Liberty Hall Academy in Lexington, Virginia, was the recipient in 1796 of James River canal stock gift from General George Washington – and the grateful school trustees changed the name to Washington College in 1813. Almost immediately after Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, the school became known as “Washington and Lee College.” Northern soldiers desecrated the college named for Washington in 1864, smashing windows and scribbling obscenities on the walls.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Washington College Was Not Spared
“But no one could hide the scars of the recent struggle. “The whole country from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain has been made untenable for a rebel army,” Sheridan had informed Washington. If a crow wanted to fly across the area, he would have to carry rations. Trees were down. Fields were gutted. Fences, mills, barns, bridges, crops and stock had been destroyed. Instead of wheat, corn, and barley, the fields were overrun with briars, nettles and weeds.
The fields could be improved in a season; the people’s tempers and bitterness not for generations. Sectional antagonism went back far before the war. “We do not set any claims to public spirit in the matter of internal improvement,” a Rockbridge County historian admitted as early as 1852, “and are shamefully content to let all the glory that appertains there go to the go-ahead Yankees.” When the Yankees laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginians turned from sarcasm to denunciation.
People did not quickly forget the fate of towns like Scottsville, where every shop, mill and store was burned. Canal locks were dismantled. Records and books were wantonly scattered. The little town lay in its blackened pall, a returning soldier wrote “like a mourner hopelessly weeping.” If the small towns were bad, the cities were worse.
The closest major city to Lexington was Lynchburg, a transportation and manufacturing center fifty-four miles to the southeast. In 1865, life there was paralyzed. Stores were vacant. The tobacco business was ruined. Property everywhere declined in value. The occupying soldiers were a rowdy, rough and drunken set. Robberies occurred nightly.
Sixteen months before General Lee came to Lexington alone, [Northern] General David Hunter had come – with an army. His orders were to . . . destroy all supplies and burn all houses within five miles of the spot where resistance occurred . . . on June 6, 1864, Hunter took Staunton and headed for Lexington . . . crossed the bridge and burned the Virginia Military Institute, and looted the area.
Annie Broun echoed the native’s reaction in the helpless undefended town: “Can I say “God forgive him?” Were it possible for human lips to raise his name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing down again. The curses of thousands will follow him through all time, and brand upon the name Hunter infamy, infamy.”
Atop the bluff near the river stood the charred and blackened ruins of the “West Point of the South” – Virginia Military Institute. Along the streets were piles of rubble and brick. At the edge of town stood Washington College, desecrated and silent. Planks were nailed over smashed windows. Obscenities were scribbled on the walls.”
(Lee After the War, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, pp. 67-77)