Cadets at the Execution of John Brown
Documents, November 1859 - January 1860

Civil War Resources Top Level 

 CadetsJohnBrowndetail03About these documents:  Abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) was captured and sentenced to die following his raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, [West] Virginia. Fearing the possibility of another uprising by Brown's supporters, the Governor of Virginia accepted the offer of VMI's Superintendent, Francis H. Smith, to send a part of the Corps of Cadets to provide an additional military presence at the execution, which was to take place at Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia). Smith consulted his faculty and selected upperclassmen to prepare for duty at Charles Town. Official VMI records do not include a list of the selected cadets. The only known list was published in the Petersburg, Virginia newspaper on December 8, 1859.

Smith, by directive of the governor, was placed in charge of the execution itself. Overall command of the cadet detachment was given to VMI faculty member William Gilham, who also commanded two cadet infantry companies consisting of 64 cadets. His colleague Major Thomas J. Jackson, was placed in command of the artillery--two howitzers manned by 21 cadets. (less than two years after the duty at Charles Town, Jackson would acquire the nickname "Stonewall" and would soon thereafter achieve fame as one of the Confederacy's ablest military leaders). The VMI cadets reached Charles Town on November 26th and were relieved from duty on December 6th. They returned to Lexington via Richmond, where they were greeted by the Governor and members of the Virginia Assembly.

 Related Collection: Francis H. Smith Armory Commission Letters