Reading through an album of our trip to Virginia Battlefields a photo of a very imposing statue caught my eye. It is called “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” and stands on the campus of Virginia Military Institute The sculpture was done by Moses Ezekiel, a graduate of the Institute, who later became a world renown sculptor, and who donated the statue to the school.
You may remember the story: in 1864, a Union army under Franz Sigel moved through the Shenandoah Valley intending to capture Lynchburg, an important supply hub. Confederate Commander John C. Breckinridge assembled a makeshift army to stop Sigel. Desperately needing more men, Breckinridge contacted VMI Superintendent Francis H. Smith, asking to have the VMI cadet corps join him as a reserve troop.
The 258 cadets, including Ezekiel practically ran the 81 miles to join Breckinridge near the town of New Market. During the battle, when Breckinridge’s line wavered, the Confederate commander in desperation ordered the cadets to join the fight, saying “Put the boys in, and may God forgive me.”
When the battle was over the Confederates had won, but at the cost of 10 cadets dead or mortally wounded, and 47 others wounded. Among the mortally wounded was Ezekiel’s roommate, who died two days later in Ezekiel’s arms. Moses Ezekiel never forgot that frightful experience.
And this may be of special interest to you: The Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery was also done by Moses Ezekiel. Carved around the base of this Memorial are these words from the book of Isaiah in the Holy Bible, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”