Virginia Military Institute—Building and Rebuilding/11
DESTRUCTION OF THE VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE BY GEN. HUNTER U.S.A. 1864 — WORK OF RESTORATION
The war left the Virginia Military Institute a ruin! Gen. David Hunter, U.S.A. made his work of destruction complete. He burned the Library, Philosophical and Chemical Apparatus, Cabinet of Minerals and Hospital stores, in addition to the Barracks, Professors’ Quarters, Mess Hall and Hospital. He spared the quarters of the Superintendent, by reason of the extreme illness of one of his daughters, who could not be moved. His courtesy in this regard was gratefully acknowledged, as was the considerate kindness shown by Colonel DuPont, Chief of Artillery, and the other officers of the command, who lodged in the Superintendent’s quarters.
The destruction of the buildings and property of the Virginia Military Institute by the army of General David Hunter, in violation of the precedents which spared literary and scientific institutions in time of war, is a convincing proof of the estimate formed by the U.S. authorities of the importance of the services of the Institute in defense of the South. Still, there was no necessity to wantonly destroy its Library, or its Philosophical and Chemical Apparatus and Cabinet of Minerals. These might have been removed as prizes of war. The Library contained valuable works, some of which could not be replaced, such as the scientific works purchased of Colonel Crozet. The telescope was a valuable one used by “Stonewall” Jackson, while a professor, and the Mineral Cabinet was the gift of Gen. Philip St. George Cocke, embracing a collection of Virginia minerals, the property of his brother John, who had just discovered the existence of Hydraulic Limestone in Virginia. It is proper to mention that many of the officers of General Hunter’s army protested against his wanton destruction of this property, and particularly against his burning the private residence of Governor Letcher.
The following extracts from the official Report of the Superintendent to the Board of Visitors, January 12, 1878, will present in detail, and with entire accuracy, the steps taken to restore the ruin made by the war, and the hindrances and embarrassments attending most serious undertakings:
“The important part borne by the Board of Visitors in directing and controlling the Virginia Military Institute, makes it peculiarly proper that I should present, at this time, a brief history of the various steps which have been taken in the restoration and financial management of the institution since April, 1865.
“On the 12th of June, 1864, the Virginia Military Institute was destroyed by fire by the order of Gen. David H. Hunter, U.S.A. The corps of cadets, after a vain effort to impede his advance, which had been gallantly resisted by General McCausland wth his small cavalry brigade, retired to Lynchburg, and remained there until Hunter was driven back by General Early. They were then ordered back to the Institute, which was found in ruins; and the corps of cadets was then disbanded, with orders to hold themselves in readiness for the resumption of the school, should that be found practicable.
“In December, 1864, the Almshouse of the City of Richmond was secured for the accommodation of the cadets, and regular exercises were resumed in January, 1865. This continued until the 3d of April, 1865, when Richmond was evacuated, and the cadets were once again disbanded. The surrender of General Lee soon followed, and the war was closed
“From April to September, 1865, the country was in a state of utter prostration, no one knowing what the future was to be, and apprehension and depression weighing down every heart.
“The responsibility of the Institution, even in its ruins, rested upon me as Superintendent. I had charge of all the public records,accounts and bonds, and I deemed it my duty to report in person to the recognized Governor Pierpont, and await his instructions. To my great gratification I found him ready and willing to allow the Institution to be resumed, making no change in the Board of Visitors, except that which the law required him to make, in recognizing Gen. David Hunter Strother as Adjutant-General, vice W. H. Richardson.
“This being established, I immediately conferred with such of the professors as were accessible, and made known my views to them. I told them that with the school in ruins, and nothing left but reputation, I saw no hope of restoration, except by the organization of a full and efficient faculty. It was true we had no money, and could offer no salaries — but everybody was prostrate — and I would seek to secure the services of gentlemen who might be willing to cast in their lot with us, put their shoulders to the wheel, and rest their prospects upon the hope of success. If the effort failed, we should be no worse off than we were; if successful, we should accomplish a great public good, and secure for the faculty reasonable support.
“The scheme was carefully considered by members of the faculty, and a substitute was proposed by one of the oldest and wisest heads; and that was to start the school with a section only of the faculty. We could not expect many cadets at first — the income would be too small to support the full faculty — and the section could be enlarged as the necessity required.
“This substitute I earnestly opposed. To offer to our patrons a part of a loaf would so weaken our claims to public support that we should fail. Let every one know that however much we were overwhelmed by untoward calamity, the full educational loaf would be meted out to those who would rally around our board; and our professors must rely upon their work as the surest means of success. The views thus expressed were acquiesced in; but grave doubts were expressed by all of the success of the undertaking.
“I convened the Board of Visitors to meet in Richmond on the 25th of September, 1865. There were present at this meeting Hon. W.H. Macfarland, President, Gen. D.H. Strother, Gen. W.H. Richardson, Wm. M. Burwell, Esq., and R.H. Catlett, Esq. The plan submitted was unanimously ratified by the Board, and Gen. George Washington Custis Lee and Col. Wm. B. Blair, were elected professors, to fill existing vacancies; and, at a subsequent meeting, held on the 9th of October, Capt. John Mercer Brooke, late of the U.S. & C.S. Navy, the inventor of the deep sea sounding apparatus, and the Brooke gun, was appointed to a new chair, which was then organized, embracing practical astronomy, physical geography, and meteorology. Orders were given for their resumption of the regular exercises of the institution on the 16th of October, of which due notice should be given to the absent professors, to the new appointees, and to the public.
“In the meantime postal and railroad facilities were only partially restored, the newspapers of the South were limited in their circulation, so that general notice could not be given. Still, on the day appointed, the Virginia Military Institute, with a full corps of professors, and eighteen or twenty cadets (augmented during the year to fifty-five), resumed its academic work. Without any buildings left, except the Superintendent’s quarters, and the Ordnance Sergeant’s house, the cadets had to be boarded in private families at a monthly rate of $25.00. The rooms of the Superintendent’s house, so far as they could be spared, were used for recitation rooms; and two of the professors, General Lee and Colonel Shipp, were quartered, the one in the Treasurer’s office, the other in the Superintendent’s office, while their classes were taught in these rooms.
“The only pay received by the professors until May, 1866, for this earnest, experimental work, was a distributive share of the tuition fees of this small band of pay cadets, the total amount received by each not exceeding $400. The work, however, was begun — some hopes were felt — and although the future was still shrouded in uncertainty, the hands at the wheel were ready and willing to work.
“The Legislature of Virginia was to assemble in December, 1865, under most auspicious circumstances, and I addressed myself to the question of the restoration of our annuity, and of the interest on the State bonds held by the school. The question to be presented to the Legislature was a difficult one. The Institute was in ruins — without quarters for the cadets, and no library, apparatus, or other essentials for the successful conduct of such an institution. To these obvious and practical difficulties was added the formidable one: that our people had seen enough of war and desired peace, and a military school of all schools was the last to be desired.
“These points were answered by me, seriatim, before the joint committee of the two houses on schools and colleges. I referred to the resolute spirit with which the professors had entered upon their work, upon the scanty pay received, that with all the drawbacks attending it we had fifty-five cadets, while the general sentiment of the South was so responsive to our effort to preserve and perpetuate the memories which cluster around the Virginia Military Institute, that I could not doubt of success. Such was my confidence in the result, that I would be willing to bind myself to have quarters ready for 150 cadets by the next meeting of the General Assembly, and if this was not accomplished, the institution would relinquish all claim to the annuity.
“With regard to the sentiment as to the necessity of a military school, I urged that so long as the constitution of Virginia contained the Immortal Bill of Rights of George Mason, the Legislature of Virginia would be derelict in duty, if they failed to recognize the fact, ‘that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state’; and that the Virginia Military Institute had vindicated, beyond all question, the wisdom of the Legislature which had established and maintained it; for, by the military education thus imparted, the army of Northern Virginia, ‘composed of militia taken from the body of the people,’ had been prepared, in large degree, for the mighty struggle of the late conflict.
“The committee was unanimous in its report, and the annuity with interest on the State bonds was provided for by the Legislature at that session. This provision led to a distribution, ratably, among the professors of a small addition to their meager salaries, making the total amount for the year some $900.
“The restoration of the annuity required the appointment of the State cadets, who, by law, received ‘board and tuition free.’ Board at $25.00 a month would absorb a large portion of the annuity, leave an inadequate provision for the support of the faculty, and afford no help towards the work of restoring the buildings. The necessity, therefore, of restoring the ‘Cadets’ Commons,’ by which a saving of $10.00 a month on the board could be effected, became obvious. But the ‘Cadets’ Commons’ could not be restored without making provision for the dormitories, and this question, involving the restoration of the Cadet Barracks, in all its formidable proportions, had to be met and solved.
1. General F. H. Smith http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_H._Smith
2. Colonel J. W. Massie
3. Colonel J. T. L. Preston
4. General T. H. Williamson
5. Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Fontaine_Maury
6. Governor John Letcher http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Letcher
7. General W. L. Richardson
8. Colonel R. L. Madison, M. D.
9. Colonel Scott Shipp http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Shipp
10. Colonel John Mercer Brooke http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Mercer_Brooke
11. Colonel W. B. Blair
12. Colonel T. M. Semmes
13. Colonel M. B. Hardin
14. Colonel G. W. C. Lee http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Custis_Lee
15. Colonel M. McDonald
“The experience of the year had added great importance to this view of the subject; for, the necessity of having the cadets under their regular government, and under full discipline, was known to be essential to the preservation of the life of the school. “I convened the faculty to consider the embarrassing problem. Every member recognized the difficulties which surrounded us, and these were made the more serious when it was considered that the continuance of the annuity on the part of the State depended upon the successful solution of the problem.
“The plan suggested was the following: The nominal salary of each professor is $1,800. The actual salary for the first year was only some $400, until the restoration of the annuity increased it to $900; and unless accommodations could be provided for the cadets, it would not exceed this sum for the future. Still, placing the salaries at the nominal rate, it was proposed that the faculty should pass a resolution expressive of their conviction of the absolute necessity of the restoration of the cadets’ barracks; that the continuance of the Institute depended upon this being accomplished, and then tendering to the Board of Visitors a surrender of one-third of their salaries, as a basis, upon which to hypothecate a loan of $50,000; this surrender to be made in the way of a loan to the institution, to be returned to the faculty when the barracks had been built and paid for. This proposition was unanimously accepted by the faculty. A resolution to this effect was passed by them, which the Superintendent was requested to communicate to the Board of Visitors.
“The resolution, in form, tendered the sum of $7,600 a year, on a reduction of 33 per cent on the nominal salaries of the professors. I say, in form, because they were not receiving their full salaries, and the Institute was unable to provide for them, and effect could only be given to the nominal loan by complete success to the undertaking.
“Still, it was urged, that should the Board of Visitors authorize the Superintendent to negotiate a loan of $50,000, the resolution of the faculty would carry great moral weight, and aid the Superintendent in effecting it.
“A called meeting of the Board of Visitors was held in the Library of the Capitol of the 18th of April, 1866, and the Superintendent, in a formal report, communicated the resolution of the faculty, and the reasons which prompted their action, with the request that the Board of Visitors would authorize the Superintendent to negotiate a loan of $50,000 upon the terms proposed. The Board consisted of Hon. Wm. H. Macfarland, Gen. W. H. Richardson, Col. Geo. W. Bolling, Maj. Zeph Turner, and Col. Wm. L. Owen.
“The report was received by the Board with mingled feelings of surprise and concern. Some members doubted the power of the Board in the premises; others thought the whole scheme chimerical, as no persons would be so foolish as to lend $50,000 to a prostrate institution at such a time, while the general opinion was, that the war, in its disastrous close, had weakened the judgment, to say the least, of the Superintendent.
“In reply, I stated that I only asked for such authority as the Board of Visitors had an unquestionable power to give, and that their resolution might express this in terms; and if the effort to raise the money, upon the plan proposed, should be unsuccessful, no harm would result to any one.
“With the desire of doing as gracious an act as could be done by the Board of Visitors to an institution which seemed to be in articulo mortis, at the same time with a latent feeling of distrust in the whole proceeding, the following orders were passed:—
“ ‘Resolved, that the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute is hereby authorized to negotiate a loan of $50,000, or any part thereof, for the purpose of rebuilding the cadets’ barracks, with authority to pledge the revenues and effects of the institution, so far as the same are subject to the control of the Board, as security for such loan.
“ ‘Resolved, that the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute accept the proposition tendered to them by the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute, as conveyed by their resolution communicated in the report of the Superintendent; and that uniting with the faculty, in the views taken by them, of the importance of making immediate provision for the restoration of the cadets’ barracks, they hereby direct an abatement in the salaries of the Superintendent and professors of 33 per cent per annum, upon the terms and conditions stipulated by the faculty in the resolution aforesaid.
‘Resolved, in the opinion of the Board, it is expedient that the annual salaries of the professors should be reduced by 33 per cent, the salaries to be raised again to the present rate as soon as the buildings are restored and paid for, either by the ordinary income of the institution, or by the special aid from the Legislature, or otherwise; and, further, that as soon is such liquidation is possible, there shall be reimbursed, without interest, to the professors or their representatives, in the way of back pay, the amount of that curtailed from their salaries.’
“As soon as these resolutions were passed, I made contracts for the commencement of the work of restoration, so that provision might be made for the accommodation of 150 cadets by the 1st of September, 1866. The means for this work were secured, partly, by loans effected under the above order of the Board; partly from the current income of the institution. Nor were we disappointed. Accommodations were in readiness by the 1st of September, 1866, for 150 cadets, and, what was more important, 150 cadets appeared promptly upon the ground; and the institution opened in the regular session of 1866-67 with a full military organization, with lecture rooms, mess hall, and other appointments, under imposing ceremonies. Governor Letcher, President of the Board, delivered an address on the reinauguratlon of the Statue of Washington which had been removed to Wheeling by the army of General Hunter, but which was restored to the Institute.
“So auspicious a beginning prompted the Board of Visitors to augment the faculty by the appointment of Colonel Marshall McDonald, Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology, in the place of Colonel Gilham, resigned, the duties of the chair having been discharged during the preceding year by Gen. George Washington Custis Lee.
“The session of 1867-68 opened with still greater encouragement; the work on the barracks was continued, and as tiers of rooms were completed, they were filled, so that it became necessary, in view of the rapid development of physical science, to subdivide Colonel McDonald’s chair, by the appointment of Col. M. B. Hardin, as Professor of General and Applied Chemistry, Colonel McDonald retaining Mineralogy, Geology and Metallurgy.
“In July, 1867, the Board ordered the restoration of one-third of the one-third abatement in the salaries of the professors.
“Just as new life was beginning to be given to the institution, rising as it was like a Phoenix from its ashes, two serious troubles came upon it, which awakened fresh anxiety and alarm. The war broke upon the country sooner than was anticipated, and when it came, it left, unsettled, some balances against the institution for supplies, due mostly to northern merchants. During the war heavy responsibilities were also assumed, for a large portion of which the State was responsible, but which the Institute had to carry. These balances reached some $25,000, and payment was pressed upon the school at a time when every dollar was needed to repair the ruins of the war. This sum was independent of the loan made to the Institution in 1864 of £2,000 by Messrs. J. K. Gilliat & Co., of London.
“And yet a more serious danger threatened, in a meeting of a convention to remodel the constitution of the State, of which convention one-third were white republicans, one-third colored republicans, and one-third only were conservatives. The uncertainty resting upon the work of the institution in connection with the meeting of this convention, prompted the Board of Visitors to adopt the following order, January 30, 1868:
“ ‘Ordered, that the Superintendent be, and he is, hereby authorized and instructed to ascertain the amount of indebtedness to the professors of the Virginia Military Institute, under the provision of the order of the Board of April, 1866, and cause a certificate of indebtedness to be signed by the President of the Board, and Treasurer, to be issued to each, for the amount due, year by year, the certificate not to bear interest.
“This order was proper in itself, but it was specially intended as security against any unfriendly action on the part of the Constitutional Convention, one of the resolutions of which read as follows:—
“ ‘Resolved, that the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute be required to show cause why the property known as the Virginia Military Institute should not be obliterated.’
“Although the phraseology of this resolution was awkward and ambiguous, there was no difficulty in understanding that it was in an unfriendly spirit, and that the design was to destroy the school.
“I appeared before the Committee to which this resolution was referred. It was composed of three white republicans, three colored republicans, and two conservatives. It was difficult to know how to address such a committee. I said, however, that if the State desired to get rid of the support of the Virginia Military Institute, they might do it, if the State would pay its debts, some $75,000, including the large amounts due the professors, for the advances made by them in the work of restoration; or, if the State would turn the property over to the professors, they would pay its debts, and work the institution. But looking to the work which the representatives of the State had before them, in restoring the waste places, and developing material resources of the State, would it not be wiser to throw every energy into it, that the school might be made an agent to aid the State in this work of restoration? At this very time we are looking to the question of calling Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, of Virginia, and placing him at the head of a Physical Survey of Virginia.
“I was surprised at the favorable impression made upon the Committee by this last view, which was fully elaborated. It was evident the republican members thought that party capital might be made by taking the lead in the question of Virginia’s physical development; for, the Chairman of the Committee, after expressing satisfaction at what had been said, requested me to repeat my remarks before the Convention. This I declined, as my sole object was to satisfy the Committee, and having done this, I asked to be discharged.
“The resolution before the Committee was laid upon the table, and there it still lies.
“The relief which resulted from the adjournment of the Convention, and the adoption by the people of a Conservative Constitution, and the election of a Conservative Legislature and State officers, gave fresh encouragement to us in our work. The buildings were rapidly pressed forward; the mess hall was rebuilt; professors’ houses were restored; a hospital building and adjacent lots were purchased; all the departments of instruction and administration were fully equipped; and everything promised a great future for the school; for the public patronage kept pace with the provision made by the school to merit it.
“In all that had been done by the Board of Visitors, Superintendent and faculty, in the work of restoration, there was a well-grounded hope that, at the proper time, the Legislature would come to the relief of the institution, and make some adequate provision for it; and this was the more confidently expected because of the earnest manner in which the school had essayed to do the work itself. Provisions had been made by the Act of Congress of 1862, by grants of the public lands, which gave special direction to scientific culture and industrial pursuits. Virginia, under this Act, would be entitled to 300,000 acres of public lands, as soon as the relations of the State to the Federal Government were restored. Governor Pierpont had specially recommended the Virginia Military Institute to be the recipient of this fund, but no action was taken on the subject during his administration. The subject was taken up in Governor Walker’s administration, and immediate steps were taken to bring the claims of the Institute to the consideration of the Legislature, as well by an elaborate discussion of the question in the annual report of the Superintendent, as in full arguments before the Committee by Colonel Preston and myself.
“The Committee reported a bill giving one-third of the fund to the University of Virginia, one-third to the Virginia Military Institute, and one-third to the Hampton School. After a protracted discussion of the question, it was finally disposed of by giving two-thirds to found a new College at Blacksburg, one-third being given to the Hampton School. Thus, the State threw away the opportunity of doing justice to an institution, which had borne the brunt of the contest during the war, which had for thirty years been laboring to promote the special interests designed to be encouraged by the Act of Congress, and which was in every respect ready to assume the trust imposed upon it by law, without the slightest change in its organization. It is difficult to comprehend how such strong claims upon the gratitude and support of the State could have been set aside, and a new institution established. The disappointment was great. But as the Virginia Military Institute had resumed its operations upon the principle of self-reliance, the spirit became more resolute to go forward in the work which seemed plainly before it.
“The time had now come when the suggestion made before the Committee of the Convention, of recalling Commodore Maury from Europe, and which had been effectively pressed upon the Legislature in the first contest for the land fund, should be acted upon. The State was fully awake to the importance of its material development, and Maury was regarded as the very man to take the lead in this movement. On the 2d of July, 1868, a Department of Physics was organized by the Board of Visitors, and Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury was elected to fill the chair.
“It is well known with what earnest spirit Commodore Maury undertook and prosecuted this new field of investigation. A devoted son of Virginia, it seemed to be his ambition to do something at the close of his honorable career, which would advance the interests of his beloved native State. The ‘Physical Survey of Virginia,’ Part I, was the result of two years’ earnest labor. Twenty thousand copies of this report, with accompanying maps, were printed and distributed at the expense of the Institute. They were read and approved everywhere. They were an important element in the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad to the Ohio River, and in directing the attention to the Virginia through routes, as the true lines of trade from the Mississippi basin to the Atlantic; and they were the basis upon which speeches in Congress were made, in support of schemes of transit from the West to the East. But, beyond this, the Institute had no recognition whatever, on the part of the State, of the value of the work. This report was followed by a supplemental report on the climate, soil and productions of Virginia, occupying the two last years of the life of the great hydrographer. But this important work, like the first report, was unnoticed, so that the Institute was allowed to bear the entire cost of these contributions to the great material interests of Virginia, aggregating $20,000.
“On the 4th of July, 1868, the Board of Visitors adopted the following order:
“ ‘The Board of Visitors, in view of the improved financial condition of the Virginia Military Institute, as exhibited by the report of the Treasurer thereof, deem it proper to make recognition of the obligation of the Institute to the professors of the Virginia Military Institute under the terms of the resolution of the Board of Visitors of April, 1866, to refund to said professors the amount advanced by them from their salaries, by the terms of the proposition recited in said resolution; it is therefore ordered, that the resolution of January, 1868, be so far modified as to require the certificates to be issued to said professors, recognizing the amounts due to them, respectively, as a subsisting obligation, to be discharged at the earliest period consistent with the rights of other creditors holding prior claims.’
“In July, 1869, the Superintendent was directed by the Board of Visitors to pay, semi-annually, the legal rate of interest on the bonds held by the professor for advances made from their salaries, and in July, 1870, the Board of Visitors ordered the restoration of their full salaries to all the professors.
“These successive orders of the Board of Visitors were made, although the debt incurred in the work of restoration had not been paid, the obligation of the Institute on prior claims was still subsisting, and new obligations which the growth of the school made necessary were demanding settlement. These orders show how desirous the Board of Visitors were to do full justice to the faculty; and to recognize the fact that by their resolution of April, 1866, and by their labors since, provision had been made by them, as the basis upon which effective steps could be taken, and were taken, by the Board of Visitors, and in this hope every member of the faculty united, that the prosperity, which the Institute enjoyed in 1870, would be fully maintained, and that the full pay to the professors might be made, and sufficient means remain from the surplus revenue of the Institute to pay the whole debt. The Income from tuition fees alone in 1870 was $33,000, and the surplus revenue for that year was $30,000.
“But in the fall [Sept.28–Oct.9] of 1870 the country was visited by one of the most disastrous floods ever known. The destruction of property was immense, estimated at several millions of dollars. It came, too, at an inopportune period. The country was beginning to show signs of an approaching monetary crisis, and this flood was the avant courier of a more serious and more relentless storm. The loss to the Institute in the way of increased cost in transportation, by reason of the destruction of the J. R. & K. Canal, was from $8,000 to $10,000 for the year 1870-71. Many patrons owing the Institute were unable to pay, while serious injury resulted to its general patronage.
“In the meantime, the Southern States were beginning to revive their institutions of learning; new institutions were founded, and the influence of these competing establishments, in time of financial pressure, was perceptible.
“Matters culminated in 1873, when the great financial crisis came, sweeping everything before it. The Institute had from $4,000 to $5,000 in bank checks to pay cadets’ expenses, which came back under protest. Although most of these were ultimately paid, much was lost, and large balances due by cadets were either lost or suspended.”
The Board of Visitors, in their annual report to the Governor, November 11, 1873, thus refer to the financial pressure which was threatening the Institute, resulting from the causes just stated:—
“Since the annual meeting of the Board, in June, a most extraordinary financial crisis has fallen upon the country, pervading every interest, and most seriously interrupting the prompt compliance of the most responsible persons with their obligations. The Board can not but apprehend that the regular deposits of parents for the dues of their sons will be necessarily delayed by these causes, and that the Superintendent, in consequence thereof, will be subjected to serious embarrassment in meeting the obligations of the Institute. In view of this crisis, the Board would earnestly recommend that provision be made, by law, authorizing the Auditor to pay the annuity in advance, if such should be deemed necessary by the Board.
“This day, the 11th of November, 1873, completes the thirty-fourth year of the life of the Virginia Military Institute.
This valuable State institution has borne, and is bearing, so important a part in the educational work of the State, and its whole system of training and culture, moral, intellectual and physical, is so admirably calculated to develop the faculties, and form the character of youth, that the Board of Visitors can not but feel a just pride in the results of its eventful career. It is believed that it is steadily and progressively attracting more and more of the attention of parents and guardians in this State, and in the states south and west of us, and becoming more and more important to them. We may, therefore, without disrespect or prejudice to other institutions of learning in the State, call attention to its distinctive character and workings, and to the prominent facts in its history and government, so that all may be satisfied, that notwithstanding the impoverishment of our people, their own best interests commend this institution to the State, as eminently worthy of its confidence, and of whatever aid may be needful to sustain it in its present career of usefulness, as being, next to the University of Virginia, one of the great elements of education in Virginia. In this connection, it is but just and proper to advert to prominent facts in its history, from feeble infancy to vigorous maturity, then, to its total destruction by the torch of a United States officer, and then to its rise from its ashes to nearly complete restoration in all its part, without the aid of one dollar from the Treasury of the State. Of the masterly ability of its administration nothing need be said here; but it ought to be known that not one foot of ground occupied by the Institute buildings and surroundings, and now the property of the State, has cost her anything, except the comparatively small slip upon which the old arsenal and barracks for the guard were erected fifty years ago; and, moreover, that in the thirty-four years of existence under the administration of as many Boards of Visitors, not one shadow of political or sectarian influence has ever darkened its halls.
“All of which is respectfully submitted.
[Signed] John Letcher,
President of the Board of Visitors,
Wm. H. Richardson, Adjutant-General,
F. W. M. Holliday,
John W. Lawson,
Richard V. Gaines,
Wm. A. Harris.”
The disastrous financial crisis referred to by the Board of Visitors did not terminate with the year 1873. Its devastating effects continued for years, not only involving loss of money from those who were unable to meet the obligations for their sons, but in a much more serious loss in patronage from the inability of parents to send their sons to college; a loss that we bore in common with the other institutions of the State, although not to the same extent, except the University of Virginia; but so seriously as to cause a diminution of our income from tuition fees of the pay cadets from $33,000 in 1870, to $7,000 in 1880-81; while the current liabilities for the support of the faculty remained the same for much of this period. The deposits of our Treasurer in bank, which had reached the large sum of $219,000 in 1869-70, were reduced to $110,000 in 1875-76, and to $60,000 in 1880-81.
The Board of Visitors did not fail to see and fully realize the crisis which the institution was passing. To supplement the deficiency in income, and the losses sustained, loans were authorized by them in bank, hypothecating the revenues of the school for payment; still, in the midst of all the trials of these trying years, the school has never suffered the dishonor of a protest. But to guard against every possible contingency, and to maintain, so far as was in our power, the credit of the institution, the Board of Visitors, on the 26th of January, 1876, passed the following order:—
“Ordered, that the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute be, and he is hereby, authorized to execute to the Bank of Lexington, Virginia, a lien on such personal effects of the Virginia Military Institute, as may be properly included in such Men, and may be requisite to cover all existing obligations of the Virginia Military Institute,, either as principal or endorser, to said bank, as well as such loans as may hereafter be made by said bank, to the Virginia Military Institute.”
In the meantime, the Board of Visitors presented to the General Assembly an earnest appeal for relief, and this appeal was in a measure responded to by a loan of $10,000 annually for six years, under the Act of March 17, 1876, netting the sum of $48,000 as a means of discharging, in part, the floating debt of the institution, and with this loan the lien to the Bank of Lexington was satisfied, and the deed released.
In July, 1876, the annual income of the school was short $10,000, so that it became necessary to consolidate some of the existing chairs and departments of administration, and to suspend 20 per cent on the salaries of the professors, which, with the reduction made in 1874, caused the professors’ salaries to be only two-thirds of former rates.
This review of the financial operations of the Institute, in the work of restoration, will exhibit some of the serious difficulties that attended this great work. That the work undertaken was a serious one all admitted. We had no money and no credit. The people of the whole southern country were prostrate, in heart and in fortune, after the disasters of a most devastating war of four years. Buildings of large dimensions had to be restored, every department of the Institute had to be resupplied, and, superadded to all these necessary charges, suspended ante-war claims of northern merchants and others, and outstanding liabilities for supplies during the war, much of which was on State account, but which the Institute had to pay, were pressing upon us. Political reconstruction lent its influence for many years to aggravate these difficulties; and then pestilence, famine and flood, followed by unexampled financial crises, in rapid succession, came to paralyze the agencies employed in carrying forward this great work.
The total expenditures for reconstruction, including ante-war and war debts, the bonds to professors on nominal pay, subsequently made actual, the cost of Maury’s “Physical Survey of Virginia,” and current interest (say $100,000), are reported, as of date April 1, 1882, at $396,431.38. The total amount received from gifts, proceeds from sale of the bonds of the Institute, from its sale of the bonds held by the Institute of the University of Virginia, and net cash from the loan of the State, under the Act of March 17, 1876 ($48,000), was $125,000, leaving the sum of $108,931.48 as the amount contributed by the school itself in aid of the work of restoration; a result which clearly shows that if the prosperity existing in 1870 had continued, the entire reconstruction could have been effected by the school itself, and every dollar of debt paid by the tuition income and that resulting from the several departments of administration.
The most critical years of the school were those of 1880 and 1881. By the State election in the fall of 1881, a revolution was made in the political status of the State, and a new party, the Readjuster Party, came into power, by the election of William E. Cameron, Esq., as Governor, with a large majority of Readjusters in both branches of the General Assembly. This new party was not unfriendly to the Institute. Its leader, Gen. William Mahone, was a V.M.I. graduate, and some of the leading men of the party, including Governor Cameron, were warm friends to it. But it was soon manifest that the Virginia Military Institute, in common with all the State institutions, was to be used in the interest of the party, and, accordingly, a bill was passed by the General Assembly, March 3, 1882, vacating the appointments held by the existing Board of Visitors, and authorizing the Governor to appoint a new Board, with full authority to reorganize the Virginia Military Institute. The friendly spirit of the Legislature towards the Institute was, however, shown by the insertion in the General Appropriation Bill of an item by which its annuity was increased from $15,000 to $30,000; the increase to the annuity having a retroactive effect, so as to embrace the year 1881-82 as well as the year 1882-83, and by this Act the new Board had the use of $30,000 as a special fund for the reduction of the floating debt of the institution.
The Board of Visitors appointed by the Governor, under the Act of March 3, 1882, met at the Institute in June, 1882, and proceeded to reorganize the institution as they were authorized to do by the Act. No changes were made in the faculty. The Superintendent and professors were reelected; the only change made, and that a most judicious one, consisting in the transfer of the financial administration of the school from the Superintendent to a Finance Committee of the Board. But radical changes were made in the administrative officers of the school, and in the regulations governing all the administrative departments. The chief of each department was made independent of the Superintendent. Purchases were made by the Commissary and Military Storekeeper, without any contracts from any quarter. The Treasurer drew his checks on the funds of the Institute in bank, without their being countersigned by any supervising authority. Confusion and conflict took the place of system and order, and the former system of administration, the result of forty-three years of experience, was overturned, and the Superintendent, although, by law, placed in “command” of the institution, and by regulation charged with its “immediate government,” and “held responsible for its correct management.’ was relegated to the position of Chairman of the Faculty.
The relations existing between this Board and the Superintendent were kind throughout. They came into office at a time of high political excitement, and it was clearly recognized that, in due time, the Institute would right itself.
This Board contained gentlemen well fitted for their duties, and, with the exceptions above cited, their work was well and wisely done. Differing as the Superintendent did from them as to the general policy introduced by them in the operation of the administrative departments, he made no effort to change this, except in such obvious particulars as were promptly recognized by the Board; and he felt satisfied, as the fervor of political excitement passed away, the Board would recognize the wisdom of the policy regulating these departments in former years, and by degrees restore it.
The increase in the annuity enabled the Board to pay much of the floating debt then pressing the school, and to adopt substantially a cash system, particularly in paying the salaries of professors and officers, an important change; for, by reason of the straitened condition of the school for some years past, this was impossible. Still, the burden of debt pressed heavily upon the energies of the institution, and the Superintendent applied to the Board to cooperate with him in an earnest appeal to the General Assembly for the necessary relief. A change had again taken place in the political character of the Legislature, which was now largely conservative or democratic in the session of 1883-84, and it was to this Legislature that the appeal for relief was to be made.
The Superintendent found the Board cordially seconding his suggestion and effort to secure relief from the Legislature. He prepared a carefully drawn memorial, in his own name as Superintendent, addressed to the General Assembly, and at the semi-annual meeting of the Board in Richmond, January, 1884, submitted it to them for their approval. They not only warmly approved it, but determined to adopt the memorial as that of the Board of Visitors. It was accordingly signed by them and presented to the General Assembly by Hon. William A. Anderson, one of the delegates from Rockbridge. This memorial stated the debt as follows:
1. Mortgage bonds, 6%, Act of 187§..........$62,500
Less retired by tuition, etc..............................2,500.00
Total 6% mortgage bonds..........................$60,000.00
2 Mortgage bonds, 8%, Act of 1874............20,800.00
Less retired by tuition, etc...............................800.00 20,000.00
Total amount of outstanding bonds $80,000.00
Past due interest on 6% bonds to January 1, 1884 15,000.00
Past due interest on 8% bonds to January 1, 1884 5,000.00 20,000.00
Total bonded debt to Jan. 1, 1884 $100,000.00
Due professors and officers on salaries, etc. ....$28,083.32
Due on mercantile Mils............................ 30,171.71
Due on hospital and grounds...................... 1,744.97 60,000.00
Total bonded and loafing debt...... $160,000.00
The application made for relief in the memorial embraced the following propositions:
1. That authority be given to the Board of Visitors to take in all the old bonds, both 6’s and 8’s, and substitute new bonds, bearing 5 per cent interest per annum.
2. To continue the annuity, as then existing, at $30,000.
3. The appropriation of $50,000 to pay the floating debt.
A bill was accordingly reported from the appropriate committee, substantially as recommended in the memorial of the Board. This bill was warmly sustained by our delegates, Hons. W. A. Anderson and M. W. Paxton. After some modification, as it passed through the two houses of the General Assembly, it became a law on the 15th of March, 1884, and under the beneficent provisions of this law the entire debt of the Virginia Military Institute was practically provided for.
The annuity was continued at $30,000, but it was charged, 1st, with $4,000 as a sinking fund, gradually to retire the bonded debt; 2d, with $4,000 to meet the annual interest on the new bonds.
The sum of $40,000 was appropriated, of which $30,000 was to meet the floating debt, and $10,000 to pay one-half of the past due coupons.
New bonds, bearing 5 per cent interest, were to be substituted for the old bonds.
As indicating, in some degree, the strain of body and mind upon the Superintendent, and the aspect in which he viewed matters at the time, he records some extracts from letters to his son Frank:
March 4, 1884. “I can not tell you how tired I am of this business. Days and nights hang heavily upon me. But my duty is to stick to my post, and see the end.”
March 5, 1884. “Now, don’t let any of our friends talk as if my being down here accomplished this result. [The bill had passed the House by a vote of fifty-seven to twenty-three.] My presence was necessary to aid and advise our delegates, and to bring agencies to bear upon certain persons, but the credit and the whole credit is due to Anderson and Paxton. They watched our interests, never compromised without consulting me, but their sagacity, bearing and vigilance did the work. My presence was indispensable, but give the credit to whom it belongs.”
The Board of Visitors were convened in Richmond on the 27th of March, 1884, to consider the provisions of the Act of March 15, 1884, and to pass the necessary orders to give effect to this law. They called upon the Superintendent to aid them in their responsible duty. Every order to give effect to the law was written by the Superintendent. He was charged with the duty of funding the bonded debt in the new 5’s, and, in doing this, secured a concession from the bondholders of a release of one-half of the past due coupons for which no provision had been made by the Act of March 15, 1884, and then he was charged with the duty of preparing the new bonds, having them signed and sealed, and then delivered into the hands of the Trustees chosen by them; so that in all these delicate and responsible duties the closest confidence existed between the Board and the Superintendent; and by the 1st of July, 1884, under the orders adopted by this Board, full effect had been given to all the provisions of the Act of March 15, 1884, and the financial condition of the school was A 1; its bonds were par, its floating debt substantially paid, and cash payments fully established in all departments.
The Act of March 3, 1882, reorganizing the Virginia Military Institute, fixed the term of office of the new Board (the Readjuster Board as it was called) at four years; and this did not expire until 1886. Although this Board had cordially and most effectively seconded the efforts made by the friends of the Institute to secure the passage of the relief Act of March 15, 1884, and had promptly and wisely acted in giving effect to this law, a summary law was passed November 18, 1884, without consultation with any of the authorities of the Institute, and from purely partisan purposes, vacating the offices of the Board of Visitors of 1882-84, and directing the appointment of a new Board, not by the Governor, as the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth, but by the Board of Public Works. So great an anomaly was appropriately noticed in the last annual message of Governor Cameron on going out of office; he called on the General Assembly to restore, at the earliest day, the rightful prerogative of the Chief Executive Officer of Virginia.