Civil War Cadet Life & Confederate States Engineers
John Edwin Roller Papers
VMI Archives Manuscript #171

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John Edwin Roller was born in Rockingham Co., Virginia on October 5, 1844, the son of Peter Samuel Roller and Frances Allebach. In the summer of 1861, although underage for service, he briefly served with Company I of the First Virginia Cavalry. On December 31, 1861, he entered the Virginia Military Institute as a second classman (equivalent to Junior), and was graduated in July 1863. He subsequently taught mathematics at VMI for a few months, and then was appointed 2d Lieutenant, Company G, 2d Confederate States Engineers in October 1863. He served as an Engineer officer in the Army of Northern Virginia to the end of the war, and was paroled at Appomattox. After the war, he studied law at the University of Virginia and practiced law in Harrisonburg (Rockingham County), Virginia. He also served in the Virginia state legislature and was a Brig. General in the state militia; he was widely known in the Harrisonburg community as "General Roller." He died in Harrisonburg on August 10, 1918.

The John E. Roller Papers consist of personal incoming and outgoing correspondence, 1862-1870, including Civil War era letters from cadet friends concerning life at VMI; Civil War dispatches and telegrams (1864), dating from his service with the C. S. Engineers, including one document signed by General Robert E. Lee; scrapbook, ca. 1910, containing clippings about Civil War battles, veterans, unit reunions, monument dedications, and related information.; 2 photographs, of Confederate soldier Lt. Col. Samuel T. Walker (10th Virginia Infantry Regiment) and of the Virginia Legislature Centennial Committee (1871); holograph text of a cadet literary-debating society speech delivered by Cadet Norwood B. Randolph in 1870; and misc. other items.

The most significant items are presented here online, as either full text transcriptions or images of documents.

View Full Text Letters, 1862-1864 (as listed below) 

  • 1862 January 24
    Cadet Roller to his parents, written shortly after he entered VMI. Mentions clothing needed; studying; upcoming inauguration of Jefferson Davis.
  • 1862 August 25
    Peter S. Roller to Cadet Roller. Mentions his inability to supply Gen. Smith (Superintendent of VMI) with hired or slave labor; discussion of when son should join army.
  • 1863 March 18
    Cadet Roller submits a report concerning the theft of Commandant's records.

Roller was graduated from VMI in July 1863 and joined the Confederate States Engineers in October.  

  • 1863 November 8
    Letter from Roller's classmate William W. Flannagan, congratulating Roller on his army commission.
  • 1864 January 6
    From Cadet Lawrence Royster (Class of 1866 and New Market Cadet) to Roller. Royster discusses examinations; friends at VMI.
  • 1864 January 9
    From Cadet Lawrence Royster. Royster is discouraged about the results of his examinations and is considering leaving VMI.
  • 1864 February 22
    From Cadet Lawrence Royster. Royster discusses his academic problems; uncertainty about staying at VMI; mentions several recent graduates and cadets.
  • 1864 April 10
    From Cadet Archibald W. Overton (Class of 1866 and New Market Cadet) to Roller. Overton discusses rumors about deployment of cadets; cadets who have left VMI.
  • 1864 April 21
    From Cadet Lawrence Royster. Royster discusses academics; changes on faculty; hardships caused by cold weather; Gen. Rosser presents captured flag to Corps; cadets don't get enough to eat.
  • 1864 May 3
    From Joseph B. Prince, Roller's classmate; written from Camp Stephens, Richmond VA. Prince recently resigned from a teaching job at VMI to join the army, but is disappointed in his army position.
  • 1864 May 17
    From Peter S. Roller to his son, 1864 May 17. Reports news of fighting in the Shenandoah Valley between forces of Gen. Breckinridge and Sigel; Battle of New Market.
  • 1864 July 28
    From Cadet Lawrence Royster. VMI temporarily closed after Hunter's Raid; his mother a refugee after Union troops destroyed her property.
  • 1864 December 7
    From Cadet Lawrence Royster. The Corps is in Richmond, camped on the Intermediate Line; In a few days they plan to move into VMI's temporary headquarters at the Alms House.
View Civil War Official Documents, Dispatches & Telegrams, 1863-1864 (as listed below) Samuel Walker photo
  • 1863 October 14.   From Lt. Col. A. L. Rives, C. S. Engineer Bureau, concerning receipt of recommendations.
  • 1864 March 12.  Legal document; certifies Thomas Hubbard born Caswell Co. NC
  • 1864 May 13.   Gen. Robert F. Hoke to Gen. Braxton Bragg, reporting on enemy strength.
  • 1864 May 19.    Request for officer
  • 1864 May 23.   From C. S. Flagship "Virginia" near Drewry's Bluff, re: enemy naval forces
  • 1864 August 13.   To J. W. Williams re: meeting
  • 1864 August 14.   General Robert E. Lee to Gen. Ewell; " back enemy."
  • 1864 August 16.   Lt. Col. Briscoe G. Baldwin (VMI Class of 1848), to J. Willcox Brown
  • 1864 August 17.   Walter H. Taylor, A.A.G., to Gen. Lee at Chaffin's Bluff.   Scouting report.
  • 1864 August 19.   Transportation for officer
  • 1864 August 21.   Gen. G. T. Beauregard to Capt. Chisholm, re: matter pending before War Dept.
  • 1864 August 21.   Lt. Col. Briscoe Baldwin to Col. J. Gorgas, re: personnel request.
  • 1864 August 22.   From Lt. Col. Briscoe G. Baldwin, near Petersburg. Request for ammunition.
  • 1864 August 22.   Lt. Col. Briscoe G. Baldwin to Lt. Col. W. Brown;  send forge to Dunlops Crossing
  • 1864 August 23.   Gen. Wade Hampton to HQ, requesting map of Dinwiddie
  • 1864 August 23.   To Medical Dept. "Send down all amputating sets on hand."
  • 1864 August 24.   W. H. Taylor to Gen. George E. Pickett
  • 1864 September 2.   W. H. Taylor to Court Martial, Goldsboro. Col. Mayo too sick to attend court.
  • 1864 September 23.   From HQ, Engineers, ANV to Col. W. P. Smith at Chaffin's Bluff; conveying instructions and reprimand.
  • 1864, no day.  To Gen. Braxton Bragg, re: troop movements (Hoke, Kemper)
  • 1864, no day.   Send money