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Cadet Life
John Fletcher Early Diary-Notebook, 1848-1850
VMI Archives Manuscript # 00012

Cadet Life Letters, Diaries, & Manuscripts top level

About this Collection:John F. Early signature 

Cadet John Fletcher Early kept this diary and notebook during the two years he attended VMI, 1848-1850. It provides insight into early cadet life, daily routines, and special events. The notebook also includes poetry and lists of roommates.

Early was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on June 7, 1830. He was the son of John Early (1786-1873) a Bishop in the Methodist Church, and Elizabeth Rives. Early entered VMI in August 1848 and resigned in July 1850, before completing his studies. He subsequently worked for the Southern Methodist Church publishing house and was in charge of a branch office in New Orleans at the beginning of the Civil War. In May 1862 Early enlisted in Captain C. E. Fenner's Battery, Louisiana Artillery. After the war he worked for railroads in Nashville, Tennessee and Sanford, Florida. He died in Sanford in September 1894, leaving his widow, Eliza Bostick Early, and four children (Hardin, Lila, John and Margaret).


 Selected Entries from the Diary: 

June 1849
 10th-On the unfit list. 11th- on the sick list. 12th- unfit. 22nd- Three of the Board (VMI Board of Visitors) came this morning. A salute of ten guns were given then a flag hoisted. 23rd- Battalion inspection; on guard; First Class examined on Natural Philosophy. 24th- Went to Baptist Church. 25th- Board met at 10 o'clock; Second Class examined on math today. 26th- Board met at the usual hour; 1st Class examined on Chemistry. 27th- Very severe thunder and lightning. A man of the name of Cheatam killed near Lexington by lightning.

December 1849
 15th- This day F. A. Lovell (Cadet Fayette A. Lovell of Charleston, WV) resigned. God protect him. Brockenbrough furlough for 2 months for his health. Harrison at furlough for two weeks at the special request of this guardian. He does not expect to return. Wrote to mother. Persuaded George to attend to duty after a long time. 16th- Raining today. Commenced to review Geometry; sent to the board. Rolls for supper. 19th- Received a letter from mother dated the 15th. 21st- General Charles P. Dorman died last evening after a long confinement. 22nd- General Dorman was buried today. His funeral was preached by Rev. Mr. Nelson. The Corps attended his funeral and burial. Buried him with military honors. Not many persons attended on account of rain. General D. was in the legislature at the time the VMI was founded, was one of its warm supporters, was for 5 or 6 years on of Board of Visitors. 22nd- The resignation of Mason, M. was accepted to take effect from this day. 23th- On the sick list, very unwell. Great many drunk at tattoo. 24th- On Guard.

25th- Christmas. This morning guns were fired after Reveille and sentinels were posted directly afterwards, came off at breakfast. Great deal of noise made after breakfast, so much that the Major tried to post sentinels, no one would go on, he put two or three under arrest. He got very mad indeed, threatened to dismiss all that refused to go on post, but he knocked under at last. The noise became so great that Col. Smith sent for the First Class to see if they could do anything towards stopping it. He promised to look over all that had happened if the noise was stopped. It subsided in an hour or two afterwards. Things were in a in a better condition towards evening. Great deal of excitement in the forepart of the day. Had turkeys and plum pudding for dinner.

27th- Elliott, Eliason and Urquhart were caught drunk tonight and put under arrest by Major Gilham.

April 1850
18th- Late at squad drill. Did not go to dress parade, no able to go through the manual as my hands were very sore. Worse by going to A. drill at Tattoo. 19th- Went to see the Colonel this morning to get him to put me on the sick for day before yesterday as forgot to do it yesterday. He did not do it. Went to math. Didn't go to drawing. Going on unfit. Hand too sore to draw. 20th- Did not report on the unfit for yesterday. Wrote to Cousin M. E. Childs. 21st- On guard, 4th relief. Another man stood post for me and I went to Church (ME). 22nd- 3rd section math recited at 8 this week. Absent from French and squad drill. Rained in fore part of the [day] and cleared off beautifully in the evening. 23rd- Report on sick for yesterday afternoon. Absent from French. Commenced company drill this evening. Rained in morning and cleared off in the afternoon. 27th- Company Inspection. Quarterly meeting commenced today, went to preaching at the MEP. Church. 28th- No prayer meeting this morning. Rev. Mr. [L]each Presiding Elder of this District preached at 11 oclock. Took his text from the 1st Corinthians, XI Chapter 25 to 30 verses. 29th- Attended to all regular duty this day as far as I can recollect. 30th- As this was the last day of the fourth month the regular inspection muster day. Col Spex [VMI Superintendent Francis H. Smith] visited barracks and had battalion inspection.

May 1850
1st- As this was the anniversary day of the cadets Bible Society there was suspension until 2 oclock. An address was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Walker of Winchester, Clergyman of the Ep. Church, at 11 oclock. Circumstances prevented me from going. An address was also made at night in the Ep. Church. The Corps had permission to attend a majority went. Prevented myself from going by the same cause that hindered me in the morning. 2nd- Resumed summer uniform this morning at breakfast roll call. On guard. Commenced marching the guard on the hill to be inspected. Attended to duty all day.

June 7, 1850
My 20th Birthday. First part of the day rather warm, had a very hard shower after dinner which continued for 15 minutes or a half hour. Attended all recitations in order. This being my birthday I got permission to visit Lexington with some friends to take a glass of lemonade in honor of it. Returned some time before the time for drill. On account of Maj. Gilham's moving there was no drill but Dress Parade at sunset. I obtained a permit to have molasses and rice for dinner, as I could not eat any meat without feeling very badly all the evening afterwards. Took a walk after tea to the tree down the road under which I sat one year ago. I thought of years past gone and there I made this day resolutions to improve the future by the Lords help through faith I'm determined to lead a closer walk with my maker. We commenced Artillery drill yesterday.

June 8, 1850
Went reveille at four oclock. Weather very pleasant. Revs being so soon this morning I did not get up after it, and awoke 1/2 hour before breakfast therefore did not have an opportunity to ready my bible, [illegible], walk or study before breakfast. Hope to do better in future. Company inspection at usual hour. At 9 oclock those of the 3rd class who wished to recited to Prof. Massie on Spherical [illegible] were questioned on all of it. More of the class were present than were expected would be, as Cadets have but one day in the week to do what they please (and then no all together) and generally they are not much given to recite on Saturday. I went, and gain by going, and intend going next Saturday when we will be questioned on that part of Analytical which have the past week. Did not go to town any time today. Feeling unwell. I laid down after dinner and took a long nap of sleep. No dress parade. EP at usual hour. Walked after supper. Went to Society [a cadet debating society] got there at little after the time. I was my night to declaim but did not as I had no. new. No tattoo as the Society did not adjourn until a short time to taps. I had a light after taps to write this, run the risk of being caught. I go to bed leaving one of my roommates up reading a novel.

June 9, 1850
Rev. at 1/2 past five. Weather very pleasant. Performed all morning duties. Went to the branch and took a bath before breakfast with Grayson. Water in very [good] order for bathing. Went to church at half past ten, after getting there found out there was not to be any preaching today so I went in company with Winfree to the Baptist church. Heard Mr. ____, not their regular preacher. He took his text from the Acts of the Apostles XIV Chapter and part of the 22nd verses. Went to bible recitation at 1/2 past two. Evening parade and supper at the usual time. Took a walk after tea. Did not go to church at night. Tattoo and taps at regular hour.