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VMI Cadet Life, 1859-1860
Samuel Downing Collection
Manuscript #00167

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 Biographical Information:
Samuel Downing, Jr. was born circa 1842 in Lancaster, Virginia, the son of Samuel Downing, a lawyer, and Catherine E. Payne. He entered VMI as a third classman (sophomore) in August 1859 and graduated in December 1861. Downing joined the Confederate Army, serving throughout the war with the 55th Virginia Infantry Regiment. After the war he was for a short time a teacher in Virginia, but subsequently moved to Baltimore, MD where he was engaged in the tobacco business. He married Miss Betts of Northumberland County, Virginia, in 1865; they had one son, who died in infancy. Downing died in Baltimore on March 11, 1885 and is buried in London Park Cemetery.

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Full Text Transcription

Virginia Military Institute, Nov the 17 1859

Dear Pa,

Having promised to write to you after my arrival here, I this morning take my pen to fulfill my promise after a very refreshing night's rest, for I never was so much fatigued in my life as I was when I arrived here on yesterday morning about 12 o'clock after a march of nine miles and not having had any sleep [f]or two nights.

After leaving you on Friday we marched to the Fair Grounds where we went through the much talked of Shanghai Trot which was very much complimented by the immense concourse of people which witnessed our performance, and marched back to the city about 3 o'clock. We had another drill on Saturday morning and also dress parade in the Norfolk Military Academy Grounds, but it was so very small that we did not have sufficient space to drill in and we therefore remained a very short time and after spending Sunday and going to church and on Monday at 11 o'clock we marched down to the depot escorted by the volunteer companies of Norfolk and accompanied by a large number of people both male & female and at 12 we started en route for the V.M.I.

We reached Petersburg about 6 where we remained but a very short time but while we were there the boys made good use of their time in procuring crackers, apples, & everything that was eatable, not having had anything to eat since breakfast that morning. We then put on steam and arrived at Farmville about 12 o'clock where the boys did justice to a very good supper prepared for us and the way provisions disappeared is better imagined than described.

But in the mean time I ran in the Hotel and enquired for Cousin Giles & sister and to my great joy who should I see but Mr. Cutwell who was looking for me and he conducted me to the parlour where to my great joy I saw sister and remained with her all the time except a short time when I went to get a mouthful to eat. I never was so much overjoyed in my life. Cousin Giles was prevented from coming out on account of a very sore throat. Mr. Rice and a Miss Rice were also present. I gave her my likeness and remained with her until the last moment when I heard the whistle and was again hurried into the cars and reached Lynchburg the next morning not having slept a moment for the night, about 5 o'clock when we shouldered our guns and marched into town and a more woebegone set of fellows never was seen.

After eating breakfast we were marched up to the College Hill where Major Gilham drilled us for a couple of hours and after dinner we commenced our journey home by the worse mode of conveyance that ever was instituted, in a canal boat, a freight boat at that, where I passed one of the most miserable nights I ever did in my life. The old boat was loaded with rocks, and a rock was also my pillow with nothing but my overcoat and no fire and the water was frozen all around us and I did not sleep a moment for the night. And the next morning we got to the landing about 8 o'clock and we had to march 9 miles with our muskets strapped to us and you may imagine how I felt when I got here on yesterday morning. I went to bed as soon as I got here and waked up this morning very much refreshed.

As my paper is getting quite scarce and there is no news [illegible] and I must bring my letter to a close. Kiss little Robt. and my love to Jack, Bob, Aunt Emeline, Betsy & all relations. I remain your aff. son, Samuel Downing