Celebrating Our Beginnings
OBSERVING OUR PAST
In the coming calendar year, 2014, we celebrate two
anniversaries that are central to our identity as the
Virginia Military Institute – the 150th anniversary of
the service of the Corps of Cadets in the Battle of New
Market on May 15 and the 175th anniversary of the
founding of VMI on Nov. 11.
On Nov. 11, 1839, a state arsenal in Lexington, Va. – a
place that would be unrecognizable to us today – became
the Virginia Military Institute.
By 1864, the year the entire Corps of Cadets played
a decisive role in the Battle of New Market – and 10
died as a result of that battle – the VMI post had begun
to look something like it does today, with a barracks
building in place that would look much the same when
rebuilt following the burning of the post by Gen. David
Hunter’s troops a month later. We would recognize that
building as Old Barracks.
There is much else that we would recognize, including
an abiding belief in founding superintendent Francis H.
Smith’s ideal of the citizen-soldier. Leading up to the
Civil War, it was not terribly common for VMI graduates
to go into the military; there was, in fact, no way to
commission directly from VMI.
The VMI military education was known to be an
excellent preparation for service in the civilian sector.
Yet it has always been understood that when the nation
requires military service, VMI alumni, and cadets as well,
answer that call unhesitatingly. This they did during the
Civil War, when they found themselves pitted one against
another as nearly all able-bodied alumni, and all cadets,
served in either the Confederate or the Union army.
It is the service of the Corps of Cadets, and especially
the sacrifice of the 10 who died after the Battle of New
Market, that we will honor during the New Market
Parade and Ceremony May 15, 2014. On this 150th
anniversary, the ceremony will include presentation of
the New Market Medal, recognizing an individual who
has demonstrated the qualities of devotion, honor, duty,
That ideal of service, on or off the battlefield, persisted
following the Civil War, as many cadets and alumni
selected work in the civilian sector. In the 20th century,
wars on foreign soil called many back into military
service and the ROTC program, established in 1916,
made it possible to commission directly from VMI.
Military service following graduation then became more
common. In fact, for a period of more than 20 years
ending in 1990, commissioning was required. In recent
years, about half of each graduating class elected to
serve in the military.
At our Founders Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 2014, we
will honor the enduring relevance of the citizen-soldier
ideal upon which the Institute was founded. We will also
honor, with the presentation of the VMI Foundation’s
Distinguished Service Award, an individual whose
dedication to and support of the Institute, and its
mission, are exceptional.
Other commemorations of the anniversaries will be
announced as the year progresses.
New Market: 150 years
Founders Day: 175 years