W&L's Confederate History
By Hayden Daniel ‘19
In the ever-rising and ebbing tide of history and the events that comprise it, some names and deeds are lost. Others are simply eclipsed by brighter, larger-than-life characters. Very few can name all of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, the document that for all time enshrined the values upon which this nation would be governed, yet each individual signatory contributed profoundly to the foundation of this country. William Whipple, Elbridge Gerry, and Button Gwinnett signed the same document signed by such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Hancock, but the names of the former have been relegated to obscure references in scholarly works or a single mention in a museum while the latter have become household names lauded each Fourth of July. Men like Whipple, Gerry, and Gwinnett are often omitted in traditional educations on American history due to the relatively small overall impact that they had on American history. None will argue that Button Gwinnett had a greater impact on the United States than Thomas Jefferson, so it is logical that Thomas Jefferson should receive the lion’s share of credit in the classroom and in the public sphere. However, The Commission on Institutional History and Diversity has recommended that we at Washington and Lee University embrace a more complete picture of our history rather than focus upon the achievements of a single man, namely Robert E. Lee. The Commission undoubtedly implies in its recommendations that W&L move away from its connections to the Confederate States of America, as embodied by the person of Robert E. Lee, and move toward showcasing the history of African Americans, women, and other traditionally underrepresented groups at W&L.
I agree that we should embrace a more complete view of our history at W&L and in the Lexington community, but a truly complete view of our history that still focuses on the most consequential individuals to the history of this campus and the town that it calls home. A truly complete history based on those parameters would not yield a result that the Commission would be particularly satisfied with, because Lexington is overflowing with men who were both integral members of the local community and connected to the Confederate military. Seven Confederate generals and a myriad of other officers called Lexington home both before and after the war, and many of them had a profound impact on W&L. If we are to present a complete and accurate account of W&L and Lexington’s history and the people that shaped it, then we must have MORE Confederate history, not less.
Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson dominate the landscape of Confederate history at W&L and in Lexington because they arguably had the greatest impact on the community. Robert E. Lee entered the presidency of Washington College to find a school that had been ravaged by the Civil War physically, financially, and spiritually. By the time of his death in 1870, he had stabilized the school’s student body and financial situation. He added several new majors and schools, including the School of Journalism, and commissioned the building that would serve as a meeting place for the entire student body. That building would become Lee Chapel, the final resting place of Lee and his family as well as the place where the Honor System is enshrined and perpetuated. Without Lee, Washington College may have been forced to close due to the hardships caused by the lingering wounds of the Civil War, and generations of students would have been deprived of a unique and lasting education. Yet, the Commission wishes to marginalize Lee as much as possible.
While he by no means left a greater an impact on W&L than Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson still holds a prominent position in the history of W&L and Lexington. Jackson instructed cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in the principles of artillery, and he became widely known as an eccentric man of great religious conviction in Lexington. He married the daughter of George Junkin, the president of Washington College at the time, and lived in what is now called the Lee-Jackson House. His house in Lexington is a popular tourist attraction for Civil War enthusiasts. He is buried in the cemetery that bears his name, Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. Lee and Jackson continue to be highly influential at W&L and VMI, and they remain the most revered Confederate generals of the Civil War, so they are rightfully singled out as the most important figures in Lexington’s Confederate past. However, Lexington was home and host to several other Confederate officers who made a profound impact on the Lexington community and American history.
Last year, I produced an article highlighting one such general as one of these “Lost Generals” of W&L. The subject of said article was Daniel Harvey Hill, who served as a professor of mathematics at Washington College before the Civil War and wrote a widely-utilized algebra textbook while a professor here. While at Washington College, he became good friends with Stonewall Jackson, and Hill became Jackson’s brother-in-law after he married the sister of Jackson’s second wife. He later served with distinction as a division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg and as a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga. After the war, Hill became the editor of the influential Southern magazine The Land We Love. Though he was a mathematics professor at Washington College from 1849 to 1854, his contributions to the W&L community and his significance in the history of the Civil War warrants representation on W&L’s campus.
Brigadier General James L. Kemper graduated from Washington College in 1842. At the graduation ceremony, he gave the commencement address calling for “The Need of a Public School System in Virginia.” After graduation, he served as a lawyer, a soldier in the Mexican-American War, and as a delegate for Madison County, Virginia in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1853 to January 1863. He also served as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1861 to January 1863, coinciding with his service in the Confederate Army. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he served with distinction at the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Antietam before his brigade was reassigned to George Pickett’s division. This reassignment led to his brigade representing one of the main assault units in Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most debated and romanticized moments in American history. Kemper led his men on horseback, presenting himself as an easy target for the entrenched Union infantry. He was wounded and captured by Union troops. However, men from his own brigade rallied to rescue their fallen commander and managed to carry him off the battlefield. The severity of the wounds he suffered at Gettysburg precluded his return to frontline duty, and he commanded the Reserve Forces of Virginia for the rest of the conflict. After returning to his law practice in 1865, Kemper was elected as the 37th Governor of Virginia in 1874 and served until 1878.
George Washington Custis Lee, the eldest son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee, graduated first in his class at West Point in 1854, along with other future Confederate generals such as J.E.B. Stuart and William Dorsey Pender, and entered the Corps of Engineers like his father had before him. He resigned from the U.S. Army two weeks after his father resigned in spring 1861 and received a commission as a captain in the Confederate Army. In August 1861, Lee was appointed an aide-de-camp to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a position he held for the rest of the war. He periodically commanded local troops in the defense of Richmond against Union attacks, and he was promoted to Major General for his performance in those duties in 1864. He was captured by Union troops at Sayler’s Creek while commanding troops in the flight from Richmond in 1865, three days before his father surrendered at Appomattox. After the war, GWC Lee served as a professor at VMI from 1865 to 1871. Shortly after the death of Robert E. Lee in 1870, GWC Lee succeeded his father as president of the newly named Washington and Lee University. He served as president of W&L for 26 years from 1871 to 1897, and he is buried along with his father, mother, grandfather, and his six siblings in Lee Chapel.
William N. Pendleton was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1809. He graduated from West Point in 1830, and he counted the future Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and John Magruder as well as future Confederate President Jefferson Davis as his classmates. After serving as an artillery lieutenant and then as a professor of mathematics at his alma mater, Pendleton became an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church in 1838. He served as a priest at several Episcopal churches in Maryland before becoming rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia in 1853. In March 1861, Pendleton became a captain of artillery in the Confederate Army. He first commanded a four-gun battery, made up from training guns taken from VMI which Pendleton nicknamed Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John after the four gospel writers, called the Rockbridge Artillery. He was promoted to chief of artillery for Joseph E. Johnston’s force at the First Battle of Bull Run. He continued in his capacity as chief of artillery in the Army of Northern Virginia under first Johnston and then Robert E. Lee, serving in that army until the end of the war. After the war, Pendleton returned to his position as rector of Grace Episcopal Church. While rector, Pendleton retained a rapport with other Confederate veterans, including Robert E. Lee. In fact, Pendleton played a pivotal role in convincing Lee to accept the position of president of Washington College. Lee became a devoted parishioner of Pendleton’s church, and Pendleton conducted Lee’s funeral in October 1870. After Lee’s death, Pendleton toured the South to raise money for the construction of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Church, which was recently renamed Grace Episcopal Church after its original name. Pendleton died in 1883, and the first service conducted in Robert E. Lee Memorial Church was his funeral. Pendleton is buried in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.
Alexander Pendleton, William Pendleton’s son, was born in 1840. Due to free tuition offered to the sons of ministers, Pendleton attended Washington College after his father moved the family to Lexington to take up the rectorship of Grace Episcopal Church. Pendleton graduated first in his class from Washington College in 1857 and gave the commencement address. He then took a position at his alma mater teaching mathematics and Latin. He also began to take classes at the University of Virginia, but the outbreak of the Civil War disrupted his studies. Upon request from Stonewall Jackson, who had met Pendleton while he was a student at Washington College, Pendleton was promoted to Jackson’s ordinance officer. After demonstrating his skill as a staff officer through the First Battle of Bull Run, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and the Maryland Campaign, Jackson promoted Pendleton to adjutant general of Jackson’s Corps. Pendleton accompanied Jackson’s body back to Lexington after Jackson’s death due to wounds he received at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 before returning to the Army of Northern Virginia to serve as adjutant general for Jackson’s replacement, Richard S. Ewell. In 1864, after Jubal Early gained command of Ewell’s Corps, Pendleton was promoted to chief of staff with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Pendleton was mortally wounded at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 22, 1864. He is buried in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery next to his father.
William Preston Johnston was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1831. He was the son of Albert Sidney Johnston, who became a hero in the Texan War of Independence in 1836 and in the Mexican-American War. He graduated from Yale University in 1852 and from the Louisville School of Law in 1853, and he practiced law in Louisville until the outbreak of the Civil War. While his father commanded Confederate forces in the Western Theater of the war and was mortally wounded in the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, William Johnston served as a major in the 1st Kentucky (CS) Infantry. In May 1862, CS President Jefferson Davis, who had always admired William’s father, promoted William to the rank of colonel and appointed him to the position of aide-de-camp to the president. Johnston rode to inspect the front with Davis and sat in on meetings of the Confederate Cabinet. Johnston was eventually captured along with Davis in Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865. After spending several months in captivity in Fort Delaware, Johnston spent time in Canada before returning to Louisville to resume his law practice. While in Louisville in 1867, Johnston received a letter from Robert E. Lee, then in his second year as president of Washington College, inviting him to move to Lexington to become a professor of history and English literature at Washington College. Johnston accepted the offer and served at Washington and Lee until 1877. He then became president of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge in 1880 before accepting the position of first president of Tulane University in 1884. Johnston served for fifteen years before moving back to Lexington where he died in the home of his son-in-law in 1899.
These men that I have described above are only the most famous W&L alumni and Lexington citizens involved in the Civil War. Research could be conducted by the Commission on the role of Washington College students and alumni in the Civil War, such as the Liberty Hall Volunteers, and the role played by ordinary Lexington citizens. Also, there are half a dozen other important Confederate officers and politicians who lived in Lexington, taught at W&L or VMI, or are buried in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. These include John W. Brockenbrough, Confederate Congressman and founder of the W&L’s School of Law, John Mercer Brooke, Confederate naval officer and one of the masterminds of the Transatlantic Cable, and Elisha Paxton, Confederate general and commander of the Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Lexington is one of the richest towns in this nation in Civil War history, and it is our duty to represent that history and preserve it for future generations. The Commission on Institutional History and Community’s call for a more complete picture of W&L’s history has provided a great opportunity to shed light on the important figures connected to W&L who helped influence the course of American history.