Greetings and salutations to all in the VMI family!
At the alumni gathering in the building where I work, just the other day we were remarking at how, when many of us where cadets, the Institute was approaching its sesquicentennial and now here we are closer to its bicentennial. Time marches on!
We, at the building where I work (a good 200 alumni work there, too), have also gotten into a good habit– dare I call it a “tradition”?– of reading off the names of the cadets in the class of 1842 who matriculated on 11 Nov 1839, as well as some interesting facts about them.
- There were 75 applicants for the class of 1842; 25 matriculated, 16 graduated.
- We think of John Bowie Strange as the first cadet by virtue of being the first cadet sentinel, but two others might also lay claim to being the first cadet.
- Those first 25 cadets were–
- Joseph Wayt Bell, Augusta County (graduate, CSA veteran)
- Charles Everett Carter, Albemarle County (one of two members of the Class to serve in the Mexican War)
- David Chilton, Kanawha County (now West Va)
- Thomas Johnstone Blakely Cramer, Winchester (graduate)
- Charles Peter Deyerle, Salem (graduate; one of two members of the Class to serve in the Mexican War)
- Wyatt Moseley Elliott, Buckingham County (graduate, CSA veteran; co-founded the Alumni Association)
- William Darrell Fair, Amherst (graduate; co-founded the Alumni Association)
- William Archibald Forbes, Richmond (graduate, CSA veteran; recorded as the first cadet to be appointed, i.e. accepted for admission)
- Louis Anacharsis Garnett, Essex (graduate)
- William H. Henderson, Leesburg (graduate)
- James Henry Jameson, Culpeper (graduate, CSA veteran)
- John Williams Jones, Shenandoah (CSA veteran)
- Oscar Mansfield Knight, Nottoway County (graduate, CSA veteran; died in 1918, the oldest surviving member of the Class of 1842)
- James H. Lawrence, Guerney’s Depot (graduate, CSA veteran)
- John S. Lee Logan, Lexington (recorded as the first cadet to matriculate)
- James Marshall, Warren County (graduate, CSA veteran)
- Edmund Pendleton, Buchanan (graduate, CSA veteran)
- Valentine Cook Saunders, Loudoun County (graduate)
- Benjamin Sharp, Lee County (graduate; only member of the Class of 1842 recorded to have served with Union forces in the War of Northern Aggression, having been elected colonel of the Missouri Volunteers; fortunately, he was killed by Confederate Bushwhackers in July 1861 before he could take command, thereby precluding further vile treachery on his part)
- Hamilton Leroy Shields, Norfolk (apparently found VMI too difficult and dropped out to attend another military school along the Hudson River in New York)
- John Triplett Smith, Norfolk (graduate, CSA veteran)
- John Bowie Strange, Scottsville (graduate, CSA veteran; recorded as the first cadet to march post as a sentinel)
- Henry Blade Sumpter, Campbell County
- John Sterling Swann, Powhatan County (CSA veteran)
- Philip James Winn, Fluvanna County
I often wonder if the cadets of the first few decades of the Institute’s life were as familiar and conversant with those names as we are with the ten New Market cadets. And the lifetimes of some of them and the members of the New Market Corps certainly overlapped. In the cemetery at Leesburg, Virginia, are buried both Mr Saunders of the class of 1842 and Mr Henry Johns Mead of the class of 1867, who fought in the Corps at New Market. They lived in town at the same time, and Leesburg of the late 1800s was not a large place. Undoubtedly they knew each other. If we could go back in time and sit down with both of them, think of all the things we could learn.
And speaking of the good Mr Saunders, his letter home, dated 30 Nov 1839, is the oldest surviving letter from a cadet to his parents. It’s fascinating.
Happy Founders Day.
For the foregoing list and for many other fascinating facts about the founding of the Institute, we are indebted to Jennings C. Wise, Class of 1902, from his remarkable book, Sunrise of the Virginia Military Institute as a School of Arms, which was published in 1958. It sold for $5 but was kindly offered at a “special price to cadets at the Post Exchange…”