William H. McDowell, the "Ghost Cadet"
Biographical information

Ghost Cadet home William McDowell photo 

The following biographical information is from The VMI New Market Cadets by William Couper. (The Michie Co., 1933).

  • Born: December 31, 1846, at Beattie's Ford, Iredell County, North Carolina.

  • Parents: Robert Irwin McDowell (b. 1813; was graduated from Hampden-Sydney College, VA in 1832) of Mt. Mourne, NC, and Rebecca Brevard.

  • Grandparents: Hugh McDowell and Margaret Irwin, of Mecklenburg County, NC; Franklin Brevard and Margaret Conner, also of Mecklenburg County.

  • William Hugh McDowell entered VMI on August 22, 1863, from Mt. Mourne, North Carolina, and was assigned to the fourth (freshman) class. He was killed on May 15, 1864, while serving as a cadet Private in Company B at the Battle of New Market. When ordered to New Market, he was contemplating accepting a position upon the staff of General James Conner, his kinsman.

  • After temporary burial at New Market, McDowell's remains were brought to Lexington in May 1866, and are now buried beneath the New Market Statue at VMI.

    Descriptions of McDowell's death 

"In advancing from the ravine the Battalion was now and then protected by folds in the ground from the direct fire of the enemy. From the ravine to the close of the Bushong House is about half a mile. The cadets were exposed to direct fire the last half of this distance, losing three killed at this stage of their advance, the number including First Sergeant Cabell of D Co., and privates Stanard and McDowell of B. Co."
(From The Military History of VMI by Jennings C. Wise, copyright 1915)

"A little removed from the spot where Cabell fell, and nearer to the position of the enemy, lay McDowell, it was a sight to wring one's heart. That little boy was lying there asleep, more fit, indeed, for the cradle than the grave. He was barely sixteen, I judge, and by no means robust for his age. He was a North Carolinian. He had torn open his jacket and shirt, and, even in death, lay clutching them back, exposing a fair breast with its red wound."  (From An End of an Era by John S. Wise, copyright 1899)