The term Superintendent is synonymous with the title of college or university President
Major General Francis Henney Smith (b. 1812 d. 1890) was appointed VMI's first Superintendent in 1839. An 1833 graduate of West Point, he had previously served briefly in the U. S. Army and was a Professor of Mathematics at Hampden-Sydney College (VA) when he accepted the position as head of the newly established Virginia Military Institute. He served for fifty years, from the Institute's infancy, through the Civil War, and through the difficult post-war period. He is known as the "builder and rebuilder of VMI." Smith retired on January 1, 1890 and died only a few months later, on March 21, 1890.
Brigadier General Scott Shipp (b. 1839 d. 1917) graduated from VMI in 1859 and was the first VMI alumnus to serve as Superintendent. He served on the VMI faculty from 1859-1889, at various times teaching Mathematics, Latin, and Tactics. He also served as the Commandant of Cadets from 1862-1889 and was in command of the Corps at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. He took office as the Institute's second Superintendent on January 1, 1890 and retired on June 30, 1907. He died at age 78 on December 4, 1917.
Lieutenant General Edward West Nichols (b. 1858 d. 1927) graduated from VMI in 1878 and was subsequently a Professor of Mathematics at the Institute. He served as Acting Superintendent from July 1, 1907 to June 30, 1908; on July 1, 1908 he was named VMI's third Superintendent, holding that position until September 30, 1924. From 1918-1919 was an officer in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and was the commander of the Student Army Training Corps at VMI. Following his retirement as Superintendent he continued to lecture in Pure and Applied Mathematics. He died on July 1, 1927 as a result of a blasting accident on the VMI Post.
Brigadier General William Horner Cocke (b. 1874 d. 1938) graduated from VMI in 1894, having received the Institute's highest academic award, the Jackson-Hope Medal, First Honor. After graduation he taught at Kemper Military Academy (Missouri), earned a law degree from Washington University and practiced law in St. Louis from 1899-1907. Cocke served as a U. S. Army officer in both the Spanish-American War and World War I. He was the founder and president of Southern Acid & Sulphur Company (St. Louis). He was named VMI's fourth Superintendent on October 1, 1924 and served until ill health forced his retirement on June 30, 1929. The construction of VMI's gymnasium, Cocke Hall, was made possible by Gen. Cocke's significant donation towards the cost of construction. He died on June 9, 1938.
Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune (b. 1867 d. 1942) graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1888, went to sea as a Naval Cadet from 1888-1890, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1890. During his distinguished military career, he saw combat duty in both the Spanish-American War and the First World War. Lejeune was promoted to Brigadier General in 1916 and to Major General in 1918, and served as Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1920-1929. He served as VMI's fifth Superintendent from July 1, 1929 to September 30, 1937. He was promoted to Lt. General effective Feb. 1942. He died on November 20, 1942.
Major General Charles Evans Kilbourne (b. 1872 d. 1963), an 1894 VMI graduate, had a distinguished career in the U. S. Army before returning to his alma mater to serve as the sixth Superintendent. He entered the volunteer Signal Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, and received the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action in the Philippines in 1899. He received his regular Army commission in 1899 and served in China during the Boxer Rebellion. During World War I he was Chief of Staff of the 89th Division and was wounded in action in France. General Kilbourne served multiple tours of duty in the Philippines and was instrumental in the development of the military installations on the island of Corregidor, including the initiation of the tunnel system used during World War II by General MacArthur's troop. He also served in the War Plans Division in Washington DC from 1932-1938.
Kilbourne was promoted to Brigadier General in 1928. He received his promotion to Major General in 1935 and retired from active duty the following year. He was the first person in American history to hold simultaneously the nation's three highest military awards: The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal. Kilbourne became Superintendent of VMI on October 1, 1937 and guided the Institute through the challenging years of World War II. He retired on June 20, 1946 and was named Superintendent Emeritus. He died on November 12, 1963 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lieutenant General Richard Jaquelin Marshall (b. 1895 d. 1973) graduated from VMI in 1915 and accepted a commission in the U. S. Army the following year. He graduated from the Command and General Staff School in 1934, the Army Industrial College in 1935, and the Army War College in 1936. He was promoted to Major General in 1942. Marshall served as Deputy Chief of Staff to General Douglas MacArthur during World War II and became his Chief of Staff in December 1945. He served as VMI's seventh Superintendent from June 11, 1946 until June 30, 1952, and died on August 3, 1973.
Major General William M. Stokes, Jr., VMI Class of 1921, served for four months (April - July 1952) as Acting Superintendent following the sudden illness of General Marshall. Stokes served with distinction in World War II and subsequently in the U. S. Army Reserves. He was president of the VMI Alumni Association from 1949-1951 and a member of the VMI Board of Visitors from 1951-1961. A resident of Lynchburg, Virginia, he was a businessman there when he was asked to serve as Acting Superintendent. He died on May 5, 1980.
Major General William Hammond Milton, Jr. (b. 1900 d. 1984), graduated from VMI in 1920 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He spent the majority of his career with the General Electric Company, in which he held a number of senior management positions before his retirement in 1952. Milton was the first VMI Superintendent to come to the job from an exclusively non-military background. Upon his appointment as Superintendent in August 1952 he was appointed a Major General in the Virginia Militia (Unorganized). He served until June 30, 1960 and died on June 12, 1984 at the age of 84.
Lieutenant General George Richard Edwin Shell (b. 1908 d. 1996) graduated from VMI in 1931 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. His distinguished career as a U. S. Marine Corps officer began with his commissioning in 1931. During World War II he commanded an artillery battalion in the Pacific Theater and was awarded the Purple Heart and Legion of Merit with combat "V." He subsequently served in many capacities throughout his 29 years of active duty-- on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; at the Pentagon; SHAPE; NATO; as commanding General, Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island; and in many other assignments. He became VMI's ninth Superintendent on July 1, 1960, serving until June 30, 1971. General Shell died on October 30, 1996.
Major General (U. S. Army, RET) Richard Logan Irby (b. 1918 d. 2002) graduated from VMI in 1939 and immediately accepted a commission in the U. S. Army. His military career encompassed more than 30 years of active duty and three wars--- including service in China and Burma during World War II; Battalion Commander with the 1st Cavalry Division during the Korean War; and Assistant Division Commander and Division Commander with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during the Vietnam War. In 1969 he became Commander of the U. S. Army Training Center, Infantry, at Fort Polk, LA and in 1970 he was named Commanding General at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Irby became VMI's tenth Superintendent on July 1, 1971 and retired on June 30, 1981. He died on March 6, 2002.
General Sam Sims Walker (b. 1925 d. 2015) matriculated at VMI in 1941 with the Class of 1945. In 1943 he transferred to West Point, from which he graduated in 1946. He served in the U. S. Army from 1946 until his retirement as a four-star general in 1978. Among the many assignments during his distinguished military career were Commanding General, 3rd Infantry Division, USA in Europe; U. S. Commander, Berlin; Deputy Commanding General, U. S. Army Forces Command; and Commander, Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe. He graduated from the Command and General Staff College in 1957 and from the National War College in 1964, and earned a Master's degree from George Washington University. General Walker became VMI's eleventh Superintendent on July 1, 1981 and retired on December 31, 1988.
Major General John Williams Knapp was named VMI's twelfth Superintendent on June 15, 1989 and served until July 31, 1995. He was the first Superintendent to be chosen from the Institute's faculty since 1907. Knapp holds a degree in Civil Engineering from VMI and received the PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1965. At VMI, he rose through the faculty ranks to become head of the CE Department and in 1984 was named Dean of the Faculty. He served in that capacity until his appointment as Superintendent in 1989. Upon being named Superintendent, General Knapp retired from the U. S. Army Reserve after completing nearly 35 years of distinguished service. During that time he served over eight years as a Troop Commander or Deputy Commander at every grade, Lieutenant Colonel through Major General. Now Superintendent Emeritus, he lives in Lexington, Virginia.
Lieutenant General Josiah Bunting III became VMI's thirteenth Superintendent on August 1, 1995. He graduated from VMI in 1963, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He was First Captain and Regimental Commander of the Corps of Cadets. A Rhodes Scholar, Bunting studied from 1963-1966 at Christ Church, Oxford University, where he earned a BA and MA with honors in Modern History. He served on active duty in the U. S. Army from 1966-1973, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. He subsequently served as President of Briarcliff College, Hampden-Sydney College, and as Headmaster at the Lawrenceville School. Bunting is a critically acclaimed author whose most recent book is a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. General Bunting retired as Superintendent at the end of 2002.
General J. H. Binford Peay III, VMI Class of 1962, became the Institute's fourteenth Superintendent on July 1, 2003. Through Vision 2039, he ushered in a period of enthusiasm, growth, and change throughout all aspects of VMI. Never losing sight of VMI's primary "academic focus," which he emphasized as "first among equals," Vision 2039 sets forth a plan that will guide the Institute for decades to come, as it moves toward its 200th anniversary.
Oral History Interviews from VMI Archives
Retired Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, VMI Class of 1985, became the Institute's fifteenth Superintendent on April 15, 2021. He had served as interim superintendent since November 2020, with a priority of focusing on the cadet experience and navigating the Institute through the COVID-19 pandemic. During his time as a cadet at VMI, Wins was a standout basketball player who finished his basketball career as one of the top five scorers in school history. He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Command and General Staff College, and the National War College and holds two master's degrees. Maj. Gen. Wins '85 was the first Commanding General of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC).