On July 1, 1863, Confederate General James Ewell Brown Stuart ordered the burning of the United States Cavalry Barracks at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Almost one year later, U.S. General David Hunter had the Virginia Military Institute torched at his order on on June 12, 1864. The targets of both generals were legitimate acts of war against military installations of their opponents. However, while Stuart’s actions are relegated to the footnotes of history, Hunter’s burning of VMI has attracted widespread condemnation since the act occurred. The outcry against Hunter was not doubt heightened because of his unjustified destruction of private residences throughout his tenure as commander of the Department of West Virginia. Nevertheless, the burning of VMI, although a military training facility of the Confederacy that had sent troops into the battle of New Market less than a month before its destruction, was viewed as an atrocity along the same lines of the burning of private residences.
In the South however, the extreme animus toward Hunter predated his actions in the Shenandoah Valley. On May 9, 1862, Hunter decreed all slaves within his command, the Department of the South which encompassed SC, GA and FL, freed. This action not only outraged the South but created political trouble in the North for Abraham Lincoln, who rescinded Hunter’s order only months before he issued his own Emancipation Proclamation. Hunter further enraged Southerners by enlisting African-Americans as soldiers in the Union Army.
The Confederacy responded to Hunter’s actions by declaring him an outlaw who would be executed as a felon for arming and organizing slaves for a rebellion against there masters. One Southern newspaper described Hunter as “a cold blooded abolition miscreant” who served Abraham Lincoln, the “Imperial Gorilla” who ruled the “brutish and degraded North.” In attempting to free the slaves within his Department and organizing and training black men for military service, Hunter had gained the ire of the Confederacy long before putting the torch to VMI in 1864. His destruction in the Valley only added to the contempt in which Southerners held him.
To be continued….