The Legacy of Great Leaders
George Washington. Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson. George Marshall. These four generals were remarkable military leaders, but in Lexington their legacies aren't limited to dusty textbooks. As you'll discover, their commitment to civility, honor, and education remains an important part of the culture at W&L and VMI as well as the surrounding city.
George Washington has the best view in town. Perched atop Washington Hall on Washington & Lee's colonnade, a statue of the great man has watched thousands of fresh-faced students hurry across campus. Those students should all be smiling at Old George. His gift of James River Canal stock in 1796, valued at $20,000, saved the struggling school. The gift still contributes to the annual operating budget.
A portrait of Washington painted in 1772 by George Willson Peale, George Washington in the Uniform of a British Colonial Colonel, hangs in Lee Chapel.
Robert E. Lee
Visitors to Lee Chapel often think that Edward Valentine's marble statue of a recumbent Lee is the Confederate general's tomb. Lee is actually interred in the lower level of the chapel along with immediate family members. Downstairs you'll also find Lee's office and a small museum. Outside, admirers leave pennies on the grave of Traveller, the general's trusted horse.
Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College a few months after surrendering at Appomattox. With the ending of the war, Lee was ready for change. As he noted in his acceptance letter to the college's trustees, he wanted to bring the country together and move forward. He did not want students dwelling on past animosities. Lee instilled a culture of civility and honor, and these traditions continue on campus today.
The Lee House, where Lee lived until his death in 1870, is the private residence of the current university president.
The elusiveness of Stonewall Jackson hits home as you gaze at his bullet-torn raincoat, which hangs behind glass in the entrance way of the VMI Museum. The Confederate general was wearing the coat the night he was mortally wounded by friendly fire. His horse, Little Sorrell, stands nearby on exhibit.
The preservation of these artifacts reinforces Jackson's legend, which can seem at odds with his pre-war persona. While at VMI, Jackson was an unpopular and ineffective professor. But after his successful 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign, his military genius was undisputed. And his nickname? He earned it during the Battle of First Manassas when he held his position in the face of enemy fire like an immovable stonewall.
Learn more about his home life at the Stonewall Jackson House in downtown Lexington. His tomb in Oak Grove Cemetery (formerly Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery) is a popular stop on guided tours of the city.
George C. Marshall
George C. Marshall, who graduated from VMI in 1901, was the driving force behind the Marshall Plan after WWII. Believing that financial stability would help establish long-term peace across Europe, Marshall oversaw the distribution of nearly $13 billion in U.S. aid, including food, machinery, and investments, to 16 European countries including Germany.
An independent, freestanding, nonprofit organization, the Marshall Foundation is located on the post at VMI, where George C. Marshall graduated. The National George C. Marshall Museum and Library spotlights Marshall's life and accomplishments, including his Nobel Peace prize which is on display. Exhibits in the main lobby cover his boyhood in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, his cadet years at VMI, and his service during WWI. The Organizer of Victory exhibit explores his achievements as U.S. Army Chief of Staff during WWII while the Soldier of Peace display explains his work on the Marshall Plan while U.S. Secretary of Defense.