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Hunter's Raid

Civil WarGeneral David Hunter and the Burning of VMI, June 1864

For four days in June 1864, Union troops commanded by General David Hunter occupied the small Shenandoah Valley town of Lexington, the home of the Virginia Military Institute. The federal forces, about 18,000 strong, entered the town on the afternoon of June 11. General John McCausland, a VMI graduate and former faculty member, the Confederate troops were greatly outnumbered and were soon forced to retreat. The VMI Corps of Cadets, having only recently returned to VMI after their participation in the Battle of New Market on May 15, were also ordered to retreat; they camped near the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about two miles from Balcony Falls, on the night of the 11th. There were no civilian or military casualties as a result of this occupation. However, VMI was both the site of a state arsenal and a military training school, and the Institute was considered to be a legitimate military target. On June 12, Hunter ordered the burning of VMI. The cadet Barracks and two faculty residences were extensively damaged, as were the library and laboratory equipment. The troops also removed the Institute's statue of George Washington, which was taken to Wheeling, West Virginia as a trophy of war; it was returned in 1866. The Union forces left on June 14, marching over the mountains to Lynchburg.

Secondary Sources

  • Article. "David Hunter, the General Who Burned VMI"
  • Allan, Elizabeth Preston. The life and letters of Margaret Junkin Preston by Elizabeth Preston Allan. (Boston ; New York : Houghton, Mifflin, ©1903).
    Life in wartime Lexington, including an account of Hunter's Raid. Margaret Junkin Preston, a noted southern author, was the wife of John T. L. Preston, a VMI faculty member.
  • Miller, Edward A. Jr. Lincoln's Abolitionist General: the Biography of David Hunter. (University of South Carolina Press, 1997).
  • Turner, Charles W., editor. "General David Hunter's Sack of Lexington, Virginia, June 10-14, 1864: An Account by Rose Page Pendleton." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (vol. 83, No. 2, April 1975, pp. 173-183).