September Program: Mrs. Francis H. Smith’s Account of Hunter’s Raid
This is my site Written by RHS on September 3, 2011 – 12:32 pm
Sara Smith from VMI Archives

Sara Smith, wife of General Francis H. Smith, VMI Archives

Monday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Nichols Engineering Auditorium at VMI

The June 1864 Federal occupation of Lexington by troops under the command of Major General David Hunter has been well documented by many participants, witnesses, and historians over the years. It was a major event in the history of the town and a significant episode in the story of the last days of the Confederacy. General Hunter’s reputation for destruction preceded him up the Valley and spread concern wherever his troops marched. It came as no great surprise, then, when he ordered the destruction of the barracks and officers quarters at the Virginia Military Institute, an act that was opposed by a number of his own officers and eventually resulted in reparations being paid to VMI.

One structure at VMI escaped the arson’s torch, however. This was the Superintendent’s Quarters, the home of Major General and Mrs. Francis H. Smith and their children and servants. Historical sources, including an account of the raid in The Life and Letters of Margaret Junkin Preston, have explained that the quarters were spared on account of the presence of a sick child in the house. In a heretofore unpublished letter written days after the raid by Mrs. Smith to her husband, who had departed Lexington with the Corps of Cadets for Lynchburg as Hunter’s troops entered the town, she recounts the events of those traumatic days and explains in detail why the quarters were spared. This letter, the topic of the RHS presentation on 26 September, reveals a resourceful woman caught in a difficult situation, an unexpected view of General Hunter, and a controversy sparked by the saving of the house.

About the Speaker: Col. Edwin L. Dooley is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Arizona. He was named a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in 1964-65 and earned the MA degree at the University of Virginia. He joined the VMI History Department in 1968, was later Director of the VMI Museum, and VMI Public Information Officer. He resigned to become Museum Programs Coordinator in Virginia for the National Endowment for the Arts in 1977, and a year later became Director of the Virginia Historical Society. In 1980 he returned to VMI as Director of Institutional Planning and Assitant to the Superintendent. He received the Institute’s Distinguished Service Award in 1986 and the VMI Achievement Medal in 1998.

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