V.M.I. Cadets 1864

On May 15th 1863 the great Stonewall Jackson was laid to rest in Lexington, Virginia which is the home of the Virginia Military Institute and where Jackson once was a teacher.

On May 9th 1864, the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute had just bedded down after a long day of war games and drill, when they were rudely awakened by the clatter of horse's hooves on the parade ground. It proved to be a courier and by early morning of the next day, every cadet knew that what they had hoped for, for so long, was finally going to happen. General John C Breckenridge needed help in repelling an 8000 man Union army that was even now advancing down the Shenandoah Valley, and their Commandant had promised the General that the cadets would be sent immediately. He told Breckenridge that they would be in Staunton by May 12th. Staunton was a good 38 miles from V.M.I. so at 7am on May 11th, 264 cadets, their officers and artillery crews with two field pieces marched out of Lexington leaving a skeleton garrison of 27 disappointed cadets behind. Marching quickly to Staunton, the cadets joined with other forces being assembled, and continued onward to the usually sleepy town of Newmarket on the valley turnpike. Here, the cadets would meet their destiny and fight their one and only battle. The battle proved to be sharp and fierce, but the cadets were brave in the face of the enemy and even captured one of his cannon in a valiant charge. Ten of the cadets were killed in action during the battle. Their bravery, however, did not go unnoticed by General Breckenridge and though he had hated to send them into action, for the rest of his life he would remember them as "my cadets". As for the cadets, the battle of Newmarket became part of the history of Virginia Military Institute. Each year, to this day, on the anniversary of the battle, ten names are added to the roll and ten cadets are chosen for the special duty of adopting the names of the fallen at Newmarket.

As the names of Atwill, Cabell, Crocket, Hartsfield, Haynes, Jefferson, Jones, McDowell, Stanard and Wheelwright are called, the chosen cadets echo the roll call of 1864.

They each step forward two paces, salute smartly and report with unabashed pride that this cadet "died on the field of honour."


Factoid by Pursell

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, August 1998