The Institute will be heard from…

The Virginia Military Institute

Recently I went back to VMI. It has been a while since I was there last, especially to look around. Everything’s different, and yet nothing has changed, if you know what I mean. There’s a new barracks (Cell Block C – cadet humor is one of those unchanging items) where the PX and student center used to be, but overall, the place seemed frozen in time.

When I was last in Preston Library the stacks were dark, metal enclosed spaces. Now the floors are open, airy, light and carpeted. The library was completely redone in the late 1990s. I was there to do some research on the battle of New Market. VMI has a premiere collection of source material on the subject, as you might imagine, and housed in a proper archives, to boot. A change for the better, I think.

VMI’s Civil War Past is traditionally associated with Virginia, and Lee’s Army. 13 of the 15 colonels in Pickett’s Division on July 3, 1863, were Institute Grads, or so goes the legend – I confess I haven’t looked it up. 21 Alumni or faculty – including the most famous, Stonewall Jackson – became Confederate Generals.

But there is a Chickamauga connection. I know of three, in fact.

Alfred J. Vaughan Jr.

The first is Colonel Alfred J. Vaughan, Jr. Vaughan graduated in 1851, standing 15th out of a class of 29; he was a well traveled civil engineer before the war. Having settled in Mississippi, he rapidly recruited a company for the war, but not finding a place in a Mississippi Regiment, he took his nascent command into Tennessee, where they filled out the ranks of the 13th Tennessee Infantry. Vaughan was soon elected Lt. Col., and then promoted to full Colonel that winter. He was wounded at Shiloh, fought at Perryville and Stones River, and led his command into the fight at Chickamauga. On the night of the 19th, Preston Smith’s Brigade (to which the 13th Tennessee belonged) supported Cleburne’s division in a night attack and stumbled into the 77th Pennsylvania. Smith was killed in the ensuing confusion. Vaughan assumed command, eventually rising to Brigadier.

Lieutenant Colonel Abraham Fulkerson commanded the 63rd Tennessee. He was in the VMI class of 1857, graduating 12th out of 23; and had also been wounded at Shiloh while serving with the 19th Tennessee. He subsequently helped raised the 63rd and was elected Lt. Col.; effectively running the regiment due to the ill health of the actual Colonel, Richard G. Fain. Fulkerson saw no action on the 19th, but was given the grim task of assaulting the Snodgrass Hill portion of Horseshoe Ridge late on the 20th. His regiment was cut to pieces by the controlled fire of Harker’s Brigade, supported by Hazen and Frank Smith’s Battery I, 4th US Artillery. The Tennesseans lost 48% of those engaged, including Fulkerson, badly wounded in the left arm.

William Y. C. Humes

the last connection comes with William Young Conn Humes, also class of 51. He was a distinguished graduate, standing 2nd, and was a lawyer in Memphis before the war. His light would not shine until later in the war; at the time of Chickamauga he was serving as chief of artillery to Major General Joe Wheeler, though in November he was given a brigade, and eventually rose to Major General.

I suspect there are some more VMI men in the ranks, serving on staffs and the like, but I have not come across them yet. Perhaps in time…

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13 Responses to “The Institute will be heard from…”

  1. Mike Peters Says:

    Dave,

    Are you contemplating a book or article on the action of 15 May 1864?

    Mike Peters

    • davidpowell334 Says:

      Mike,

      I am contemplating a book. Depends on how much source material I can round up. Everyone focuses on the cadets, so I thought I would see what other material is out there. Savas has a new book on New Market coming out, as well – I don’t know anything about it yet – but I will look for it with interest.

      I first did living history at New Market, with the VMI CWRT, so I have a soft spot for the place. It was a chance to get out of the ratline and go live “normally” for a while.

  2. Michael C. Hardy Says:

    David – I think you can add Lt. Col. Edmund Kirby, 58th NCT, to that list. Kirby graduated from VMI in 1861. He was killed on September 20, 1863, and is buried in Richmond, Virginia.

    Regards,
    Michael C. Hardy
    http://www.michaelchardy.com

    • davidpowell334 Says:

      Excellent. I knew there were more. Checking my alumni register, Kirby was class of 62, graduated in December 1861 (7 months early) and an honor grad. Kirby was killed on September 20th, 1863.

  3. cpwehner Says:

    Consider adding your blog to our Top 100:
    http://civilwar.soldierstudies.org/top100/

  4. lawrenceburg tennessee Says:

    Hi, I thought i’d drop you a line and let you know your website layout is really screwed up on the Firefox browser. Seems to work ok in IE though. Anyways keep up the good work.

  5. Attili Sattibabu Says:

    Good post mate!! Keep ’em flowing!

  6. davidpowell334 Says:

    I have been told that the site is goofy on firefox, but I don’t know why. I need to contact the wordpress folks and figure out what to do. I am not much of a technical guy for all this stuff, so that may take a while.

    Dave

  7. John McConnell Says:

    Dave,

    I don’t think we ever met, as I was a Rat during your First Class year, but I too was in the VMI CWRT during my cadetship. Late last year I communicated with the New Market Museum director about alumni involvement at the 150th reenactment in 2014, and some ideas me and a few other guys I knew in the CWRT were knocking around.

    The idea is to get a group of VMI CWRT alumni from the 80s and 90s to portray the a company of the Augusta/Rockingham County Militia. They were detailed as wagon guards, were variously armed and clothed, and were generally either 45-50 years old, or under 16. Some of us might be a little outside that age group when 2014 rolls around, but close enough.

    I see in the Register of Former Cadets (2005 version) that you live in Illinois, but perhaps if you are interested you might be willing to make the long haul? And if you happen to know any other alumni who were in the CWRT, maybe you can pass this information along.

    Thanks!

    • Dave Powell Says:

      Hi John,

      I recall the VMI CWRT with fondness. However, I don’t do re-enacting any more, Haven’t since the 1980s, and I am unlikely to start now – I’d have to get a whole new wardrobe:)

      I will pass the word along to several of the RT members I knew.

      Dave

  8. Paul Decker Says:

    I have a framed print by Don Prechtel , entitled The Institute will be heard from today , In the bottom corner it says V.m.i class of 57 30th reunion. May 1987 . If anyone is interested in this picture please be free to contact me

    • Jeff Hamilton Says:

      Paul, do you still have the picture? If so, can you somehow take a picture of it? My email address is baytreelane@gmail.com. I had the same signed print but have misplaced it over the years and am looking for another one. Please let me know, also my cell is 770.310.6887.

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