Institute, a history of the war, or of the part borne by the élèves in this great struggle. “The Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute,” prepared and published by the Rev. Charles D. Walker, of the class of 1869, gives an interesting summary of those who fell for the cause they believed to be the cause of right. Two hundred of the élèves of the Virginia Military Institute perished in the discharge of the patriotic duty to which they were called, while a large number carry on their bodies the honorable badges of their bravery on the field of battle.

As soon as the Council of State was dissolved by the Convention of Virginia, which took place early in July, 1861, I was commissioned Colonel of Artillery, and ordered to the command of Craney Island, Norfolk Harbor. I continued on duty there until the 1st of January, 1862, when I was ordered by the Board of Visitors to reopen the Virginia Military Institute, and to put into full operation the regular exercises of the school. This order was given upon the recommendation of the Governor of Virginia, and of the President of the C. S. I resumed duty at the Institute on the 1st of January, 1862, against my wishes, judgment, and protest. I presented to the Board, in emphatic language, the many difficulties that would attend the effort to continue the work of the school pending the war, the restlessness of the cadets, the impossibilities of securing supplies of provisions, clothing, fuel, books, etc., difficulties that would increase as the war progressed. Still, it was made to appear that the work of the Institute was a necessity to supply the loss of officers in the Army, and from the élèves of the Virginia Military Institute, in a great degree, these losses had to be supplied.

The largest powers were given to the Superintendent by the Board on all questions of discipline, and as to the ways and means to secure supplies. By the judicious purchase of 300 head of fine cattle, placing some on pasture, and corning some, and keeping up the stock, an abundant supply of wholesome beef was given to the cadets during the whole war. Availing myself of the opportunity afforded by a business trip to Vicksburg, 10 hogsheads and 50 barrels of sugar and 50 barrels of molasses were purchased, and transportation secured from the Quartermaster General of the C. S. Thus, with these large supplies, judiciously used, we were able to give great comfort to the cadets. To provide books, a loan of grace of £2,000 was secured from the friendly firm of Messrs. John K. Gilliat & Co., London, and with money, books, and some articles of clothing run in through the blockade, through the agency of one of our most active and enterprising alumni, Col. Benj. F. Ficklin. The discipline was strict. All cadets who were deficient in their studies, or neglectful of duty, were promptly discharged, and, if eighteen years of age, were ordered to report for duty in the Army; and under this rule, some seventy cadets were discharged, by reason of deficiency at one of the regular examinations. It was indeed the wish and purpose of the cadets to go into the Army, and their neglect in studies was due, in a great measure, to this cause.

Still, under the orders of the Governor, the cadets were kept at all times ready for active service in defense of the Institute. Whenever in the judgment of General Robert E. Lee, commanding the C. S. Army in Virginia, their services were required, the Superintendent was ordered to respond to such requisition. Under these orders, the battalion of cadets was sent to the support of Lieut.-Gen. T. J. Jackson at the Battle of McDowell, and was used in the pursuit of the enemy as far as Franklin. The battalion was again sent to Covington to support Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, while protecting our border counties against a raid of General Averill. Again, when General Breckinridge was severely pressed by the army of General Sigel, in the Valley of Virginia, the cadets joined him in Staunton in May, 1864, and contributed materially to the defeat of Sigel at the Battle of New Market, May 15, 1864. They were then ordered to Richmond, and remained there until called back to the Institute, and, on the advance of General Hunter, resisted his advance in supporting the small brigade of cavalry of Gen. John McCausland; and when our flanks had been turned, moved on to Lynchburg, where they joined General Early, and witnessed the discomfiture of General Hunter in his effort to capture Lynchburg. On the return of the cadets from Lynchburg, they found the Institute in ruins; General Hunter having set fire to the public buildings, and everything perishable destroyed.

As soon as was practicable, after this great calamity, the school was reopened in the Alms House, Richmond, with 300 cadets, all being held in readiness to take the field at any moment, on the approach of the enemy. The combined attack made by General Grant on the lines of General Lee at Petersburg, called the cadets to the defense of the lines around Richmond. They fell back as the army of Grant approached, and on the evacuation of Richmond, they were dispersed, each cadet taking his arms, and acting as circumstances demanded.

The following correspondence will illustrate, in part, the embarrassments attending the administration of the Institute, in the effort to meet the responsibilities incident to a state of war:

Swift Run Gap, April 30, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. F. H. Smith,

Superintendent Virginia Military Institute.

General — Please march the cadets at once to Staunton, if you feel authorized to cooperate in an important movement which I will explain to you when we meet. As many of the cadets’ parents may have sent their sons to the Institute for the purpose of keeping them out of the field at present, I can provide for all such cases, and even for the entire corps, if necessary, by assigning to them the care of the provisions, and the baggage train; and thus let volunteers go into battle who would be otherwise kept out. The duty I know would not be congenial to the feelings of our brave corps, which I am well satisfied would desire the advance; but the patriot, and I regard each one of them as such, is willing to take any position where he can best serve his country. Should you cooperate with me, you will be absent from the Institute for a few days, but I trust that an ever-kind Providence will afterwards permit the Institute uninterruptedly to press forward in its great mission.

Please let me hear from you at once. Send your dispatch to the care of Maj. A. W. Harman, Staunton.

I am, General,
Your obedient servant,
T. J. Jackson,


Brown’s Gap, May 3, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. F. H. Smith,

Superintendent Virginia Military Institute.

General — Since leaving Swift Run Gap, the heavy roads have prevented my reaching Staunton, as I hoped by marching across the country by Port Republic; but I hope in a few days to be with you in Staunton.

I trust that neither yourself, nor any member of your command, will have occasion to regret this temporary suspension of the Institute. It is unnecessary for you to come this side of Staunton. Should you have any leisure time, it would be well spent in familiarizing yourself with the country, if you are not already acquainted with it, in the direction of the enemy, as far as our pickets. I send you herewith a pass. I desire all the information possible, respecting the military features of the country between us and the enemy.

Yesterday Colonel Williamson was reconnoitering this pass, but will soon be in the Valley.

I am much obliged to you for bringing the artillery. It is very desirable to arouse the people, and induce as many as possible to come forward and meet this special emergency, and with such arms as they may have.

It is very important to keep our movements concealed from the enemy, and to this end our people should say nothing about our army.

Ashby has a large cavalry force, which is mainly designed at present to cover my present march to Staunton.

With you I am assured our God will prosper our cause. Please remember me very kindly to the officers who are with you.

I am, General,

Your obedient servant,
T. J. Jackson.

Headquarters, Virginia Military Institute,
Staunton, May 6, 1862.

Maj.-Gen. T. J. Jackson,

Commanding Valley District

General — In tendering to you the cooperation of the corps of cadets, for the defense of this portion of the Valley, to the extent of my authority and means, I was prompted by a sense of duty devolving upon me as Commandant of the Public Guard at Lexington, and by a desire to make an effort to protect the Virginia Military Institute from destruction.

On reaching Staunton with the corps of cadets, I reported my arrival to the Adjutant-General of Virginia, and regret to find that the presumed authority which I had supposed that I had received from that officer, had been misunderstood, and that the Board was unanimous in their “disapprobation of the cadets being in any way subjected to the risk of battle unless in the immediate defense of Lexington,” and also objected to the cooperation on the part of the corps with military movements in the field. The view taken by the Board is based upon the idea “that it would be a breach of good faith on the part of the Institution towards parents and guardians.” Subsequently the Governor has said, “that as the mischief had been done, we had as well go on.”

Finding myself thus unexpectedly and painfully embarrassed, by the action of the Board, and the opinion of the Governor, I would esteem it a favor if you would inform me in what way, and to what extent, I may take the responsibility of acting in opposition to the express wishes and orders of my immediate superiors.

I am, General,

Your obedient servant,
Francis H. Smith.

Headquarters, Valley District,
Staunton, May 6, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. F. H. Smith,

Superintendent Virginia Military Institute.

General — Your letter of this date, stating the embarrassment in which you are placed in cooperating with me in defense of this portion of the Valley, and requesting to be informed in what way, and to what extent, I propose to use the corps of cadets, has been received. In reply I would state, that should you, notwithstanding the action of the Board of Visitors and of the Governor, feel at liberty to continue your cooperation, the corps of cadets will form a part of the reserve, and that its duties will perhaps be of an unusually active character, and may continue for five or seven days. The safety of this section of the Valley, in my opinion, renders your continued cooperation of great importance, but should you deem it your duty in consequence of the action of the Board of Visitors and of the Governor of the State to return at once to the Institute, I hope you will accept for yourself, and tender to your command, the grateful appreciation of your patriotic devotion to our cause, which has been manifested by having so promptly responded to my call.

I am, General,
Your obedient servant,
T. J. Jackson,


Headquarters, Virginia Military Institute,
May 6, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. T. J. Jackson,

Commanding Valley District.

General — I have received your communication of this date. The unqualified expression of your opinion that the continued cooperation of the corps of cadets is of great importance to the safety of this section of the Valley, removes all doubt from my mind as to my duty to give you that cooperation with the limitation of excluding all cadets under eighteen years of age, who have not the consent of their parents to participate in this temporary service.

Knowing, as I well do, the wishes of the governing authorities of the Institute, and of parents, that no interruption shall take place in our regular course, if it can be avoided, I regard this call as presenting a means, under Providence, by which you may be enabled, with your gallant army, to ensure to the cadets, at the end of the contemplated service, a safe return to their accustomed duties, with the satisfaction that they have at least endeavored to render a patriotic service.

I am, General,
Your obedient servant,

Francis H. Smith.

The corps of cadets was assigned to the brigade of Brigadier-General Winder, and was with the brigade ordered to the front at McDowell. The battalion reached the vicinity of the battlefield, by a forced march, at dusk, just as the battle closed, and with the brigade was ordered to the camping ground. The next morning the command pursued the enemy as far as Franklin, and, after fulfilling the appointed service, the following order was issued by Major-General Jackson:—

Headquarters, Valley District at McDowell,
May 15, 1862.

General Orders—No. 46.

II. The imminent danger to which Staunton was recently exposed, having been removed by the defeat of the combined forces of Generals Schenck and Milroy, on the west, and the falling back of General Banks on the north, Maj.-Gen. F. H. Smith returns with his command to the post and duties which have been assigned him by the State of Virginia. In thus parting with this patriotic officer, and those who had for a time left their scientific and literary pursuits, for the purpose of cooperating in repelling the danger which threatened the Virginia Military institute (which has by its graduates contributed so efficiently to the success of this war), the Major-General commanding tenders his thanks to Major-General Smith and the officers and cadets under him, for the promptitude and efficiency with which they have assisted in the recent expedition.

By Command of Maj.-Gen. T. J. Jackson,

[Signed] J. Stoddard Johnston.
A. A. G.

Again in the spring of 1864, the corps of cadets were called upon to cooperate with Major-General Breckinridge in defense of the Institute against a much more formidable advance up the Valley by the army under the command of General Sigel, as is shown by the following communications from General Breckinridge:—

Headquarters, Department of W.Va.,
Dublin Depot, May 4, 1864.

Gen. Francis H. Smith,
Superintendent Virginia Military Institute,
Lexington, Va.

General — I have just received your letter of the 2d instant, concerning one from General Lee to the Adjutant-General of Virginia, also a copy of the instructions to you from the Governor.

I am gratified to learn that a battalion of cadets 250 strong, with a section of artillery, will be ready to move on a moment’s notice. This force will be very effective in assisting to repel or capture destructive raiding parties.

The limits of my department have not been defined in the east, and I have been unable to adopt many precautions east of Monroe and Greenbrier. I have, however, thrown up a work at the railroad bridge over the cow pasture, another at the bridge over Jackson River, and a line of rifle pits at Island Ford. Col. Wm. L. Jackson is covering the approaches to these points, and to Rockbridge, from that general direction. It may be necessary for you to move in that quarter, or to protect the iron furnaces in Botetourt or in Buchanan. I will try to send the earliest intelligence through General Imboden, as you suggest, or if it should be beyond reach of telegraph, by special couriers.

General Imboden will, of course, apprise you of my movements in direction of Millboro, Staunton, etc. Fully appreciating your patriotic feelings, and those of the young gentlemen you command,

I am, General,
Your obedient servant,
John C. Breckinridge.

Staunton, May 10, 1864.

Gen. F. H. Smith,
Commandant of Cadets, Virginia Military Institute,
Lexington, Va.

Sigel is — moving up the Valley — was at Strasburg last night. I can not tell yet whether this is his destination. I would be glad to have your assistance at once, with the cadets, and the section of artillery. Bring all the forage and rations you can.

Have the reserves of Rockbridge ready, and let them send here for arms and ammunition, if they can not be supplied at Lexington.

Very respectfully,
John C. Breckinridge,

The battalion of cadets with a section of artillery was promptly ordered to Staunton, tinder the command of Col. Scott Shipp, commandant of cadets, when the following order was issued:—

Headquarters, Valley District,
Staunton, Va., May 12, 1864.

General Orders — No. 1.

I. The command will march to-morrow morning promptly at 6 o’clock, on turnpike leading to Harrisonburg.
The following order of march will be observed:—
Wharton’s Brigade,
Echols’ Brigade,
Corps of Cadets,
Reserve Forces,
Ambulances and Medical Wagons,

II. The artillery will, for the present, be united and form a battalion, under the command of Major McLaughlin.
The trains will move behind the artillery in the order of their respective commands.

III. Brigadier-General Echols will detail two companies under the command of a field officer as guard for the trains.
By Command of Major-General Breckinridge,
J. Stoddard Johnston.

Lieutenant-Colonel Shipp,

Commanding Corps of Cadets.

The Battle of New Market was fought on the 15th of May, and resulted in the complete defeat of General Sigel’s forces.

The following communication was made to Colonel Shipp, commanding the corps of cadets in the battle:—

Headquarters, Valley District, New Market,
May 16, 1864.

Colonel — I am directed by Major-General Breckinridge to convey, on parting with the corps of cadets, to you and to them, his thanks for the important services you have rendered. He desires to express his admiration for their meritorious conduct, as exhibited in their soldierly bearing on the march, and for their distinguished gallantry in the field.

With sentiments of high personal regard, I am, Colonel,
Your obedient servant,
J. Stoddard Johnston,
Major and A. A. G.

Lieutenant-Colonel Shipp,

Commanding Corps of Cadets.

List of the officers and cadets killed and wounded in the Battle of New Market, May 15, 1864:—


W. H. Cabell, Va. ____________________ 2d Class
S. F. Atwill, Va. ____________________ 3d Class
J. B. Stanard, Va. ___________________ 4th Class
T. J. Jefferson, Va. ___________________ 4th Class Thomas Jefferson's grandson
W. J. Jones, Va. _____________________ 4th Class
C. G. Crockett, Va. ___________________ 4th Class
J. C. Wheelwright, Va. ________________ 4th Class

W. H. McDowell, N.C. ________________ 4th Class


Lieut-Col. S. Shipp Commandant of Cadets
Capt. A. G. Hill, Assistant Professor, Commanding Corps
S. S. Shriver, W.Va.
H. W. Garrow, Ala.
J. A. Stuart, Va.
Louis C. Wise, Va.
G. K. Macon, Va.
John S. Wise, Va.
D. S. Pierce, Va.
H. C. Whitehead, Va.
Geo. Spiller, Va.
H. J. Mead, Va.
W. D. Buster, Va.
J. R. Triplett, Va.
J. Preston Cocke, Va.
J. F. Bransford, Va.
Francis L. Smith, Va.
M. Marshall, Miss.
W. Dillard, Va.
E. D. Christian, Va.
S. T. Phillips, Va.
E. H. Smith, Va.
W. P. Watson, N.C.
Porter Johnson, W.Va.
T. W. White, Va.
P. W. Woodlief, La.
C. H. Read, Va.
E. Berkeley, Va.
R. A. Pendleton, Va.
Charles Randolph, Va.
F. G. Gibson, W.Va.
J. D. Darden, Va.
E. P. Moorman, Va.
J. L. Merritt, Va.

C. H. Harrison, Va.

Wounded Very severely.

J. I. Dickinson, Va.
C. D. Walker, Va.
J. Imboden, Va.
G. T. Garnett, Va.

J. N. Upshur, Va.

“The Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute” by the Rev. C. D. Walker, of the class of 1869, who was wounded in this battle, and the graphic description of this battle by Hon. John S. Wise, who was also wounded, give full particulars of the part borne by the corps of cadets in this battle. General Breckinridge’s language to the Superintendent after the battle was to this effect: “Had I not used the cadets very freely in the battle, the result might have been different”

After the Battle of New Market, the cadets were ordered to Richmond. On reaching Staunton one-third of the corps were without shoes or stockings. These were supplied, while in Staunton, and while on the journey to Richmond, by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, crowds assembled at the depots on the road, and honored them by their greetings and by their substantial gifts. On reaching Richmond they were received at the depot by many hundreds of the citizens. A handsome battalion flag was presented to them by His Excellency Governor Smith, and the following letters from the Hon. Thomas S. Babcock, Speaker of the C. S. House of Representatives, bears a most gratifying testimonial to the conduct of the cadets:

RICHMOND, MAY 25, 1864.


Sir — The House of Representatives has passed a resolution in relation to the participation of the corps of cadets in the victory over Sigel, gained by our forces near New Market on the 15th instant, and I have been requested to communicate the resolution to the corps.

Had I known that you would have been in the city yesterday I would have availed myself of that opportunity to perform the duty.Please let me know when the corps will be again in the city.

Very truly and respectfully,
Thomas S. Babcock,
Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The cadets were subsequently paraded in the Capitol Square, and in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, and a large concourse of citizens, the resolution of the House of Representatives was formally and in most complimentary terms communicated by Mr. Speaker Babcock.

In “The Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute” by the Rev. C. D. Walker, a record is made of 170 of the élèves who fell in defense of the South during the heroic struggle which closed on the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox, April, 1865. The record is necessarily incomplete from the difficulty of securing reliable information in regard to those who perished in the many combats of the war. But from information which I regard as reliable, I am satisfied that at least two hundred fell in the struggle for Southern independence. Reference may be made to the interesting volume of Rev C. D. Walker, for the record of those distinguished sons of the Virginia Military Institute whose memories are there found.

The following tribute from Mrs. Margaret Junkin-Preston may fitly close this record of what the Military Institute has done in defense of the rights and liberty of Virginia and the South:

“The book, Memorial volume, by C. D. Walker, is appropriately dedicated to General Richardson. These biographies are in the main quite brief. General Rodes’ is, perhaps, the longest, and it only covers eighteen pages. It must be remembered that a vast majority of these brave and intrepid youths were under age, very few of them old enough to have taken upon themselves the burdens and responsibility of manhood. Consequently, the one grand event of their lives around which all proud and tender and chivalrous interests gather, has been the manner of their laying their precious lives down on their country’s battlefields, sad, heart-rending stories, that take not long to tell.

“Nothing more touching, or more heroic, than many of these brief records are, has ever been written since men had a country for which they dared to die. Sir Philip Sidney (1586), on the field of Zutphen, has been the model for all high-minded soldiers since that day until now. But there are as splendid heroisms recorded in this Memorial volume of youth who lacked more than a decade of Sir Philip’s years. Col. Waller Tazewell Patton’s death in the Gettysburg Hospital was just as beautiful and nobly pathetic as that of any hero in the ‘Annals of Liberty’s Martyrs.’ ‘His Saviour — his mother — his country!’ Compared with the calm sublimity of such a passing away, how the mere grim endurance of the Spartan shrinks! how the proud boast of the Greek dwindles! how the chivalry of a Bayard pales! We do not say this in the overweening and bind idolatry in which fervent patriotism is wont to indulge, but with the deep conviction that it is wholly true. In what respect was Maj. Carter Harrison’s supreme devotion, his holy living, his gallant and undaunted dying, less exalted, less courageous, than that of John Hampden?

“ ‘We will fight until we drop in our tracks before we will yield one foot more of our soil. I shall put my sword and all in readiness before going to bed, and commit myself and all my dear ones to the care of Him without whom not a sparrow falleth to the ground. Surely that was a sacred cause for which such heroes died!

“The pathos of many of these records is almost heart-rending. Of what a number is it told, that while they could and did face the fearful odds of the enemy, and, march unflinchingly upon the cannon’s mouth, their greatest anguish in the moment of death was the grief it would bring to their mothers. In the case of these boys how touchingly it was true that ‘the bravest are the tenderest!”

“Another most noticeable and consoling fact, in turning over these pages, is the remarkable one that so large a proportion of those who were able to leave any testimony behind them, died holy, Christian deaths. Some passed away even under the pressure of intense bodily agony, in sustained mental triumph, and many met death with the calm confidence of martyrs. Thank God that in these printed pages their precious example will speak to the youth of our country, that country for which they poured out their young lifeblood like water, and thus from their early graves will come back the voice of solemn and pathetic warning and appeal. To her inmost heart this widowed South of ours will surely clasp, with tears of sorrow and pride and thanksgiving, this sad and heroic and unexampled record of her children, and say, with the lofty endurance of a sufferer of a century ago, ‘I had rather be the father of this dead son than any living son in Christendom’ ” —Margaret Junkin Preston.

I may now appropriately close the record of the devotion and sacrifice of the noble young men whose lives were thus laid upon the altar of their country, with the verses written by Mrs. Sara Henderson Smith, as an introductory poem to her

“Songs of the South
Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute,”
to which she attached the following dedication:
To the Alumni and Cadets
of the
Virginia Military Institute

To whose keeping Her honor has been so safely intrusted by one who, with many pleasing, and many touching associations, has had the interest of a life bound up in the success of this Noble Institution. —Sara Henderson Smith

The Lost Cause

Oh! say not that our “cause” is “lost,”
Exult not in our pain,
For they who war for truth and right
Can never war in vain.
The precious seed may hidden lie;
But, sown in faith and prayer,
From wintry storms shall spring to life,

And a rich harvest bear.

Then gather treasures from the wreck,
Ere yet oblivion sweep
Our wealth of hallowed memories
Into the voiceless deep.
And let us sadly, proudly wear
The gems, while life shall last,
And heirlooms, to our children leave
These jewels of the past.

V. M. I., 1865.