At least 20 VMI graduates served as generals during the Civil War. Some were obscure while others were well-known. Of course, Stonewall Jackson was a lieutenant-general and corps commander but he was not a VMI graduate. He had served as a professor for almost a decade.
Jackson surrounded himself with VMI graduates, many whom had been his students. He knew them and their abilities, therefore he felt comfortable having them as subordinates.
Here is a brief biographical look at some of the generals.
- Raleigh E. Colston, Class of 1846. Born in Paris, he was sent to Virginia under the care of his uncle. He entered VMI in 1843 and graduated in 1846. He was a Professor of French at VMI from 1846 until the outbreak of war. In November 1859, he accompanied a contingent of VMI cadets assigned to guard duty at the execution of abolitionist John Brown. He was commissioned Colonel of the 16th Virginia Infantry Regiment. In December 1862 he was appointed Brigadier General and led a brigade under Longstreet on the Peninsula. He commanded a brigade under Stonewall Jackson in April 1863 and he commanded a division at Chancellorsville. He later served under P.G.T. Beauregard in defense of Petersburg in 1864. At the end of the war he was in command at Lynchburg.
- Samuel Garland, Class of 1849. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Garland entered VMI in 1846 and graduated at 19 in 1849. He studied law at University of Virginia; practiced in Lynchburg, VA. Following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859, Garland organized the Lynchburg Home Guard. Commissioned Colonel, 11th Virginia Infantry Regiment at the start of the war. He led his regiment at 1st Manassas. He was wounded at Williamsburg but did not leave field. He was promoted to Brigadier General in May 1862 and commanded a brigade at Seven Pines, Gaines’s Mill, and Malvern Hill. He was mortally wounded on Sept 14, 1862, at South Mountain during the Maryland campaign, he was buried in Lynchburg.
- Robert E. Rodes, Class of 1848. Rodes was also born in Lynchburg. He graduated from VMI in 1848 and was appointed Assistant Professor (Physical Science, Chemistry, Tactics) at VMI, 1848-1850. In 1850 Rodes began a Civil Engineering career, working on various railroad projects in Alabama and elsewhere in the south. In 1860 he was elected Professor of Applied Mechanics at VMI, but never served in this capacity because of the outbreak of war. In May 1861 he was commissioned Col. 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. In Oct 1861 he was appointed Brigadier General, commanding a brigade at Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville. He was promoted to Major General May 1863. He led a division at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. He then went to the Shenandoah Valley in June 1864, where he served under Jubal Early and fought at Kernstown and elsewhere. Rodes was killed at Winchester, VA, on 19 September 1864 and was buried in Presbyterian Cemetery, Lynchburg.
- William Mahone, Class of 1847. Mahone was born 1826 December 1, 1826 on a farm near Monroe, Southampton Co., Virginia. He enrolled at VMI on July 20, 1844 at age of 17½; was graduated on July 5, 1847, standing 8th out of 12 graduates. He taught at the Rappahannock Academy, Caroline Co., Virginia, 1848-1849. From 1851-1861 he was a civil engineer; Chief Engineer and subsequently President, Chief Engineer and General Superintendent of the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad. At the start of the war Mahone was a Lt. Col. and Colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to Brigadier General November 1861. During the Peninsular Campaign he led a brigade at Seven Pines and Malvern Hill. He also fought at 2nd Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. He was promoted to Major General on July 30, 1864 for his performance at the Battle of the Crater (near Petersburg, VA). He returned to engineering and continued to be instrumental in developing railway system in Virginia; unsuccessful bid for governor in 1877. He was a United States Senator, 1881-1887. Mahone died October 8, 1895 and was buried in Blandford Cemetery, near Petersburg, VA.
- Thomas T. Munford, Class of 1852. Munford was born March 29, 1831 at Richmond. He enrolled at VMI on July 30, 1849 and was graduated in July 1852, standing 14th in a class of 24. He was commissioned Lt. Col. of the 13th Virginia Mounted Infantry; Col., 2nd Virginia Cavalry. He served in the in the Shenandoah Valley under Stonewall Jackson, succeeded Turner Ashby, fought at Cross Keys, Harrisonburg, White Oak Swamp, 2nd Manassas, Antietam; appointed Brigadier General November 1864; took command of Fitzhugh Lee’s division and fought at Five Forks, High Bridge, Sayler’s Creek, and Appomattox. After the war he was an Iron manufacturer and farmer. He was President, VMI Board of Visitors, 1884-1888. Munford died February 27, 1918 at the home of his son in Uniontown, Alabama and was buried in Lynchburg, Virginia.