Amazing Trivia

In reading more of Tom Perry’s book that I posted about below, last night I came across an amazing bit of trivia regarding Virginia Tech, scene of the worst shooting rampage last week in our history.  Tom is an alum of the Hokie Nation.  What is today known as Virginia Tech (formally Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University) began as a public land grant in 1872.  The Virginia General Assembly purchased the facilities and land of a small Methodist school called the Olin and Preston Institute.  The state’s new school was instituted as a military school called the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.  For more on the school’s early history, see the Wikipedia page on VT, among other internet sources.

Which brings me to the trivia… who designed much of the original campus of what later became Virginia Tech?

William Willis Blackford – engineer on the staff of Jeb Stuart.

In fact, there’s one heck of a connection with former Confederates, especially those that served with Stuart either as staffers or within the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia during the war.  VT has a page on the “Stuart Connection” by alumnus Patrick W. Carlton, Ph.D. and retired Lt. Col AUS.  Here are some snippets from that page, which can be found here:

Confederates in the Collegium:
The Influence of J.E.B. Stuart’s Leadership on the Development of Virginia Tech

by Patrick W. Carlton, Ph.D. *
Colonel, AUS (Ret.)

The Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Virginia Tech, was created during the aftermath of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, a time of turmoil and dislocation among the populace of the state. Many young men, former Confederate soldiers, were at that time searching for meaningful life’s work in what must have been an atmosphere of dismay and sorrow over immediate past events. A number of these men migrated to Blacksburg in 1872 and the years immediately following, drawn by the opportunity for service with the newly created land grant college of Virginia.

Others became associated with VAMC as a result of their their political connections and service to the Commonwealth. A surprising number of these individuals had served at some time during the Civil War with the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, headed from 1862-1864 by MG James Ewell Brown Stuart. . It is argued in this paper that the association of these impressionable young men with the preeminent cavalry leader of the Confederacy may well have influenced their values and leadership styles in subsequent years. In addition to this discussion of the “Stuart influence,” a discussion of participation by other former Confederates in the early life of the college will be included.

MG Stuart’s connection with the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, (now Virginia Tech), is based upon the men who he trained and with whom he served during the Civil War. A number of former Stuart subordinates appear on the rosters of VAMC during several decades following its creation as one of Virginia’s two land-grant colleges. Some former Confederates served as administrators, some as faculty members, and some as members of the Board of Visitors.

The Stuart Connection – Former Confederates at Virginia Tech
MG J.E.B. Stuart’s
Cavalry Corps 1861 – 1865
MG Fitzhugh Lee
Cmdg Div Cavalry
ANVMG W. H. F. Lee
Cmdg Div Cavalry
ANVMG Lunsford L. Lomax
Cmdg Bde Cavalry

LTC W. W. Blackford
Co CDR, Engr. Officer
1st VA Cavalry & Stuart’s Staff

Cpt Thomas N. Conrad
Chaplain & Scout
3rd VA Cavalry

Cpt Charles L. C. Minor II
Vol Aide, 2nd VA Cavalry
Later Cpt of Ordnance

Pvt John M. McBryde
1st SC Vol Inf.
1st SC Cavalry

VAMC StaffCpt Charles L. C. Minor II
President – 1872 – 1879Cpt Thomas N. Conrad
President – 1881 – 1886MG Lunsford L. Lomax
President – 1886 – 1891

LTC W. W. Blackford
Professor -1880 – 1882

Pvt John M. McBryde
President – 1891 – 1907

Board of Visitors

MG W.H.F. Lee
1873 – 1878; 1886 – 1888

MG Fitzhugh Lee
1878 – 1881

Mr. W. Alexander Stuart
(Brother) 1872 – 1874

Other Prominent Confederates
BG James H. Lane
Commandant of Cadets, 1872 – 1880Dr. (Surgeon) Harvey Black
Rector, BOV, 1872 – 1873BG Joseph R. Anderson
BOV, 1872 –

At a more subordinate level, one encounters LTC William W. Blackford, who served as company commander, assistant adjutant and engineering officer with Stuart and, later, as second-in-command of the 1st Regt., Engineer Troops, ANV. Also associated with Stuart’s command were a lay Methodist preacher, CPT Thomas Nelson Conrad, who performed duty with the 3rd Va. Cavalry, in Fitz Lee’s Division; and CPT Charles L.C. Minor II, a volunteer aide with the 2nd Va. Cavalry and, later, chief ordnance officer of the Dept. of S.C., GA, and FL reporting to MG Samuel Jones. Representing the Confederate enlisted force is Private John M. McBryde, who served, initially, in the 1st South Carolina Infantry and, subsequently, with the 1st South Carolina Cavalry, a unit associated with Stuart’s Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. All these men would appear at VAMC following its creation in 1872.

Following the war Blackford returned to Abingdon, where tragedy struck in the year 1866, with the death of Mary Robertson Blackford. She was laid to rest in the Robertson family plot, joining three of her small children, all of whom had preceded their mother in death. Four other children survived. Blackford , who was then employed as chief engineer with the Lynchburg & Danville Railroad, subsequently spent time in Louisiana as operator of a sugar plantation given to him and his children by his father-in-law, Wyndham Robertson. In 1880, following weather-induced destruction of these holdings, he assumed the position of Professor of Mechanics and Drawing, plus duties as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, “with general charge of the shops,” at VAMC. (6) Blackford soon undertook the development of a plan for beautification of the campus through the planting of numerous trees and other attractive plants. The BOV directed him to prepare and execute a long-range plan, which he accomplished to the satisfaction of all concerned. Despite the lack of funds to support these efforts, significant improvements were gradually accomplished.

Blackford is credited with developing the vision that resulted in the beautiful campus surroundings VT now enjoys. His legacy lives and his influence is felt to this day!

The writer and reader now return to a claim made at the outset of the paper; to wit, that service with MG J.E.B. Stuart, CSA, positively influenced the development of half a dozen ambitious and intelligent young men, whose later service to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was both useful and noteworthy. Of course, the question of “nature versus nurture” figures in the leadership equation . All were scions of fine and accomplished families, with “good blood in their veins.” They were energetic and hungry for success, having just endured agonies of war which most contemporary Americans , happily, have been spared. Clearly, these men were success oriented and deadly serious about their work. These qualities they brought to the professional table. Yet, most young men, it can be argued, tend to develop their leadership patterns through observation of role models during early years. Most of these men had close and favorable contact with. MG Stuart and, one may surmise, later emulated at least some of the general’s leadership and managerial practices. While “Beauty” Stuart built no reputation as a scholar during student days at West Point, he was clearly a charismatic leader-the kind of man that others would follow into “the cannon’s mouth”, and whom they would support in deadly earnest, even at the risk of their lives. The “work ethic” and high order personal qualities that JEB Stuart modeled for his subordinates came , I believe, to be part of their daily behavioral patterns, serving them well during their subsequent service at Virginia Tech. For this contribution it is argued that present day “Hokies” can justify giving a nod of thanks to the “beau sabreur” of the Confederacy, Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart.

Please take a look at the entire webpage, and you’ll be surprised, as I was, of the connection with so many ex-Confederates that VT has.

Published in: on April 24, 2007 at 10:33 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi JD – great stuff about Blackford and Virginia Tech. As a soon-to-be Hokie Dad, I’m more sensitive than ever to VT history, myself. But … I’d only be surprised to see all these former Confederate officers if we were talking about a college in Michigan or Minnesota or New York. VT is in Virginia, after all … 🙂

  2. LOL, indeed, Brian – but even so, it’s quite a story that so many of Stuart’s comrades were involved in the early school there. It’s definitely something I’d love to learn more about, and sometime I need to contact VT to see how extensive their early records may be.


  3. J.D.

    Thanks for the information. I’m an alumni of VT with a passion for learning about the Civil War. Make a trip down to Blacksburg; I’m sure that you won’t regret it.

    Keep up the great blogging!

  4. Thanks, David – I plan to! Eric Wittenberg and I were just talking recently about the idea of doing an article on VT’s connection with these Civil War figures – more on that to come.


  5. Poor Brian… like Kevin Levin, he is unable to give credit to any Confederate southern citizen where it is due. I really enjoyed this info as it shows that the participants and leaders of the Confederacy were often active members of their society and great contributors to the public. Thanks JD!

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