Last modified: 2021-09-22
The first five presidents of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College served in the Confederate States Army or the Confederate government during the Civil War as did many of its early professors including the first Commandant, James H. Lane, a VMI graduate and former Confederate General who taught civil engineering and commerce at the college and is the namesake of Lane Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, built in 1888. Its third president, Thomas Nelson Conrad, was a notorious Confederate spy who ran a covert intelligence gathering operation from a home in the heart of Washington, D. C. His wartime exploits included among other things, hatching a plot to assassinate the Commanding General of the United States Army, Winfield Scott, that was vetoed by the Confederate government who feared that the elderly, infirm, and obese Scott would be replaced by someone more fit for command; sneaking into the War Office during lunch hour to lift copies of documents describing General McClellan's battle plans for the Peninsula Campaign, a large-scale offensive by the Union Army to capture the Confederate capitol at Richmond from the desk of a friend who was a double agent; conspiring to kidnap U. S. President Abraham Lincoln from the White House; and jumping from a speeding train to escape after being captured by Union forces. Its sixth president, Paul Brandon Barringer, was a son of Confederate General Rufus Barringer and a nephew of Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and Daniel Harvey Hill.
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