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.
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.
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…