Confederate Military History of the University of Virginia
Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Matthew Weisenfluh pursued a double major in Financial Economics and Statistics with an Econometrics concentration, as well as a minor in History at UVA, graduating in May 2020. He worked for the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History for two years, contributing to both the "UVA Unionists" and the "Black Virginians in Blue" projects.

As the flagship institution of higher education in the state upon the outbreak of the Civil War and a bastion of proslavery ideology and secessionist fervor, the University of Virginia and its alumni proved vital to the Confederate war effort, contributing a substantial portion of its alumni who served in the military. At the start of the conflict, the University and its students strongly supported secession; as noted University scholar Ervin Jordan summarized, when Virginia seceded in 1861, 536 of the 604 enrollees in residence would eventually serve in the Confederate military in some way, shape, or form. Furthermore, research conducted at the Nau Center indicates that over 3,000 students enlisted in the Confederate army or navy—fifty-one percent of all living alumni in 1861. UVA alumni also filled prominent leadership roles in the Confederate Congress and as members of President Jefferson Davis’s cabinet.[1]

These numbers are quite startling, but when viewed in the context of the greater Confederate mobilization for war, it becomes clearer to understand the rationale of so many alumni and students to serve not only in the Confederate military and government, but often in a leadership role. The secession crisis, a time in which Virginia’s political future swirled with uncertainty, provided a construct for “a new class of leaders [to emerge], young, masculine, and forward thinking, who could throw off the yoke of Yankee domination and transform Virginia into a vibrant leader of a Confederate nation.” Scholar Peter Carmichael notes that often, the emergence of this new group of political leadership came from college campuses, bastions of Southern identity that played on Virginians’ “sense of honor, their personal aspirations, and their vision for Virginia in a world embracing progress.” As the leading institution in the state, UVA was essential to furnishing this generation destined for the highest positions of political and military leadership; as evidenced by their enlistment numbers, it is clear that most White UVA students and alumni understood that “they benefited from living in a slave society,” and were willing to sacrifice almost anything to maintain that status quo.[2]

To dig a little deeper into the rationale and mindset of UVA students and alumni who served in the Confederacy requires an innate understanding of the justifying logic of White Virginians. As evidenced from the broad pattern of highly successful mobilization, Confederates capitalized on communities that “profited from the economic development or the democratic politics of the late antebellum era.” As historian Aaron Sheehan-Dean postulates, residents who benefited from the slave economy, “Virginia’s dynamic regional and national markets, or the political networks of antebellum Virginia proved willing to defend that world in its Confederate form.” The University’s alumni and students feared the loss of these institutions profoundly as the leaders of the Commonwealth, forged by the “political reality of a slave power that had suddenly lost its hold on the federal government.” Carmichael notes this dynamism to craft a new nation was driven by a “political and ideological adherence to slavery” in a time where the institution was under siege. While UVA alumni and students enlisted for a variety of reasons, built up out of “nested loyalties” to families, communities, the church, the state, and the Confederacy as a whole, the desire to defend and preserve slavery was at the forefront of the cause. The University, so intimately connected with slavery throughout its history, had supplied the state’s slaveholding elite for generations, and provided the backbone for the Virginia’s vigorous defense of slavery.[3]

The bulk of the University’s involvement in the Civil War consisted of ordinary soldiers in the various branches of the service. One of these young men was Algernon Sidney Garnett, born on October 15, 1834 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The son of Colonel Henry Thomas Garnett (1802-1878) and Eliza Stuart Bankhead, he was a medical student at the University’s 31st session between 1854 and 1855. The young doctor enlisted in the U.S. Navy following his graduation, rising to the rank of assistant surgeon. As a Virginia native, he was allowed to resign on April 22, 1861, only to be later “unceremoniously dismissed” from the navy on May 10, 1861 following the outbreak of hostilities. He was quickly commissioned by the Confederate Congress as a lieutenant on June 24, 1861, and was the first medical officer assigned to the former USS Merrimac, refitted by the Confederacy as an ironclad warship and renamed the CSS Virginia.[4]

Garnett was assigned to the ironclad on November 18, 1861, just a few short months before the young officer and the rest of the crew would participate in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8 and 9, 1862. A critical battle that shaped the future of naval warfare, Garnett experienced firsthand the devastation that this modern, mechanized form of battle would bring. Following the Virginia’s victory over traditional sailing frigates on March 8, she returned the next day, eager to finish off what remained of the Union blockading fleet. Instead, as Garnett and the crew steamed down the James, they were met by a hulk of metal very foreign to them – the USS Monitor. As the crew prepared for what was sure to be an epic battle, chief engineer Ashton Ramsay remembered Garnett “laying out his surgical instruments in preparation for the coming battle. ‘The sight,’ the young officer reflected, ‘took away my appetite.’” The dueling ships fought each other for hours, and while the Confederates sustained merely 24 casualties to the Union’s 433, Garnett was recognized for his role in treating wounded sailors.[5]

The Virginia was eventually scuttled and sunk, and as a result Garnett would be transferred, eventually serving in a variety of naval postings for the remainder of the war. Dr. Garnett settled in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the postbellum era, a location renowned for the healing power of its volcanic springs. One of the ten lone surviving members of the Merrimac crew at the time of his death, Garnett’s legacy endures as a witness and participant to one of the most important battles in naval history. Yet, his military record might have been overshadowed for his work in the Hot Springs community, as one leading citizen noted in his obituary that the doctor “worked unceasingly toward making Hot Springs famous and had much to do with the upbuilding of the city as a great health resort and in the prominence which Hot Springs gained all over the nation.” Garnett died there in 1919.[6]

While the University provided a plethora of soldiers to support the Confederate war effort, perhaps more critical to the South’s inexperienced government was the leadership that its graduates provided. Of those who served at least 1,480 alumni became commissioned officers. At least twenty-six of the University’s sons would become generals, while another ninety-eight served as colonels.[7]

Of all the general officers associated with the University that served the Confederacy, perhaps nobody had more zeal than John Bankhead Magruder. A member of the first class at the University, Magruder was often a difficult student, more interested in social affairs than the rigor of academic study. He managed to remain for a year while the University expelled many of his classmates for their raucous behavior, yet his troubles soon began to catch up with him. He was fortunate to secure an appointment to West Point in the summer of 1828. The academy’s strict regulations never seemed to faze Magruder. Nicknamed “Prince John” for his pomposity, Magruder nonetheless proved to be an effective soldier in the Mexican War, and a valuable recruit for the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out.[8]

Magruder’s work in the early days of the Civil War was on the Virginia Peninsula, overseeing the construction and defense of Richmond’s eastern approaches. He exhibited concern upon his arrival, as the Confederates were woefully underprepared: entire regiments could not even take the field “for want of shoes and other necessities.” He quickly went to work to prepare for an inevitable advance towards the Confederate capital. Immediately after arriving at Yorktown, he had made it “a priority to familiarize himself with the geographical characteristics of his new command.” With the help of experienced guides, Magruder examined the terrain until he was “as familiar with the field in which he had been ordered to operate as if he had spent his boyhood there.” Magruder was instrumental in delaying the Union advance, organizing his command effectively and designing a clever plan of fortification bolstered by a robust logistical network. “Prince John” and the ruses he used, like the implementation of logs to pose as artillery, known as “Quaker guns,” and the constant marching of men to make his army appear enormous, bought the Confederacy time at a critical juncture in the war[9]

One of the Confederacy’s first heroes, Magruder was revered by Confederates for his actions at Big Bethel, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. While he prospered under the relatively light burden of oversight as the head of the Army of the Peninsula, he struggled under the auspices of authority. Upon the movement of General Joe Johnston’s 55,000 men from Manassas to the Warwick line, Magruder quickly began quarreling with his immediate superior. Magruder considered Johnston an ineffective commander, lacking the spine to face the realities of the Confederate military situation. Following Johnston’s wounding at Seven Pines and the arrival of General Robert E. Lee, it seemed at first that Magruder’s situation was looking brighter – yet relations between the two ended in controversy. Magruder wrote a note to the War Department, requesting a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi Department immediately. The request was the culmination of a shocking turnaround for the supposed “savior of Richmond” just a short time before. Magruder’s legacy is murky, for historians in generations past have often criticized him for his ineffectual performance at the Seven Days battles and his quarrels with Lee, whom early war historians revered and were hesitant to criticize. However, in recent years, Magruder’s actions building entrenchments have been credited with saving the Confederacy in the early days of the war from almost certain termination. Thus, Magruder enjoys a complicated legacy, albeit one that is still evolving to this day.[10]

Yet another dynamic figure associated with the Confederacy was John Singleton Mosby, the Confederate partisan ranger and cavalry commander. The Gray Ghost, as he was known, embraced his nickname, serving behind Union lines in counties like Loudon, Fauquier, and Fairfax all while earning a reputation for cunning and guile. Born in Powhatan County, he moved to Albemarle County in 1840, and enrolled at the University on October 3, 1850. While at the University, he studied classics, and was a member of the Washington Literary and Debate Society. A promising student, Mosby was a talented scholar in humanities, but struggled with mathematics. He was insulted by a frequent bully, who challenged him to a dual. This proved disastrous for Mosby, who discharged a pistol at his counterpart, “which took effect in his face, the ball striking a little outside of the mouth & glancing backwards under the skin, & lodging in the back of the neck.” Though the wound was ultimately not considered “dangerous,” it was “a marvel that it did not kill instantly” according to the faculty. Mosby was quickly indicted and sent to prison for the incident, in addition to his subsequent expulsion from the University. While in jail, he studied for the bar and went on to become a promising lawyer in the prewar years.[11]

Mosby originally served in the regular Confederate army, but upon seeing the destruction of the area that he called home time and time again by Yankee raids, as well as the necessity for home front defense, Mosby returned to the Loudon Valley. He was responsible for the organization of the 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, known informally as Mosby’s Rangers. Acting on the authority of General Robert E. Lee, Mosby’s unit was responsible for disrupting Union supply and communication lines during the years from 1862 to 1865. Lighting quick attacks and raids, followed by the dissolution of the unit into the countryside, made Mosby’s men an effective guerrilla force to counter Union cavalry raids into the region. One of Mosby’s most significant contributions to the war was the unique and innovative combination of infantry and cavalry tactics. Unlike many Virginians and Southerners who revered the cavalry charge as a glorious way to conduct battle, Mosby saw the futility and destruction in horse and saber combat. Preferring to use pistols and carbines, Mosby ensured that his troops were at a significant advantage in the early stages of the war, frequently besting their Yankee counterparts. Although he never formally surrendered to Union authorities, Mosby effectively disbanded his rangers shortly after Lee’s own army capitulated at Appomattox Court House.[12]

Following the war, Mosby was very active in postbellum politics. By joining the Republican party, his reputation was tarnished in the eyes of former Confederates. Ostracized by his fellow southerners for his “scalawag” identity and personal friendship with President Ulysses S. Grant, his popularity amongst ex-Confederates waned, and even turned violent. He received death threats, and at least one attempt was made to assassinate him. Despite these vindictive acts brought on by Mosby’s perceived identity as a “turncoat”, his contributions loom large to post-war Virginia and the United States as a whole. He served as U.S. consul in Hong Kong, held various legal postings in the railroad and government industries, and brought Federal patronage jobs to native Virginians through his friendship with Grant. He died a controversial figure for many ex-Confederates in 1916.[13]

While these two men are quite recognizable Confederate military figures, their ties to the University are somewhat distant beyond their time as students. Such was not the case with Philip St. George Cocke, a Confederate brigadier general, who was more intricately tied to the University.  Born at Bremo Bluff, a plantation in Fluvanna County, his father was the U.S. Army Officer John Hartwell Cocke, a War of 1812 veteran and member of the Board of Visitors at the University. The younger Cocke enrolled in the University in 1825, finding his room, #44 on the East Range, to be “tolerably comfortable.” He graduated from the University in 1828, and was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1832. Due to his West Point background, Cocke was enlisted at the beginning of the war to help lead, train, and prepare Virginia’s forces for the upcoming onslaught. He was directly responsible for organizing the defense of Virginia along the Potomac River in the immediate aftermath of Virginia’s secession.[14]

Following the Confederate withdrawal to the Manassas line, Cocke commanded the 19th Virginia Infantry at the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford. The 19th, composed of men from the city of Charlottesville, as well as Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst counties, was praised by commanding General P. G. T. Beauregard for their actions in repulsing the initial Union reconnaissance to the Manassas line. Three days later, at First Manassas, Cocke again led the 19th, helping the Confederates achieve the first true victory of the war. A promising leader, he was stricken with what we would consider today to be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Claiming to be “shattered in body and mind,” he committed suicide the day after Christmas 1861.[15]

Another relatively obscure UVA alumnus and Confederate general was Carnot Posey. He studied law at the University during the 1836-37 academic year and eventually went on to serve in Jefferson Davis’s regiment in the War with Mexico. As a native Mississippian, Posey commanded the 16th Mississippi Regiment upon its arrival in Virginia, where they served with Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign. Posey was wounded at Cross Keys, Jackson’s final crucial victory in the first Valley Campaign. However, he recovered quickly enough to fight in the Seven Days, and was active in the subsequent Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Fredericksburg campaigns. Promoted to Brigadier General on January 18, 1863, he was reassigned to General A. P. Hill’s Corps after Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville in July. Posey would lead his brigade up Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg on July 2, only to be bloodily repulsed.[16]

In the seemingly inconsequential Bristoe Campaign after that fateful summer, he was wounded at Bristoe Station on October 14, 1863. At first, the wound, a shrapnel piercing from a shell fragment in his thigh, seemed to be healing properly. However, it soon became infected, and Posey was transported from the front lines around the Rappahannock for care in Charlottesville. Admitted to the care of his good friend and UVA professor, Dr. John Staige Davis, he was recuperating at Davis’s home in Pavilion VII, very near Posey’s previous dormitory near the northwest end of the Lawn. However, shortly after being admitted, he died on November 13 in Pavilion VII, and was buried in the Davis family plot in the UVA cemetery.[17]

The University not only furnished troops to the Confederate military effort directly, but also furnished in various political and legislative leaders. Twenty-four alumni were members of the Confederate Senate and House of Representatives, and five Virginia graduates served in key leadership roles in Jefferson Davis’s cabinet, overseeing the various affairs of the newly created nation.[18]

One unique figure that had both ties to the University as well as Charlottesville proper was George Wythe Randolph. Born at Monticello in Charlottesville on March 10, 1818, his mother, Martha Jefferson Randolph, was the daughter of President Thomas Jefferson, and his father, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., was a descendant of Pocahontas. He was named in honor of George Wythe, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and law professor of the late President Jefferson. Following a stint in the Navy, Randolph enrolled at the University’s law school in 1837, graduating in 1840.[19]

As an active participant in Virginia’s antebellum society, Randolph was appointed as a member of the delegation that met the newly elected President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, on April 12, 1861 to discuss tensions surrounding Federal military fortifications in the South. It was this experience, along with a distinct career in the legal and military professions, that led to his appointment as the Secretary of War on March 18, 1862 by Jefferson Davis. Randolph was integral in improving all aspects of the department. The war effort had suffered under the previous regime of Judah P. Benjamin, and Randolph helped to reorganize the department, wrote a conscription law, and improved the vital task of procuring supplies for the hungry Southern armies. However, due to a weakening physical state brought on by the onset of tuberculosis, he resigned just a few months later on November 17, 1862. He eventually would succumb to the disease, and died on the second anniversary of the occupation of Richmond, April 3, 1867. He is buried in the Monticello graveyard in Charlottesville, near his grandfather.[20]

While many of these men would go on to survive the war, others were not as fortunate. Over 500 men associated with the University perished in the Civil War, their names, until the aftermath of August 2017, were recorded on two plaques located at the entrance to the University’s famous Rotunda.[21] These are just a few of the stories of Virginia alumni in the Confederate service–the records that exist have provided us with the means to track their progress throughout the war. However, many do not, and remain undiscovered.


[1] While most accounts say 515 members of the 1860-1861 academic year joined the Confederacy, research by Brian Neumann (PhD 2020) has revealed that 536 of the 604 students in attendance that year served in the Confederate military. Previously historians had estimated that 2,481 of the University’s 8,000 pre-war alumni served in the Confederate military, or thirty-one percent. Our much higher estimate of those serving in Confederate uniform (3,185) is drawn from an analysis of student catalogues completed by Neumann in the summer of 2017. He also discovered that there were only about 6,736 students who attended UVA before the war, and of those only 6,166 were still alive when Fort Sumter was attacked in April 1861. When Brian’s figures are combined with the Center’s findings that almost 400 veterans attended UVA during or after the war, the total number of UVA students and alumni in Confederate service may number more than 3,500.  Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., Charlottesville and the University of Virginia in the Civil War, 2nd ed. (Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1988), 23.

[2] Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 1, 13-17; Peter S. Carmichael, The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion, (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 121-130.

[3] Sheehan-Dean, Why Confederates Fought, 1, 13-17; Carmichael, The Last Generation, 121-130.

[4]Jean L. Cooper and Brendan P. Fox, Index of Students of the University of Virginia, 1825-1874 (Palmyra, VA: Shortwood Press, 2011), 90; W. McElroy, comp., “Garnett, Algernon S.,” Confederate Navy Index hosted by the Library of Virginia, accessed January 10, 2019,

[5] John V. Quarstein, The CSS Virginia: Sink Before Surrender (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013); “Interesting Data about the Merrimac,” Confederate Veteran, vol. 16 (April 1908), xvii.

[6]“The Passing Away of Dr. A. S. Garnett,” Hot Springs New Era, published on, accessed January 10, 2019,

[7] Jordan, Charlottesville and UVA in the Civil War, 23.

[8] Thomas Michael Settles and Kimberly Curtis Campbell, John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), 65; Peter S. Carmichael, “The Great Paragon of Virtue and Sobriety: John Bankhead Magruder and the Seven Days,” in “Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days,” ed. Gary W. Gallagher (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 99, 101.

[9] Settles, John Bankhead Magruder, 127, 163, 174.

[10] Ibid., 174.

[11] “University of Virginia Session 1852-3: Chairman’s Journal,” Jefferson’s University: The Early Years (hereafter JUEL), accessed January 10, 2019,; “John Singleton Mosby,” JUEL, accessed on January 10, 2019,; James A. Ramage, Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 19-28.

[12] Rampage, Gray Ghost, 1-10.

[13] Ibid., 285-300, 333-344.

[14] Phillip St. George Cocke to John Hartwell Cocke, June 23, 1825, JUEL, accessed on January 10, 2019,; “Phillip St. George Cocke,” by Kenneth E. Koons and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. In Encyclopedia of Virginia, last modified March 24, 2016,

[15] Lyon Gardiner Tyler, ed., Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, vol. 3 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915), 49.

[16] John Fabian Chappo, “Carnot Posey,” in Mississippi Encyclopedia, last modified on April 14, 2018,


[17] “Carnot Posey,” JUEL, accessed January 10, 2019,; John Lipscomb Johnson, The University Memorial: Biographical Sketches of Alumni of the University of Virginia Who Fell In the Confederate War (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1871), 525.

[18] Jordan, Charlottesville and UVA in the Civil War, 24.

[19] “George Wythe Randolph”, JUEL, accessed on February 12, 2019,; David E. Goldberg, “George Wythe Randolph,” in Encyclopedia Virginia, accessed on February 13, 2019,

[20] Goldberg, “Randolph,” in Encyclopedia of Virginia.

[21] Jordan, Charlottesville and UVA in the Civil War, 23.